Los Angeles is currently facing the full brunt of a heavy storm system that is expected to last the entire week. Or, to put it as my grandfather used to say, it’s raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock. It’s common knowledge that people in this fair city completely lose their shit when rain starts a fallin’. LA motorists are as cautious with their speed during inclement weather as they with their turn signals on the freeway. Add on top the logistical stress that a week of straight rainfall has on a city that usually experiences 300 days of sunshine a year, and rainy LA makes for a pretty sucky place. Yet, even in the midst of crisis there lies great opportunity, as the old proverb goes. For me that opportunity was finding solace in a good rainy day meal that would warm the body and nourish the soul. For that I headed to Koreatown, inspired by the recent post of the oddly-named Chowhounder, ‘mrgreenbeenz’. Koreatown may not seem like an obvious choice for a day meal on a stormy day, but when you consider it in terms of geography it makes perfect sense. Korea is located very far north in terms of latitude. In fact, North Korea is only a stones throw away from the vast frozen wasteland of Eastern Russia (even closer than Sarah Palin). So naturally Korean cuisine has a wide array of dishes that are exceptional for knocking out the chill caused by a blustery day.
The most famous of these cold-weather dishes is probably Sul Lung Tang, a beef soup whose milky-white broth is developed from boiling whole beef bones for an entire day. In Koreatown, the Cadillac of Sal Lung Tang is undoubtedly the sparsely adorned, Han Bat Sul Lung Tang, a blink-and-you-miss-it gem just off Western Ave. Han Bat does you a favor and simplifies the menu into essentially one item, soup. You do however get a choice of meat, those being: brisket, tripe, intensifies, liver, etc. The best choice though is to spring for the mixed bowl which contains all the meats to ensure you don’t miss out on any type of offal deliciousness the cow has to offer. When your soup arrives it comes accompanied with 2 dishes of kimchee, one radish and one cabbage, a bowl of rice and a heaping tub of green onions. I learned the hard way that the tub was meant to be communal as the waitresses impatiently waited for me to finish sprinkling onions onto my soup so she could drop the bucket off at the next table. What can I say, I like green onions. The meat in the soup was boiled to extreme tenderness, both absorbing and imparting it’s rich flavor into the broth. Texture is added by the thin, clear cellophane noodles that hide in the bottom of the bowl. Some prefer taking a spoonful of rice and dipping it in the broth and letting the flavor soak it. Whatever way the soup is enjoyed (every person in the restaurant seemed to have their own variation) the best part is undeniably the hearty broth. The marrow of the beef bones lends a rich mineral flavor that can only be described as both wholesome and rejuvenating. Finishing my bowl I felt like Michael Strahan must feel when he finishes a bowl of Chunky Soup.
Across the street, almost by destiny, is a odd little trailer outside a Korean grocery that is famous for its Ho-tteok, a sweet rice pancake that looks like it would be more home at a state fair. I ordered a few and watched from beneath the awning as two mexican ladies folded brown sugar and ground peanuts into a ball of pale dough. The dough is then placed on a oiled griddle and pressed flat until it is crispy brown on the outside and gooey on the inside with a thin layer of sweet filling inside. They taste like a McGriddle that has attained nirvana. I stood, sheltered from the rain, wolfing down these cakes with little regard for their piping hot temperature. Several Koreans passed by, nodding in approval. I noticed that they were all headed to another busy stand which was serving a snack I was unfamiliar with. Turns out it was grilled squid jerky, or Momzzang. Despite feeling full enough already, I ordered the squid body, which is first lacquered with a thin layer of peanut butter, grilled, then cut up into strips and served with chili sauce. It was tender, chewy and slightly sweet, complimenting the spicy chili sauce perfectly. I see how squid jerky could become quite addicting, and judging by the line forming, it already had hooked many fans. In fact, some Korean families were ordering yelling orders from their car windows to the squid lady to avoid standing in the rain. All in all, I ended the night only $15 lighter in exchange for a supremely satisfying 3-course meal. Hopping puddles back to my car, I didn’t even mind my soaked jacket and damp socks. With food this tasty within my reach, I say bring on the rain.
Han Bat Sul Lung Tang
4163 W 5th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
Koo’s Sweet Rice Pancake Ho-tteok Cart
450 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90020