Coverage of the delicious side of Koreatown has expanded past the well-tread over the years. We've learned about chic naengmyon (kudzu noodles in chilled beef broth) and gamjatang (pork neck soup). If we want Korean-style barbecue, we can distinguish places by cuts of meat and quality of banchan.
Even as our Korean food vocabulary has sharpened, the grammar that helps us form dishes into meals and rituals is still a work in progress. Enter the reality YouTube show K-Town, an unexpected source for a basic — if not rough — tutorial on one aspect of Koreatown dining.
Chatter of K-Town, an unapologetic Asian-American rendition of Jersey Shore, began in 2010. Rumors mixed among facts: R&B singer Tyrese Gibson is the executive producer; it was slated to air on a cable network; and it was about to drop any minute. Angry Asian Man kept tabs on when (and where) the show would premiere, while critics debated the merits and failures to both community and pop culture at large. SNL even made a spoof. All this until it was apparent that K-Town was experiencing distributive difficulties.
This July the show finally became available for view, albeit online, after a deal with Ben Silverman's Electus came through. Changes however big (cast member Jennifer Field seemingly swapped for Cammy Chung) or imperceptible may not register as much as does Koreatown — the unspoken and far better explored character of the show — and its party subculture. It is one as much defined by food as it is by drink, and each 12- to 15-minute episode has shown thus far its extent.
Highlights and Lessons:
- The party tetralogy. As hinted in the 2012 Winter Restaurant Issue on the best of Koreatown eats, going out can come in stages. In K-Town, it goes up to four with cha connoting rounds and each numeral prefix representing its order: Il-cha (happy hour), ee-cha (food and drink), sam-cha (pre-game) and sa-cha (main party or what some cast members would call “sexy time”). Over the course of three episodes, the group dutifully performs the ritual, beginning at Beer Belly, at which co-owner Jimmy Han briefly enters the frame when he delivers beer from Violet's secret stash stowed at the pub. The rest of the rounds take place at Palm Tree L.A., an all-in-one hub with restaurant (Arang), bar (A Bar), noraebang and S Bar (club).
- Meet jokbal. A fortifying platter of jokbal, or braised pork feet and shank, is ordered at Arang during ee-cha or the second round. Jokbal is served sliced and traditionally eaten in lettuce wraps topped with fermented soy paste and slices of fresh jalapeno and garlic. For the uninitiated, it is less exotic when considering this cut has been explored in French, Italian and Chinese cuisines. The local standard has been set by Jangchung-Dong Wong Jokbal on Western.
- Thirsty games. We learn about Apollo 13 and Seoul Train, both variations of chugging down a combo of soju plus beer (usually Hite). At A Bar, Steve introduces everyone to his friend Cammy, who happens to be the bartender there. She sets up a Seoul Train, aka a line of soju bombs, then explains the layered soju-beer competition of “Apollo 13.” Joe breaks down the mechanics of a Seoul Train in his vlog entry.
- Noraebang. When the cast partakes of Seoul Train at Gaam during the fourth episode, we catch a glimpse of the possibilities available at a noraebang. Introduced to most of us as karaoke, noraebang is the Korean version, designed for maximum staying time in private singing rooms with full food and drink menus. It is not unheard of for the noraebang to supply a cha or two.
- How not to be classy at a wine bar. Scarlet invites Jowe, the unverified and frequently self-touted “Prince of K-Town,” to Purple Wine Bar for a confrontation with Violet's ex-boyfriend, following her sense of girl code. The clink of wine glasses is less salut and more boxing bell when Scarlet starts in on Jowe and a flurry of faulty, at times crass, syllogisms is exchanged.
- More than coffee at a Korean café. Violet, Scarlet and Jasmine hit Yellow House Café for the kind of post-night recap and analysis popularized on Sex and the City over caffeine and kimchi fried rice. Scarlet discovers the courtesy buzzer seen on the tables at most Korean restaurants and proceeds to ring it multiple times for cheap laughs. The only valuable take-away from this segment is that Korean cafés can be good for great meals, sweet potato lattés, and elaborate desserts.
Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Follow the author on Twitter at @chrstnchiao