Hello everyone! After a busy summer, I’ve got a month off before school starts again in London. As a result I’m spending 4 weeks in gluttony in one of the tastiest places in the world: New York City. This city is, to me, filled with bests and worsts. I’d say it’s definitely the best for food diversity – from food carts to five-star, from delis to dim sum, New York has everything your heart desires. If you know where to look, it’s mostly pretty darn authentic, too. The worst part? It’s not cheap. A sit-down dinner including taxes and tip (which, from what I learned, is usually 20%!) will set you back at least $20 a head and that’s probably if you don’t get a drink. (A note: I feel the expectation to tip 20% is ridiculous. I understand wait staff don’t get a high base pay here, but IMHO, if they want 20% from me, they need to EARN it. Some service I’ve encountered here is worse than in London, and there everyone expects something like 12% tip – if at all. Get it together, folks!)
But I digress. We are interested in food here, delicious morsels of food that stick to your memory as much as to your gut, and naturally I’ve found a few of those meals in New York. I thought I’d start my New York Eats series with one of the best meals in my life. Seriously.
It was thanks to my high school buddy, S, whom I hadn’t seen in four or five years, at least. We’d decided to catch up in his neighborhood of Queens. I asked him what he would eat if he were to move out of the area tomorrow and he immediately replied “We should go out to Flushing.” Turns out, for those of us not from NY, Flushing is like the true Chinatown/Korea Town of New York City. Stepping out onto Main and Roosevelt was like flashing back to Hong Kong for me, with storefronts covered in neon Chinese signs, boba shops, and masses and masses of Asian people. S took me to have Korean BBQ at Han Joo and oh man, was it amazing. I’ve since read that before this place did BBQ, they were specialists in naeng myun, or cold, thin Korean noodles. One day I will perhaps go back and try the naeng myun, but after my meal last week, I’d be hard-pressed to veer from the BBQ.
From what I can tell Han Joo specializes in pork, which is in spades on their menu (hurray!). There’s a minimum of two orders per table if you do the BBQ, so we ordered the thin-sliced pork and garlic pork. I wanted to try the bibimbap as well but S, who’d been there once before, looked at me and said, “We’re also getting lots of small plates and stuff; I think this is enough.” I, who’d been thinking of the puny banchans in Hong Kong, wasn’t expecting a lot, but as the newbie at the table, deferred to him.
Well. It was a wise choice. Immediately after we ordered, no less than nine plates of banchan came out, from kimchi with blue crab to seafood pancakes to pickled sliced daikon, great to eat on its own or wrapped into the BBQ.
Just as we started nibbling, they brought out the grill – a super-heated slab of crystal, which was perched at a 45-degree angle, allowing the pork grease to flow into an empty container. I thought the slab was brilliant, not least of which because it seemed to make my clothes smell less BBQ-ed at the end of the night, and no meat pieces got burnt. The slices of piggy perfection came next, which our server expertly cooked for us.
She later added more kimchi to the grill and since the slab was angled, the kimchi became progressively more flavored as more pork juices flowed down – genius!
We got the traditional dipping oil, bean paste, fresh lettuce, and kkaennip, or Korean perilla (my favorite) for wrapping, along with a fresh dish of scallion salad to add to the filling.
I made my first one with the thin pork and the first bite delivered a trifecta via taste and texture: crunch and freshness from the lettuce, salty and savory juices from the pork and sauces, and a hit of sweetness from the ssamjang.
About a quarter into the meal, we also got a stone pot with bubbling steamed egg, or gyeran jjim. It reminded me of a Chinese egg dish my mom used to make – wonder if it came first from China or Korea, or developed in tandem in these neighboring countries. It was another nice touch to our meal, but it just added to what was, by then, an embarrassment of food for just two people.
But, S and I had no shame – how could we when the food was THAT good? We tucked in and demolished nearly all of it, save some banchan and a couple spoonfuls of gyeran jjim. Another bonus arrived at the end of the meal: complimentary dessert in the shape of small Korean yogurt bottles. A creamy, delicious way to balance the spicy and savory meal – and if the yogurt is like the Yakult I know, it’s supposed to aid digestion as well. An apt end, as I had no idea how I was ever going to eat again…but seriously, the meal was so worth it.
A week later, I am still thinking about Han Joo. I want to take my boyfriend there. I want to take my friends there. I want to take everyone I’ve ever cared about in my life there (provided they eat meat). Honestly, if you love Korean BBQ, if you love meat, or if you love food in general, you have not lived until you’ve tried this BBQ.
46-10 149th Pl. (between 41st and Barclay)
Flushing, New York 11355
Cost: $25/person with tax and tip (no drinks)