Seoul Food in Dallas

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Story and Photos by Sharon Hudgins 

Seoul Food in Dallas


Roasted Hot Peppers in Soy Sauce

Fresh Hot Pepper Sauce

Kimchi with Steamed Rice

Pan-Fried Crab Cakes

Fired Beef (Pulgogi)

Korean food may well be the great undiscovered Asian cuisine in Texas.

Texans chow down at Chinese and Indian buffets, stop off at sushi bars, slurp Vietnamese pho, and tickle their taste buds with flaming-hot Thai. But few people outside the local Korean community are familiar with any Korean foods beyond pungent cabbage kimchi and grilled beef bulgogi, the two most popular dishes served at Korean restaurants in the West.

I developed my own taste for Korean food when I lived in South Korea more than twenty years ago. But after I returned to Texas, I was never satisfied with the Korean dishes I tried to cook at home. Authentic Korean ingredients were hard to find, and the few Korean cookbooks published in English had recipes that were either too difficult and esoteric, on the one hand, or too bland and “Americanized,” on the other.

Happily, that situation has now changed. During the past two decades, large numbers of Koreans have emigrated to the United States, many of them settling in Texas cities such as Dallas and Houston. In the greater Dallas area, where I live, the Korean community now numbers approximately 50,000 people.

There are now several Korean grocery stores that sell a wide variety of Korean food products, domestic and imported. Korean restaurants offer extensive menus featuring cold soups, steamy stews, seafood pancakes, and grilled fish, with colorful side dishes not served in other Asian restaurants. And a new Korean cookbook tells you how to make authentic, mouthwatering Korean dishes in your own kitchen, foods that will appeal even to people who have never before encountered this spicy, robust, and healthy cuisine.

Super Korean Markets

Koreans claim to eat more hot peppers every day than any other people in the world. Walk into a Korean grocery store and you’re immediately surrounded by hot peppers in all forms–fresh, dried, crushed, shredded, ground into powder, mashed into paste, and combined with other ingredients in fresh, canned, and dried food products. Korean stores are the only Asian markets where I’ve seen 5-pound bags of hot red pepper powder stacked almost 5 feet tall. Or 30-pound cans of hot red pepper paste. Or big bins of crushed red pepper flakes, ready to be scooped out and sold by the pound.

Ro Park making kimchi at Han Yang Supermarket in Garland, Texas

Ro Park making kimchi at Han Yang
Supermarket in Garland, Texas


Korean food markets in the Dallas area carry many of the same products, although you might be surprised at the number, type, and variety available: cans of sweetened red beans, big bags of frozen dumplings, whole heads of pickled garlic, jars of bright red hot-pepper paste, packages of dried zucchini, giant fresh Korean pears the size of large grapefruits, fresh soy and mung bean sprouts, salted fish, several kinds of rice (from white to beige to black), and more types of packaged dried noodles than you probably ever knew existed. Other products might be less appealing to Western tastes: acorn powder, anchovy chips, dried sweet potato stems, salted pollack entrails, and canned silkworm pupae.

Korean Hot Red Pepper Paste

Hot red pepper paste is a staple
product at all Korean grocery stores


Shin Chon Food Market on Harry Hines Boulevard in Dallas offers an extensive array of Korean ingredients for home cooking, as well as plenty of prepared foods for takeout, too. Shin Chon is such an authentic Korean grocery that every time I shop there, I feel like I’m back in Seoul myself. And even if some of the foods seem strange at first sight, with labels printed in the Korean language, I can usually find an English translation somewhere on the package, or ask an English-speaking employee or customer for help.

At Shin Chon I was puzzled by a cellophane package of “dried platycodon,” which looked like the mummified remains of a prehistoric animal. Store manager Dong Lee explained to me that it was a type of dried vegetable root, which Koreans reconstitute in water and season with hot red pepper paste, garlic, and toasted sesame seeds. (I later learned that it’s dried toraji, or bellflower root.) “Korean people eat it as a kind of snack,” he said. Then he directed me to the back of the store, where a large glass display case held more than three dozen different prepared foods, including platycodon, many of them the salted, pickled, highly spiced side dishes that form an important component of every Korean meal.

Korea Mart, on Walnut Street in Dallas, is another large supermarket well-stocked with Korean foods–fresh, frozen, smoked, dried, and canned. Korea Mart’s selection of fish and shellfish is especially impressive: oysters, clams, squid, swordfish, tuna, mackerel, conches, and whelks. The deli counter in back offers a colorful array of a dozen prepared side dishes, including pickled radishes in soy sauce, salted squid seasoned with hot pepper paste, black beans in soy sauce with toasted sesame seeds, and pickled jalapeños whose spiciness is boosted to an even higher plane with pungent red pepper paste.

Like some of the other local Korean grocery stores, Korea Mart also has a tiny, three-table snack bar where you can eat freshly prepared Korean foods on the premises. Although the menu board is written entirely in Korean, the friendly staff will help you select something to eat. However, you might want to heed the posted admonition, printed in English: “Due to limited seating, we ask that you be considerate to those waiting and don’t socialize. Thank you.”

Han Yang Supermarket in Garland is a friendly mom-and-pop store where you can purchase many of the same products available at the larger Korean groceries, at competitive prices. Owner Steve Kim and his wife, Sara, both originally from Seoul, are especially enthusiastic about Korean foods, commercially prepared or homemade. While I was looking at cans of hot pepper tuna and the impressive variety of dried mushrooms, Sara convinced me to try a package of her homemade kimbap, Korean-style sushi rolls, seaweed-wrapped rice stuffed with small pieces of cooked eggs, spinach, fish cake, sesame seeds, pickled carrots, and yellow radish.

“We also take special orders for homemade kimchi, our sushi rolls, kalbi (marinated lean prime beef ribs), and bulgogi (thinly sliced beef, marinated for grilling),” said Sara Kim, “and we do catering, too, once even a wedding for 500 people!”

She had no trouble getting me to buy a jar of her homemade kimchi, pungent pickled cabbage, redolent of hot peppers, which I had first become hooked on when I lived in Korea myself. When we opened the jar and tasted Sara’s kimchi at home, my husband exclaimed, “Oh, my! This is real kimchi, not a milder version made for Western tastes. I feel like I’m back in Korea again!”

A Kimchi Primer

Kimchi is the quintessential Korean food, eaten every day at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s also used as an ingredient in many other Korean dishes. Pickled, fermented, and sometimes slightly sour, with a very distinctive taste, the most common kind of Korean kimchi is made with napa cabbage, green onions, garlic, hot red peppers, and salt. Other ingredients can include white radishes, turnips, cucumbers, mustard greens, sugar, fresh ginger, fruits, nuts, and even fish. There are more than a hundred types of kimchi–thousands, if you count individual cooks’ variations-including kimchis that don’t contain any cabbage at all. Kimchi is such an important part of Korean cuisine that three or four different kinds are served at every Korean meal.

In Korea, November is the prime kimchi-making time, not long after the autumn pepper harvest. It’s the season when vegetables need to be preserved for the harsh winter ahead. Traditionally, the kimchi was packed in layers inside large earthenware crocks, where the ingredients fermented for several days or weeks, much like sauerkraut. The crocks were sometimes stored underground or in caves to keep cool, which helped preserve the kimchi for two to three months.

Although pickling is an ancient method of food preservation, the use of hot peppers in Korean kimchi dates from only two centuries ago. Hot peppers were introduced to Korea from Japan in the early 1600s, but it took almost 200 years for them to become a major ingredient in Korean pickled products. Korean food writer Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall notes that today, “The annual hot pepper harvest is a very serious matter [in Korea], especially as peppers are vital ingredients for winter kimchi making. Naturally sun-dried hot red peppers are reputed to be superior to commercially dried. In autumn, the whole Korean landscape is ablaze with a blanket of red–on thatched roofs, in front yards, on side road pavements, almost anywhere one can find an open sunny space.”

Kimchi is also made year-round, from mild, white “winter kimchi” flavored with chestnuts and pine nuts (but no hot peppers), to crisp, freshly made “summer kimchi.” And around the world, modern cooks now pack their kimchi into big glass jars and keep it stored in the refrigerator.

Many Korean grocery stores make their own “house-brand” kimchi on the premises, or purchase “homemade” kimchi from other local, small-scale producers, often the family members of another Korean food storeowner, who concoct big batches of the pungent pickle in the back of the store.

Sara Kim showed me how she and her mother, Ro Park (herself a former restaurant owner in Seoul) make kimchi every day in a small kitchen at the back of Han Yang Supermarket in Garland. Big blue plastic bowls of napa cabbage, thick white radish sticks, and jade-green spring onions sat on the spotless floor next to a red plastic vat, the size of a bathtub, which held a lake of red pepper paste. Other ingredients soon transformed that basic pepper paste into three different hot and spicy sauces, which were then mixed by hand with the vegetables to make the different flavors of kimchi sold by the Kims.

“Our store specializes in kimchi,” said Steve Kim, who noted that his business not only sells kimichi at the store but also supplies it, wholesale, to Asian restaurants and grocery stores all over the Dallas metropolitan area. He also ships kimchi to customers farther away, by UPS one-day service.

“We don’t use MSG in our kimchi,” added Steve, “and we use less sugar, which is better for everyone’s health, for diabetics, too.” It has long been known that kimchi is a healthy food—low in calories, high in fiber and lactic acid, and a good source of Vitamins A & B. But kimchi sales have spiked since the SARS scare in Asia, when it was rumored that Korea had no cases of SARS because everyone there ate kimchi at least three times a day. “Now the Chinese and Vietnamese and other Asians are eating kimchi as maybe a protection against SARS, ” said Steve, “even though it’s still only a rumor—but a rumor that’s good for business!”

Dining Out

If you aren’t lucky enough to have Korean friends to invite you over for a home-cooked meal, the best way to become acquainted with Korean foods is to eat at the good Korean restaurants in your area. Anyone with an adventuresome palate will be intrigued by the surprising flavors of Korean cuisine, which are often bold and subtle at the same time.

Several Korean restaurants in the Dallas area serve lunches and dinners very different from those you can eat at other Asian restaurants. At all Korean meals, rice, soup, and kimchi are considered main dishes, as are the hearty stews and “barbecued” (actually grilled) meats that are often a part of the meal, too. Along with these you’ll be served a number of separate side dishes (panch’an) not listed on the menu—tasty tidbits that, taken together, could easily constitute a meal themselves.

Typical panch’an include spicy cabbage kimchi, white radish with red pepper paste, shredded kelp, fried zucchini rounds, pickled baby cucumbers with hot peppers, potato cubes marinated in sweetened soy sauce, cooked fresh spinach with sesame seeds, seasoned fresh bean sprouts, gelatinous rice cakes with sesame-soy sauce, pickled ginger slices, and steamed savory egg custard flavored with green onions and other non-sweet ingredients. These will be served in separate small bowls placed in the middle of the table—or, if you’re eating a “daily lunch special,” sometimes in the small compartments of a large lacquered “lunch box,” like a Japanese bento—along with a serving of rice, a bowl of soup, and a meat, vegetable, or fish main-dish.

Expect all the dishes to be served at once, placed on the table in an artistic arrangement or arrayed around the small grill built into special tables where bulgogi and kalbi are cooked on the spot. Your place setting will include chopsticks, for eating the vegetables and meats, and a long-handle spoon, as large as a tablespoon, for eating the rice and soup.

Popular dishes at local Korean restaurants include classic bulgogi (also spelled bulgoki, pulgogi) and kalbi (also spelled galbi), both grilled at your table. Although these typical Korean dishes found on every Korean menu are almost a culinary cliché, they’re still certainly worth ordering. But I like to venture further, into the realm of hot and spicy kimchi soup (kimchiguk) with pork, vegetables, and tofu. Or cold buckwheat noodles in chilled beef broth (naengmyon), with rice vinegar and hot yellow mustard stirred into it for added kick. Another dish not to be missed is savory green onion pancake (p’ajon)—or the seafood version (haemul p’a chon) chock full of shrimp, clams, squid, and other shellfish—served as a side dish or, in a larger size, even as a main dish. And don’t overlook all the grilled, spicy fish and seafood dishes on Korean menus, including cuttlefish stir-fried with green onion tops, carrots, and other julienned vegetables in a red pepper, spicy-sweet sauce. As one Korean restaurant in Dallas advises on its menu, “Eat Korean food as much as you like and you will still lose weight.”

Home Cooking from the Heart

You can also cook Korean foods at home, using the recipes from an excellent Korean cookbook (in English), coupled with the ingredients now available at most Asian food markets. Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen, by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall (Ten Speed Press, 2001), is a cookbook that combines the author’s culinary memories of her childhood in Korea with 175 personal recipes, most of which were handed down orally in her family from one generation to the next. An award-winning novelist in her native land, Hepinstall, who is married to an American, spent much of her adult life in Europe and the United States. But this book reaches back to her roots in Korea, where she was born in a home built by her great-grandfather and raised in a household organized according to Confucian-Buddhist principles.

One of twelve children in the family, Hi Soo Shin learned how to cook by helping her mother, grandmother, and several servants prepare daily meals for as many as thirty people at a time. She also describes special feasts that her family gave for more than a hundred guests and the solemn, intimate, ceremonial suppers in honor of departed ancestors. Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen is a loving daughter’s tribute to those women who sustained their family in Korea with nourishing and delicious dishes cooked in a kitchen that would seem primitive to modern Americans today.

Selected by the Los Angeles Times as one of the top ten cookbooks published in 2001, Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen is so well written, with such enticing recipes, that you’ll want to head straight for the kitchen to try them out yourself. Many of the required ingredients are staples that you’ll already have on hand, such as rice and soy sauce, as well as garlic, green onions, and hot peppers, “the three quintessential ingredients of Korean cooking,” according to Hepinstall. For other, more unusual ingredients, you’ll need to find an Asian grocery store, preferably one that stocks Korean products. And after you’ve read this fascinating cookbook, you’ll understand why Koreans claim to be the biggest pepper-eating people in the world.

Shopper’s Tip

Korean grocery stores are also very good places to shop for the cookware and tableware used for preparing and serving authentic Korean foods. Look for cast-iron grill pans for bulgogi; heavy earthenware braising pots; stone pots for serving hot soups; bamboo baskets and steamers; clay pots for making kimchi; porcelain, stoneware, and lacquerware serving dishes; and the long, thin chopsticks and long-handle spoons used for eating Korean foods.


Five Recipes from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen, by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall (Ten Speed Press, 2001)


Roasted Hot Peppers in Soy Sauce

This sauce will stay fresh for at least 1 week. Serve as an accompaniment to Korean grilled meat dishes.

  • 4 Korean hot green peppers or jalapeño peppers

  • 4 Korean hot red peppers or other hot red peppers

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon rice wine or vermouth

  • 1 green onion, white and pale green part only, finely minced

  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

  • 1 walnut half, finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Wash the hot peppers and pat dry. Roast the peppers under a broiler or on the stovetop until all sides are broiled and blistered, but not charred. Discard the stems and chop peppers crosswise into 1/4-inch rounds, seeds and all.

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Store leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.

Yield: 1 cup

Heat Scale: Hot

Fresh Hot Pepper Sauce

Use as a topping for soups and noodles, or as a refreshing salad dressing. Store leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. The sauce will stay fresh for weeks if refrigerated.

  • 5 garlic cloves

  • 10 hot red Korean peppers, coarsely chopped (or 1 cup hot red pepper flakes)

  • 3 tablespoons salted shrimp (Available at Korean food markets)

  • 12 cup rice wine or vermouth

  • 1/4 cup sesame oil

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Mash the garlic well with a mortar and pestle. Add the peppers and pound into a paste. Transfer mixture to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. With a wooden spoon, mix into a coarse paste.

Yield: 1.5 cups

Heat Scale: Hot

Kimchi with Steamed Rice

This is a uniquely Korean dish. It has a robust, feisty flavor thanks to the happy marriage of tastes between the nutty rice and fresh, well-pickled cabbage kimchi. This recipe calls for whole cabbage kimchi, either homemade or store-bought. Only the stem part of the cabbage is used, not the stuffing. With its robust kimchi flavor, this rustic one-dish meal does not need to be accompanied by any other sauce.

  • 2 cups raw short-grain rice

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion

  • 4 ounces lean ground pork or ground chicken breast

  • 2 cups finely diced whole cabbage kimchi, stem part only and without stuffing

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

  • Pinch of salt

  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 cups hot water

  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas

Soak the rice in lukewarm water in a bowl for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic and green onion and sauté for one-and-a-half minutes, until fragrant. Add the pork or chicken and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the kimchi and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add sesame oil, salt, and pepper and immediately remove the skillet from the heat.

Drain the rice. Combine the rice and 2 cups of hot water in a heavy 3-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the kimchi mixture to the rice and stir well. Cover, decrease heat to medium, and cook gently for 15 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid, occasionally stirring and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon. Decrease heat to low and sprinkle the green peas on top of the rice. Cover and cook for 10 minutes more. Decrease heat to very low and let rest, covered, for 15 minutes.

Fluff the rice with a wooden spoon and serve piping hot in individual bowls.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Pan-Fried Crab Cakes

Pan-Fried Crab Cakes

Pan-Fried Crab Cakes


Korean crab cakes are similar to their American cousins in appearance but have a distinctively different flavor.

  • 1 pound medium-firm bean curd

  • 1 pound king crab legs (about 1 cup crab meat), or 1 cup lump or backfin crabmeat

  • 3 eggs (divided use)

  • 1 tablespoon rice wine (or vermouth)

  • 1 green onion, white and pale green part only, finely minced

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

  • Pinch of salt

  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (divided use)

  • 1 lemon, quartered (garnish)

  • Pinch of hot red pepper threads, snipped into small pieces (garnish)

  • Parsley sprigs (garnish)

  • Vinegar Soy Sauce (see recipe below)

Wrap the bean curd in a paper towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Combine bean curd in a large mixing bowl with crab meat, 1 egg, rice wine (or vermouth), green onion, garlic, sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Lightly mix together with a wooden spoon. Do not over mix. Divide mixture into 8 balls and flatten into small cakes, each about 3 inches in diameter.

Spread flour on a small plate. Lightly beat remaining eggs in a shallow bowl with a few drops of water.

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat until oil is very hot but not smoking. Meanwhile, working with 4 crab cakes, dredge each one in flour and coat with the egg. Quickly add the crab cakes to the skillet and cook for 2 minutes, or until the coating is golden yet moist. Flip the cakes and cook for 2 minutes longer. Transfer the finished crab cakes to a tray, and cook the remaining 4 crab cakes in the same way.

To serve, arrange crab cakes on a large platter or on 4 individual plates (2 crab cakes each). Garnish with lemon, pieces of hot pepper threads, and parsley. Serve as an entree or side dish, accompanied by Vinegar Soy Sauce, in small individual bowls, as a dipping sauce.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Vinegar Soy Sauce: In a bowl combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice wine (or vermouth), 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar), 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Just before serving, sprinkle the top with 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped pine nuts or toasted sesame seeds and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper. Store leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. The sauce will stay fresh for at least 1 week. Yield: ½ cup

Fired Beef (Pulgogi)

Fired Beef

Fired Beef


  • 2 pounds lean beef tenderloin roast, eye of round, or sirloin


  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce

  • 1/2 cup rice wine or vermouth

  • 1 Korean or Asian pear, peeled and grated (or 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice)

  • 2 green onions, white and pale green part, finely minced

  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

  • 4 walnut halves, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • Pinch of salt

  • Vegetable oil (for grilling rack)

  • For serving:

  • Cabbage hearts or lettuce leaves

  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped pine nuts

  • 12 tablespoon hot red pepper threads or hot red pepper flakes

Slice the beef across the grain into large pieces, 1/8-inch thick. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well with a spoon. Add the beef and, with your fingers, massage the marinade into the meat. Wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

For grilling the beef, start the coals 30 minutes before cooking, or preheat a gas grill. Lightly brush the grilling rack with vegetable oil and set it 4 inches from the heat source. Add the beef, in batches or all at once, and grill for 5 to 6 minutes per side, or until caramel brown and crusty and to the desired doneness. Repeat if necessary with the remaining beef.

On a cutting board, slice the beef into bite-size pieces. Make a bed of cabbage or lettuce leaves on individual plates and place the beef on top of each. Garnish with pine nuts and hot red pepper.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

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