Westborough Korean: An All-Time Favorite

img_0182
Dinner at Westborough Korean

I had this post in draft limbo for over a year, and yet, this was the first place I wanted to write about. One of our all-time favorite spots:

Westborough Korean Restaurant
in Westborough, MA (Central Mass).

Sometime ago during Christmastime, excited to come in for some hot food, (in both senses of the word).

It is only fair to warn you that, for the time being, I remain a mere novice enthusiast in the world of Korean cuisine. I have only been to places in Toronto, South Florida, only a spot or two in NY, and some in MA. I have a long road ahead of me with destinations like the LA Koreatown and, well, Seoul itself placing high in my travel priorities. I will even share the fact that my very first exposure to Korean cuisine was not until I was of college-age, I believe. Many a moon ago, I attended for the nth time in my life the Epcot® International Food & Wine Festival, one of my family’s favorite excuses for a Disney trip. A new kiosk was setup between China and the African Outpost for Korean food. I ordered a small dish of Korean BBQ, and this small, seemingly-unglamorous step was the stepping stone that embarked me on a journey of love for both Korean food and its culture—and yes, Korean dramas and K-Pop, but that is besides the current point. Before this, I was unaware of Korean cuisine and its deliciousness.

I first came across Westborough Korean—let us call it WK for brevity—through a handful of online reviews that led me and my sister to this small, somewhat hidden dive. There is actually another Korean restaurant of sorts, Sapporo Restaurant, essentially across the street from WK. Sapporo has the entertaining option of grilling tables where you can cook your own meats and veggies, a characteristic trait of Korean restaurants. Although good, Sapporo is more along the lines of the typical commercial, more readily available restaurant, with higher prices and more widely-known menu items, plus the fact that Sapporo is both a Korean BBQ and Sushi Restaurant. It’s good, but compared to WK, there is a trade-off between brand/appearance and menu diversity versus richness of the meal plus bang for your buck. It’s an amusing note to point out that both places close one day a week, with Sapporo closing on Mondays, and Westborough Korean closing on Tuesdays, so worst case scenario, if you miss one you can still attend the other.

At WK, the food is plentiful, rich and varied in flavor. The meals are preceded by an arrangement of banchan, multiple small side dishes that provide for an overall wholesome experience. Banchan consist of items including but not limited to kimchi, spinach, potatoes, candied lotus roots, cubed radish kimchi, sweet potato noodles, soybean sprouts, mung bean jelly, cucumbers, broccoli, spicy eggplant, fish cakes… See below for articles on even more possibilities. Banchan is a particularly exciting element of Korean meals since you have a diverse assortment of flavors and nutritious elements from which you can pick and choose throughout the meal, a parallel to the bread and butter served during Western meals, but with much added culinary value, if you ask me.

Banchan at Westborough Korean. Depending on the day, they might be slightly different items.

The meals are served in a warm, small and intimate environment by a friendly staff we have been fortunate to get to know. The walls are decorated with subtle artwork covered in Korean lettering, in addition to one TV playing American shows opposite to another TV that plays Korean programming such as the famed Korean dramas or game shows. I particularly enjoy looking at that latter TV when the news come up, trying to figure out what the hangul captions are describing about a particular event in their own side of the world or even on our interlacing politics.

Fam with our friend Ann.
Dave and I and little kid peering from the left side of the picture.

A review wouldn’t be complete without suggestions on the must-get items from the menu. My family and I are creatures of habit and, once we find the items that make us fall in love with a place, it’s tough to dissuade us from venturing much further. One day, though, Dave and I will undergo the task of trying out every other delicious item on the menu… Some other time, some other day… For now, the two items we simply cannot do without at WK are the Dolsot Bi Bim Bap and the spicy Pork Bulgogi. These two alone provide the nutrition and flavor we crave for at a great price we can enjoy between four people and feel fully satisfied with. When we go with more people or even feel particularly “starved”, we add the Galbi Gui (to die for), and the Kimchi Pancake (Kimchijeon) as appetizer. I would highly suggest to enjoy yourself as well and get some soju, a drink which I particularly love. While it resembles sake, it holds a sweeter and softer flavor, which personally makes it a lot more pleasant for my particular palette—I typically struggle a bit to drink sake; by contrast, I am always eager to order soju, and like sake, it is also served in similarly small-sized servings.

To this day, Westborough Korean retains the title as one of our all-time favorite food spots to go to, independent of cuisine labels.

Kimchijeon with scallions and sauce, cut into slices like a small pizza pie.
Platter of spicy pork bulgogi on the left plus two stone bowls of bibimbap. Red gochujang sauce being drizzled on the second bowl.
The staff that makes it all happen.

On a somewhat sad note, this was one of my pseudo-attempts at bibimbap to help me through my withdrawal from WK, back when we had moved out of the area… I will not be sharing said wanna-be recipe, though.

img_1819
Withdrawal-induced dish cooked in remembrance of an actual bibimbap dish.

But, I will be sharing an actual bibimbap recipe by Maangchi, as seen in the video below.

Bibimbap Video Recipe by Maangchi:

Happy Spring?
-Kika


Bonus links, on banchan:

 

Advertisements

TIL: Korean Crushed Red Pepper ≠ US Crushed Red Pepper

Spicy Pork Bulgogi
Our first attempt at Spicy Pork Bulgogi! Ok so, not quite like at my favorite Korean places, but still purty good first attempt, with a donkey’s kick worth of heat.

Gochugaru (고추가루)

Monday November 7th, 2016

This past weekend we had some friends over for an evening of at-home cooking. Jeremiah made yet another awesome apple strudel and Dave made some Moscow mules, a tortilla soup, and our first attempt at spicy pork bulgogi. Unfortunately, there was no belly space left for Alex’s eggies in a basket to commemorate the 5th of November.

The reason why we’re sharing this post today, though, is because of the spicy pork bulgogi. We followed a pretty good recipe from Food.com that is also absurdly/amazingly simple to follow—literally mix the ingredients, let marinade for a while, then dump it in the pan and cook at medium high heat, serve (preferably with white rice).

ERROR #1: The recipe says to use “2 tablespoons of Korean red pepper flakes.” Dave says, “Hm, we don’t have Korean red pepper flakes… Should we just use regular flakes?” I say, “YEEaaaahhh, use regular.” David hesitates. I insist, “Just use regular! It’s fiiiineee…”

ERROR #2: David suggests using just one tablespoon of pepper flakes—this coming from a guy that doesn’t consider heat to be heat unless it’s “hotter than an Indian summer on Alderaan”… (I give up, this is the pun you get). But then again, his suggestion was also in consideration of our friends. AND STILL, I say, “No Dave, one must follow a recipe and then modify accordingly.” Haha, foolish Kika *says mildly-wiser Kika to less knowledgeable Kika from the past through psychic exchanges*

You might be able to conclude from this that the dish packed more heat than needed—or less!?!? No, it was more… Oh sorry, you were trying to guess.. Well, forget what I said and guess again. *Reader makes a guess out loud* You’re correct! It probably packed more heat than needed. But then again, there’s still more that’s solely wild estimation. You see, not only is there a difference in heat between Korean pepper flakes and typical pepper flakes, they also contribute very different flavors.*

For any redditors out there, here’s some key takeaways from a Reddit thread on the topic of Korean Red Pepper Flakes, or, Gochugaru:

  • Gochugaru is made from a different kind of pepper than typical crushed red pepper**: It is made from “Chungyang” red pepper, which is about 12,000 to about 23,000 Scoville units, making it milder than your typical red pepper flakes which place in the 30,000 to about 50,000 Scoville units range.***
  • You can find different levels of coarseness for gochugaru. Fine gochugaru, which seems to resemble cayenne powder in texture and color—using Google and Amazon as my friends here—is usually used for making gochujang (sometimes written as kochujang) sauce. The vast majority of recipes will request (or assume) you use the coarse kind, though, kimchi included.
  • There is a big difference in aromatics between gochugaru and typical crushed red pepper, with gochugaru being described as smoky, sweet, even earthy, and some users even attributing an almost fruity and/or floral taste to it. The phrase “a cross between an ancho and Hungarian paprika” appears in the thread.
  • Gochugaru are sun-dried, which gives them a different flavor than regular-dried chili flakes.****

With my head emotionally (and spiritually because I’m not literally doing this right now) tilted against the window deep in sad thought, wondering why we couldn’t be blessed with proximity to an H Mart, I comfort myself with the idea that I can actually order gochugaru through Amazon and get it in just two days. Without leaving the house. But then again, I have to work tomorrow. And it’s election day too. Sooo, before I make further judgments like, “maybe we can use a bit less soy sauce?” or, “hm, this is good, but it’s not quite like the recipes from my favorite Korean restaurants,” I’ll have to:

  1. Vote.
  2. Order the coarse gochugaru.
  3. Not ignore the recipe’s only two warnings of not substituting the gochugaru or the gochujang sauce.
  4. Maybe marinating the beef longer by leaving it overnight?
  5. Actually follow the measurements on the reci—what, really, Dave? You tweaked all over? You’re telling me this now? After I’m almost done writing this whole post—it’s ok, babe, it came out awesome… No, I know now that you had to adjust for more pork… We’ll just try it again with gochugaru too.

And yes, voting comes first, because without democracy, capitalism, and ‘Murican Freedom *insert ‘Murican flag waving elegantly in the wind in front of fireworks and a passing eagle* I couldn’t order foreign items at will from the comfort of my couch. It’s like witchcraft, really. The awesome kind.

So once you’re done voting or not voting because you can’t vote, are too disturbed to vote this year, or can’t vote in the US and your country’s voting is not tomorrow or anytime soon, also make sure to go over “15 Essential Tools & Ingredients for Korean Cooking” if you want to one-up your Korean food cooking skills. I sure do.

From cold Massachusetts, wishing you a warm week,
Kika & Dave.

* A claim we’ll need to scientifically test ourselves.
** “Crushed red pepper flakes are generally made up of different types of chili peppers, including cayenne, ancho and bell.”[3]
*** You can still purchase them in different levels of heat, though, with “maewoon” (매운) meaning spicy and “deol maewoon” (덜매운) meaning mild (literally, less spicy).[4]
**** We’ll need to look into the typical industrial methods for drying red pepper flakes. Please remind me to look into this. If you forget, no worries, I’ll randomly remember at a family gathering in ~20 years.

References

[1] Spicy Pork Bulgogi Recipe by Jelisa, at Food.com http://www.food.com/recipe/spicy-pork-bulgogi-29690
[2] “Korean red pepper flakes – how different are they from typical pepper flakes?” Question made by user themadnun on r/AskCulinary on Reddit.com, https://m.reddit.com/r/AskCulinary/comments/4jkx2f/korean_red_pepper_flakes_how_different_are_they/?utm_source=amp&utm_medium=comment_list&compact=true
[3] “How to Make Crushed Red Pepper Flakes” by Christine Wheatley of LEAFtv, https://www.leaf.tv/articles/how-to-make-crushed-red-pepper-flakes/
[4] “Hot pepper flakes – Gochugaru 고추가루” at Maangchi.com, http://www.maangchi.com/ingredient/hot-pepper-flakes
[5] “Beyond Kimchi: 15 Essential Tools & Ingredients for Korean Cooking” by Matt Rodbard of Food52 — Culinary Arts, February 26, 2016, on Curious, Presented by Startford University http://curious.stratford.edu/2016/02/26/beyond-kimchi-15-essential-tools-ingredients-for-korean-cooking/