Thursday, March 3, 2011

Koreatown


I have lived in New York for almost ten years and until recently, if you had asked me where Koreatown was, I wouldn't have been able to tell you.  Chances are, my response would have been, "Um . . . somewhere south of 14th street?"  Yep.  I would have been wrong.  Try closer to Herald Square, Michelle.  Apparently, I know nothing.  So, in the spirit of exploration, Rachael and I headed to Koreatown's main drag (32nd between 5th and 6th) to check it out and soak up a little culture.

First, a little info on the 'hood.  Koreatown, K-Town to those who are in the know, is between 5th and 6th Avenues and 31st and 36th streets and houses more Korean restaurants, karaoke joints, and massage parlors than practically anywhere in Manhattan.  It began with a bookstore and a few restaurants and grew to encompass entire city blocks in tandem with increased immigration from Korea.  Now, most Korean folks actually live out in Queens (Spa Castle, anyone?), but New York and its boroughs are home to the second largest population of Korean people in the world, second only to Korea itself (duh).  Rachael and I armed ourselves with restaurant reviews and internet-researched places of interest and moseyed down what the street sign called Korea Way.

Ten paces and I seriously felt like I had been transported to Korea (minus the overcrowded-ness and language barrier).  We passed a 24-hour spa (note to self), a few restaurants, and headed into a book shop, supposedly the one that started the whole neighborhood.  We opened the door, the bell rang over our heads, and everyone in the joint turned and silently stared at us.  Awkward.  We began to browse and realized why.  Every book in the place was written in Korean.  I picked up Oprah's latest book with foreign characters surrounding the only Roman alphabet word on the cover - Oprah.  I wanted to take a picture of it, but the guy behind the counter was staring holes into the back of my head.  I felt like I had walked into Eleven Madison Park in my gym clothes.  Rachael and I walked around awkwardly for a few minutes and high tailed it out of there.  Who knew, though, I could read Korean.  You don't know, Mr. Shop guy.  So, there.

We walked the length of Korea Way and attempted to soak up a little culture . . . until I spotted a restaurant called Mandoo Bar.  It had a floor to ceiling window in the front of the restaurant behind which a little Korean woman was diligently folding fresh dumplings.  Adorable!  Suddenly, I HAD to have some of those dumplings.  Additionally, one of my goals in Koreatown had been to try one of Korea's most well-known dishes - kimchee.  A little history on me and kimchee:  I have never tried it.  But, my dad was in the Air Force for 20 years and was stationed in Korea for one of them and HATES kimchee.  Like, becomes vomitaceous at the smell of it.  I have, thus, always dutifully avoided the dish.  So, I decided that part of my Koreatown adventure would be to end my kimchee fast.  I checked out Mandoo Bar's menu.  Kimchee dumplings.  Score.  We headed in.  (A pic of Daddy Lookadoo below - he's on the right.)

We were welcomed and seated by a host.  Whew!  No bookstore treatment for us in Mandoo Bar.  I looked around and noticed about a 50/50 split of people obviously raised with this food and people obviously NOT raised with this food.  Perfect.  After graciously identifying the condiments on the table and dropping off some (I think) pickled daikon, our kindly server took my order of kimchee dumplings (warning me that they would be spicy) and Rachael's much more sensible pork dumpling order.  10 dumplings for 10 bones.  Not a bad deal.  They arrived quickly, I snapped a picture for Dad, and dug in. They were . . . brilliant.  It was so obvious that the dumplings had been made fresh for me and I'm sorry, Dad, but the kimchee was really, really good.  Flavorful and not too spicy.  Double Score.

Rachael and I headed out and back toward America.  We were tempted to drop into one of the bazillion karaoke bars on the way, but decided we had neither the time nor the patience to endure it (karaoke takes a very special kind of person).  A quick massage at one of the equally-as-numerous spas would have been a more likely next step, but we decided to be good and save the dough.  I did, though, put the phone number of Juvenex, one of the nicer 24-hour spas, into my blackberry contacts.  You never know when you're going to need a sensible 24-hour spa in midtown.  So, now I know where Koreatown is.  And I have a new favorite dumpling shop.  Mission: accomplished.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Michelle, I love your recounting of not knowing where Koreatown was! A few weeks ago Logan had an audition on 35th between 5th and 6th and we found ourselves in the same neighborhood (we crossed in at 32nd and Bway). After about 5 minutes of walking I realized he and I were the only blonde haired blue-eyed European looking people to be seen. Very Twilight zone! I thought I had turned the corner and landed in Chinatown (although as a military brat myself I can kinda tell the difference between Chinese people and Koreans). Now that I know it is friendly I may head back for dumplings!

Robert said...

You made want to go try that kimchee. We'll see. I've heard of Juvinex. Putting it on my list. I feel like I spent the afternoon with you and Rachael. Fun!