JPD Eats ROK in the USA

In a way not (at least, not by perception) shared by Chinese and Japanese cuisine, a good, authentic Korean meal can be found at your local Korean restaurant in the good ole’ U.S. of A. … provided there is one.

Unlike Japanese sushi restaurants, which seems to get squeezed into any damn business (there is an Irish pub in a strip mall with a sushi guy, no joke), and Chinese takeout, which is about as American as apple pie, Korean restaurants still tend to only be in areas where there may be a larger Korean population.

Here in New Jersey, a melting pot of cultures sandwiched between Philadelphia and New York, there are few unless you head closer to the city and to Korean enclaves like Fort Lee and Palisades Park.

But, the ones you do find more often than not will be very good.

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I celebrated my acceptance of a job at a Dadaepo, Busan hagwon with dinner at Keoku, in nearby Parsippany.

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Mangia. Wait, wrong language …

Unlike Chinese food and its Americanized “General Tso’s Chicken” and the like, what is enjoyed in a a Korean restaurant in Korea also can be enjoyed here. The kimchi (usually) is just as spicy, the other banchan just as clean and simple and excellent, the bibimbap just as filling.

There are some differences, however, in the experience. In Korea, at least in my limited now several years old experience, there were dining destinations solely for one style of Korean food. There was a bibimbap shop, a samgupsyal shop, a BBQ place. Unless you’re in one of those aforementioned Korean enclaves, Korean restaurants here are more a “Top 40” affair: the most popular dining options are brought up to the top and are all in one restaurant.

Although, just down the road from Keoku, there is a Korean restaurant that is dedicated just to Soon-Doo-Boo. Parsippany, it’s a heckuva town.

I have also seen plenty of places that are not just Korean but also Japanese or Chinese, I assume because they want to appeal to a larger demographic. This is annoying. I can get sushi anywhere. I can get it at the supermarket. I can get it at an Irish pub. I can get it at a Hispanic market in Morristown. It’s everywhere. That’s not a guarantee it will be any good, but I think there is more a demand for Korean food than even Korean restaurant owners realize.

(Side note: That little sushi counter in the Hispanic market in Morristown. The owner: Korean)

This attitude does seem to be changing, if slowly. I live in northern New Jersey, about an hour from New York but in an urban center of my own. The local Acme has (or, had. It may have stopped carrying it) jars of kimchi next to its sushi. It’s a start. About 30 minutes south, in Edison (one of the most meltingest melting pots in the state), we have an H-Mart Korean supermarket. It’s changing, for sure, but we are far, far from the ubiquitous nature of Chinese and Japanese, where everyone eating there is white.

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