If there is one food that is all over the world, it’s Chinese food. For most people, it’s not hard to believe that the food they eat at a Chinese buffet is not exactly what Chinese people eat every day at home, but what people don’t always realize is that Chinese food is not the same in every country. There were Chinese foods in Canada that I have never seen in the US and I have heard of differences in other countries as well.
However, nowhere (in my experience) is Chinese food as different as in Korea. I have heard that what is considered Chinese food in Korea comes from the northeast of China, but it is quite unique (except for fried rice: everywhere has fried rice). Here are the main dishes you see at Korean Chinese restaurants.
Jajangmyeon (자장면): Jajangmyeon is kind of the go-to Korean Chinese food. It is noodles in a black soybean-based gravy. It doesn’t have a strong flavor, but it’s very good. There is also jajangbap, which is the same, but with rice instead of noodles.
Jjambbong (짬뽕): This is the other main Chinese food here. Jjambbong means something like “hodge podge” so it’s a mixture of many things. As you can see by the color, it is very spicy. Jjambbong consists of noodles and various types of seafood such as squid, mussels, sea cucumber, and if you get the expensive stuff, a lot more. It also has a lot of onions in it.
Tangsooyook (탕수육): This is fried pork (or beef, if you want the really expensive stuff) served with a sweet and sour sauce. In some ways it is similar to sweet and sour pork in North America, although (in my opinion) it’s a ton better and also is a lot more expensive. A small serving is about $15 and a large is $20 or more. Of course, a small serving is enough for 2-3 people. This is one of those dishes that only comes in group sizes. Koreans almost always eat out together and so a lot of their food is geared towards groups (I have been turned away from restaurants for being alone, since they had nothing on the menu for only one person). This is one of my favorite Korean Chinese foods.
Japchae (잡채): This is the final mainstay of Korean Chinese food: japchae. This is perhaps a little more familiar looking. It is rice noodles mixed with meat and vegetables. It’s usually pretty mild, although some places make it really spicy.
Here’s what it looks like when you get it delivered:
This is a meal that my wife and I ordered last November when we wanted to splurge. She got the fried rice and I got the jjambbong (lower right). The three-section dish in the lower center is a constant with Korean Chinese food: yellow pickled radishes (which are Korean, originally from Japan), black soybean paste, and raw onion pieces (not pictured, because my wife eats them immediately).
The tansooyook is in the middle, with a big bowl of its sauce. And as if that’s not enough food, they also threw in an order of mandoo, or dumplings, (upper right) for free. Because Korea is all about the free stuff.
They give you wooden chopsticks, but real spoons and real dishes. You eat and when you’re finished, you put them outside your door and the delivery boy comes and gets them later. I’m very glad this system works here, since using real dishes is so much nicer than styrofoam or paper.
I have grown very fond of Korean Chinese food but the problem is, that once I leave Korea, it will be very hard to find. It’s not Korean food, so you can’t find it in most Korean restaurants outside of Korea. And it’s not normal Chinese food, so Chinese restaurants don’t have any of it. There are restaurants in Korean districts, such as in New York or LA that have it, so I’ll have to make a trip to a city every now and then to get it. If you’re near a Korean district, I’d recommend seeking it out.