If you ask an Angeleno of Korean heritage where you can find good kimchi jigae, or kimchi stew, more often than not you'll hear “my mom's.” It's not out of any unwillingness to provide a tip, or maybe two. It's just one of those dishes that appear in a home cook's repertoire so often and in so many different renditions that many have their own definition of what's best.
The recipe is generally straightforward, calling for pork (usually pork belly), scallions, gochujang (red pepper flakes), tofu, and a lot of kimchi. The similarities often end here, with some adding ingredients like sesame oil and others listing fish sauce as a must-have. Thankfully, quite a few restaurants in Koreatown have the stew as an option on their menus, a relief for those of us who can't turn to our omoni's to figure out what ingredient is necessary and what's better left alone. Turn the page for three restaurants with their own distinct jigae take.
Kobawoo House's kimchi jigae is slick, almost refined. There are spare ribs in lieu of pork belly and the broth is practically translucent by comparison. It doesn't make the stew any less of a light touch in spiciness. It takes a few milliseconds before the gochujang registers, coating the back of your throat with a slight sting. Still the main attraction remains the bossam platters that come in medium, large and extra large. 698 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 389-7300.
Seoungbukdong has mastered the art of homestyle cooking and hospitality. If its strip mall neighbor Dan Sung Sa is where you go for a ee-cha round of soju shots over ddukbokki (rice cakes) and wings, this is the dining room of the Korean grandmother you wish you had. It's a small restaurant — a bistro, really — where you can almost imagine Sunday suppers that bring three generations together. Kimchi jigae is designated as an entree here, served with banchan and a choice of white or multi-grain rice, as is often the case in homecooked meals. The broth is more even-keeled in spice (though not in salt), despite its near crimson color hinting otherwise. There are enoki mushrooms packed in with kimchi, tofu and slices of pork belly. After it all cools down, you might find the jigae smells familiar, almost like cioppino. 3303 W. 6th St., Los Angeles; 213-738-8977
1. Jun Won
You'll find less accoutrement in the way of mushrooms, squash slices and thinly chopped scallions in Jun Won's version of kimchi jigae. Instead, there are small cubes of fatty pork and bigger ones of medium firm tofu; requisite scallions and kimchi; and a briny element that adds earthiness. It's no easy task, but the stew will hold its own next to the unofficial house signature eun dae cu jorim, a dish of braised black cod over turnips. 3100 W. 8th St. Los Angeles; (213) 383-8855.
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