The Boston Phoenix December 14 - 21, 2000

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Seoul Food

Korean cuisine with heart

by Rob McKeown

on the cheap
  • El Cafetal December 7
  • Zathmary's November 30
  • Il Buongustaio November 23
  • Thai Place November 16
  • Nashoba Brook Bakery, November 9
  • Café Habibi, November 2
  • Flour, October 26
  • Half the times I've been to Seoul Food in Porter Square, chef/owner Clara Byun has taken my squid stir-fry ($11.50 for a sassy toss of squid with crisp vegetables) or bi bim bap ($7.50 to $11.95 for a Korean classic mixing rice, kim chee, veggies, meat, and chili sauce) out of a pan, plated it up, and walked it into the five-table dining room. She then served me and -- this is important in Asian cooking -- demonstrated how to eat everything. It's a habit that brings smiles -- it's like Mom serving tableside.

    Korean food is indeed one of Asia's most motherly cuisines. Leafy greens, grains, beef, and cod figure prominently. Soups and stews are beloved. And fish is often fashioned into cake-like patties. This should ring a bell for people in New England, whose rocky coastline and cold waters are not unlike those of Korea.

    It may be small, but the Seoul Food menu is deceptively wide-ranging. It hopscotches from home cooking to street food to restaurant staples. Stir-fried rice cake (ttokpokki, $7.95) is manna for street-treat seekers: doughy sticks of rice, thick as Crayola markers, are tossed in a furiously flavored pepper sauce with copious and crunchy veggies. Dwenjang chigae ($9.50) is one of Korea's beloved stews, fortified with beef, vegetables, bean curd, and an intriguing soybean sauce.

    Want to impress your Korean host/owners? Order a discus-shaped vegetable pancake ($7.50) fashioned from scallions, zucchini, and carrots or any of the fabulous side dishes that make a Korean meal a flavor orgy. Spicy bean-sprout salad, kim chee made from broccoli, radish, or cabbage -- all are $3.50. Even better, I'd suggest doing a little detective work: look for a printed piece of paper near the door. That's where Clara lists the specials drawn from recipes she used to cook at home.

    Seoul Food, located at 1759 Mass Ave, in Cambridge, is open Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call (617) 864-6299.

    The On the Cheap archive