Feast. Kamjatang, banchan, galbi.
Kamjatang is basically a spicy Korean stew cooked with whole potato, pork spine vertebrae, red pepper powder, onion, and perilla. Coming along for the ride at every legitimate Korean culinary establishment are the banchan dishes; kimchee, acorn jello, seaweed, mung beans, spicy tofu, and pickled daikon radish.
In my opinion, the most difficult aspect of eating kamjatang, in particular, are the mechanics of the dish. Navigating the awkwardly shaped pork spine bones made it a serious chore in terms of meat availability; there was hardly a bite I didn’t work for. A pair of tweezers would have been nice. Aside from the difficulty rating of the meal, this Korean establishment employs waitresses that don’t speak Korean, but rather…Mandarin. It creates a rather interesting experience, as my brain farts for about a second, since I don’t expect to utilize my Mandarin faculties in a Korean restaurant; but hey, it’s all good. The ladies are kind, the food is hot, and the restaurant is homey. I’ve never been to Korea, but damn if there’s anywhere else you can get a Chinese-Korean audio-culinary experience.
The galbi at Songpa Yukejang (switching gears 350 miles north of Los Angeles) was to my liking; the marinade that was used was not excessively sweet or sticky and did not cling onto the meat, which sometimes would render a rather unpalatable galbi dish. But none was the case here, the galbi was savory with a hint of sweetness, and finished nicely with fresh scallions and sesame seeds. Delish. No Chinese waitresses, unfortunately.
I always had a difficult time deciding whether or not to eat the rice that comes with an order of kamjatang, since there are two sources of starch within the meal (the potato and the rice). The potato is usually hit or miss; the end result of stewing potatoes usually means a soggy potato, whereas the rice provides a bit of bite. The stew itself lacks crunch, which I believe could be better incorporated through the clever use of discarded potato skin.
An integral part of kamjatang lies in the earthly flavor that the potato gives the stew. It’s super subtle, but the next time you decide to try a Korean stew; close your eyes when eating, and you’ll taste the potato in the braising liquid . Luckily, they don’t boil the potatoes to death, so complete disintegration is avoided. I want to say that part of the stew is slightly thickened and cloudy partly by the addition of red pepper powder, but also by the degradation of potato starch granules.
**The way I’d make kamjatang better? **
Wash and peel potatoes; fry the skins till nice and crispy. Chop the raw potato into medallions and brown the raw potatoes in some lard on the larger sides before chuckin’ them in the stew.
The browning on the larger surface area of the potato creates a deeper flavor profile but with time, still allows starch leakage for flavor development of the stew. Top the stew with your fried potato skins.