Bringing K-town home

Since I started working in Koreatown, I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in a completely unfamiliar cuisine–at least as much of it as they serve at Woorijip, the only K-town joint I can afford. But nothing’s cheaper than cooking at home. So I was happy to come across a recent article by Leslie Kaufman in the New York Times about immigrants who cook their country’s specialties at home, complete with recipes.

dscn3540The first dish I took a stab at was pa jun, Korean pancakes filled with scallions, or with anything else you feel like throwing in. The recipe is as simple as they come–just mix flour, egg, salt, and chopped scallion together with ice water, and fry it all up in oil. The result is more like a crepe than a pancake, thin and delicate and just a bit crisp on the edges. Dipped in a simple vinegar and soy sauce that’s also included in the recipe, the pancakes make a delicious appetizer that’s salty, sweet, and incredibly cheap and easy.

Check out the recipe here. And not to question the master chef, but I’d recommend adding more scallions than she calls for, and perhaps less vinegar in the dipping sauce.

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Your taste to price ratio is inefficient

An actual conversation I overheard last year:

bombaysapphire23-year-old financial consultant: I can’t just order a gin and tonic in a bar. They’ll give me well liquor. Now I order Bombay and tonic.
Coworker: Good call.
Consultant: Yeah, except the last time they poured me regular Bombay. When I say Bombay, you should know I mean Bombay Sapphire.

Of course, in a blind taste test this fragile-egoed young gentleman could never tell the two apart. In fact, according to a recent entry in the New York Times Proof Blog, the precious nectar he shells out for is often the same old well liquor, just poured into a comely aqua-marine bottle on the sly.

It’s a trick called a “downpour”, explains former barkeep Brian McDonald, and it’s common practice in many bars throughout the city. McDonald downpoured for three years, and only one person ever tasted the difference between top shelf liquor and its well counterpart. The accuser then watched McDonald pour the exact same well gin and tonic, but the second time he saw it come from a top shelf bottle. His new drink tasted just right.

gordonsThe lesson: if you’re ordering top-shelf liquor, you’re probably getting played. If you really find well booze unpalatable, find a middle ground that tastes great, but isn’t expensive enough to be worth downpouring. Our consultant friend should swallow his pride and order Gordon’s, which Esquire just named the best budget gin at $15 a liter. Of course, he wouldn’t be caught dead reading this site anyway.

Healthy Tuck for a Buck?

I’ve gotten a couple of comments from would-be Pennywatchers warning me of the havoc my cheap diet will wreak on my insides. Apparently bacon, nachos, and hot dogs topped with beef aren’t the surefire way to six-pack abs.

apple-braeburnSo I’ve been begrudgingly surfing for health-conscious options as well. This week these efforts led me (via the New York Times Well blog) to Divine Caroline, who lists the top 20 healthy foods you can pick up for under a dollar. Her suggestions range from the most obvious (apples and broccoli), to some you might not have thought of (sardines and pumpkin seeds). And to my joy, she includes eggs, which the experts have now deemed healthy, at least for this week.

So if you’re trying to decide whether your New Year’s resolution should be to eat healthier or to save money, check out the site and do both.

Poor Frank!

Gluttony"

Bruegel's "The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony"

In today’s New York Times, Frank Bruni does the unthinkable: he roots out meals so cheap that two people can enjoy them for under $99 (not including beverages)! Such restraint! Such humility!

In the land of two-digit prices Bruni acts like an overfed goldfish, ingesting everything he sees. At one restaurant, which prices its entrees in hobo range ($16-22), Bruni finds the extra cash to devour four courses. Pre-appetizer snacks? Really?

Bruni calls this “an experiment for lean times.” But sticking to his “budget” would cost $3,000 a month–$500 more than the average New Yorker’s monthly rent. Apparently it’s not just the bankers who are delusional.

Frugal Frank won’t qualify for the Pennywatcher of the week award, but his colleague Oliver Schwaner-Albright just might. Check out his excellent “$25 and under” article, in the very same NYT edition, for restaurant tips that real people may actually be able to afford. I’d say he needs a raise, but I wouldn’t want it to go to his head–or his gut.

Skip the bread line

bread-riotsThe price of bread has been a major cause of riot and revolution throughout history. The three or four bucks we shell out today for a loaf hasn’t stirred us to looting, but it may start a revolution in our kitchens.

All you need to make bread that blows the supermarket bakery away is a few pennies’ worth of simple ingredients–flower, yeast, salt, and water–a dutch oven pot, and patience. This recipe, dscn3183from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery via Mark Bittman of the New York Times, doesn’t require kneading, so no skill or experience is necessary. Just remember to mix the ingredients a day in advance, and nature will take care of the rest.

Find the recipe after the break, and save your rioting for the things that really matter, like sporting events and Rage Against the Machine concerts.

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Beef-on-beef action

dscn3161Chicagoans like their hot dogs topped with tomatoes, peppers, relish, and a whole pickle. Koreans apparently like theirs topped with…more meat. At the inconspicuously-named New York Hot Dog & Coffee (245 Bleecker St., Manhattan–map) in the West Village you can experience this cholesterol heaven without crossing the Pacific.

For $5.99, try the Bulgogi hot dog. This isn’t your finger-sized frank from the corner Sabrett cart. It’s a fat, spicy beef sausage in a seven inch hoagie roll topped with copious marinated beef strips, sautéed onions, and pickles. It’s a challenge to fit that all in your mouth, but once you do the mixture of sweet, salty, and spicy flavors is divine. If you’re not a beef fan, get a chicken sausage with chicken, vegetable curry, or kimchi on top.

dscn3163I was tipped off to the Bulgogi sensation by an article in the New York Times that claimed the dog cost $4.99, so I was apoplectic when I saw they’d hiked the price…until I tried the dog. Then all was bliss—it’s worth the extra buck.

One word of warning: if you spring for the full meal (an extra two bucks for spicy fries, chips, or soft-serve and a drink), skip the fries. They’re reheated and soggy and will only detract from your meat gorging experience.