Want to be insanely gorgeous or drop-dead handsome? Then eat as much chueotang as you can. This Korean fish soup is said to be a beautifier, and it's super healthy too. It's full of calcium, proteins and vitamins that Koreans believe make the complexion sparkly, smooth and fresh. This is a big bonus for eating something that sounds ugly – mudfish (fish that inhabit muddy waters, even burrow into mud. Perhaps you'd rather not know that.) The fish, sans mud, is ground into the soup, so you get all the goodness in the bones as well as soybean paste and vegetables.
Don't worry, it's not like spooning down nasty stuff such as cod liver oil. Chueotang can be pretty tasty, so even if you don't care what you look like, you'll want to try it. The only problem is finding a restaurant that serves it, because it's as rare in Koreatown as barbecue is common. Nevertheless, we've scoped out three places that serve respectable versions. Menus may identify the soup in Korean only, but that's no problem. We offer guidelines to help you find it. ]
Goo Bo Jip
If you don't know a word of Korean, don't let that stop you from trying chueotang at this tiny restaurant. Here's how to find it and how to order: In the parking lot you'll see a place with the words “house of the Chigae” in English. Goo Bo Jip is next door on the right. Inside, the menu on the wall is in Korean only. Chueotang is the first dish at the left, reading from top to bottom. Just point to it. No problem reading the bill either. The price, $8.99, is on the menu, no need for translation.
For this you get a really nice meal, generous with condiments and side dishes. The soup itself is the usual ground mudfish, soy bean paste and vegetables, which seem to be primarily Napa cabbage. You season it to taste with chopped garlic and jalapeños, red pepper paste, shredded Asian leeks, perilla seeds and sansho. On the side you might get even more fish. There were two fried whole yellow corvina the other day along with two types of kimchi, marinated bean sprouts and tofu coated with a divine red sauce. Your drink will be delicate cool barley tea. 3071 W. 8th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90005. (213) 384-5537.
It's easy to find cheuotang at Keungama. The menu, which is your placemat, lists soups in the first column. Ninth down is chueotang, spelled in English choo uh tang to help you pronounce it correctly. Chueotang is rustic and earthy here, golden orange in color and grainy as you spoon through it because it's so substantial – and for only $7.99. Fresh sesame leaves on top make it look pretty. The condiments are the usual garlic, jalapeños and perilla seeds. You'll get rice too – flecked with black rice grains and black beans. And kimchi, of course.
Here's the really good news. If you wake up at 3 in the morning starving for chueotang (or you've been out really late), you can get your fix at Keungama. It's open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. 3498 W. 8th St., Los Angeles; (213) 365-6788.[
Nam Won Gol
This is chueotang heaven, where you'll see black bowls of it on almost every table. Translated from the Korean as mudfish stew, it's No. 1 on the menu posted on the wall. Don't get No. 2, mudfish stew with vegetables, because it's not the same thing.
A pretty bright green from the Korean chives on top, Nam Won Gol's chueotang contains delicately aromatic sesame leaves along with the fish. It's only slightly spicy, but you can jazz up the flavor with minced jalapeños and garlic. Other condiments for the soup are the Japanese pepper sansho and nutty ground perilla seeds. You'll get banchan with your soup too, which makes a full meal for under $10.
The sign outside is in Korean only. The large letters spell out chueotang. The small letters to the left of this are the restaurant name. But you won't have any trouble reading the large red letters underneath the sign. They spell out “restaurant.” 3623 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 733-5700.