Psst. Come closer, here. Let me tell you a secret.
…I don’t really like Korean food very much.
Korean cuisine is starting to gain momentum in the culinary world, but to me…it’s just not so exciting. It’s something I grew up eating. To not eat Korean was a once-in-a-while treat for me.
As a kid, when I was very very well-behaved, my mom would let me eat at KFC’s to get potato wedges, mashed potato and extra-spicy fried chicken (I would only eat the skin and give the flesh to my sibling). Before my dad left for his mission trips, he would take us to McDonald’s and let me order two orders of large French Fries, 20 McNuggets, and 2 ice-cream cones (no, I did not share).
But something has changed since I moved all the way to the west coast, far far away from my Korean parents. I became surrounded by non-Koreans and non-Asians. People who either think of Korean cuisine as 1) all-you-can-eat BBQ or 2) a spicier, stinkier version of moo shu pork. People who think kimchi is exotic, or never even heard of it. God bless them.
It’s intoxicating and exciting to have the opportunity to introduce someone to a new culture and cuisine that belongs to yours. I feel like…a gastronomic missionary, if you will.
So. Since then, I’ve rediscovered a curiosity and appreciation for my mother cuisine, preaching the wonder of kimchi to everyone from my friends to the local councilmen.
But here’s another secret: I don’t actually know as much about Korean food as I appear to be. Just because I eat a lot of stinky, spicy food doesn’t mean I know about their history, or know how to make them. I’m learning and experiencing together with my dining companions and in a way, I’m probably learning the most.
A few days ago, that’s exactly what happened. I wanted to taste the Koreatown nightlife, so I decided to organize a bar-hopping night with a few friends. But somehow I found myself inviting more and more people and suddenly we were a giant group of nine.
In the end, we decided to stick to someplace not too crazy and dark and wild as nightclubs. So I suggested something I’ve been planning to try for some time: black goat stew.
Now, I had never ever heard of black goat stew before. Not the Korean kind, anyway. I didn’t even know Koreans ate goat. In fact, when I asked my mother about black goat stew, she said she had never heard of it either. And it turns out…there might be a juicy story behind the origin of black goat stew.
When I arrived at the black goat stew restaurant Chin Go Gae, I knew my friends were going to have a hard time finding it.
I’m still in the middle of researching the veracity of this claim, but apparently a bunch of Korean restaurants in Koreatown did once sell dog meat stew until angry pooch-lovers who couldn’t bear the thought of their beloved Fifis boiling in a hot pot rallied against these restaurants. How dare you call man’s best friend a delicacy, they cried.
California now has a law against eating common household pets, and that was the end of that, though apparently some restaurants still did surreptitiously sell dog meat…by advertising their house specialty in Korean, so that only Korean clients (or those who can read Korean characters) would know.
Anyway. I’m quite certain all dog meat-selling establishments have been shut down or forced to branch out their menu. But many of these still-existing establishments now sell black goat stew—the same way they made dog stew, just using a different animal. Because apparently the taste and texture of goat is remarkably similar to that of dog’s.
By the time I registered myself, my dining buddies had arrived, happy and beaming like excited puppies. I decided not to share this little tidbit with them just yet so as not to leech their appetite.
Well, we had a marvelous time. Chin Go Gae is a small hole-in-the-wall place, frequented mostly just by Korean customers.
We must have been quite the sight, being a thoroughly multi-ethnic group. Here’s Alexis and Andrew:
Alexis is half-Hong Kongese, half-Korean. Andrew is Taiwanese. They sure look jolly.
There’s Brian (don’t know his ethnicity, but hm, he looks American to me ;-p):
There’s Pranay (South Indian!):
And then there’s my friend Daina (Jewish), Eva (Guatemalan), Mimi (beef-chomping Texan) and another new friend Fred (half-Mexican) who I failed to capture individually.
The menu at Chin Go Gae is severely limited:
Wow, even the menu is obscure. They don’t seem to think non-Koreans would like to order goat. But look at the top two options. “Yeum so” means goat in Korean, and the first two dishes are black goat stew (“yeum so tang") and marinated goat (“yeum so moo chim”).
I ordered a portion of goat stew and a portion of marinated goat for each person. I was going to order half-portion of stew and marinated goat (0.5 + 0.5 = 1 serving, right?), but the lady taking the order haggled me until I did what she advised.
Out poured in the ban chan (side dishes):
The usual kimchi, pickled jut, seaweed salad, cucumber kimchi, radish kimchi, and “water” kimchi.
The seaweed salad was my favorite. So refreshing.
And then the first entree came:
The marinated goat, sauteed with perilla leaves (kkaennip) and sprinkled with sesame seeds. From what I could taste, there was definitely garlic and just a little dash of chili powder in there.
Although it looks spicy, it really wasn’t. The meat was insanely tender, and the seasoning was delightfully bold and flavorful.
And then two ladies came and set before us two huge bubbling pots of black goat stew:
They smothered the stew with fresh perilla leaves and some other kind of wild plant I couldn’t identify because I’m not Korean enough.
Ooh la la. We all waited until the fresh verdant vegetable started wilting into the steaming broth.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. And then just as we were about to dig in from impatience, the ladies popped out just in time to ladle a generous portion for all of us.Mmm. The pot is a wonderful melt of tender goat meat, cartilage and fat. The odor of goat meat is exhumed with the minty, piquant perilla leaves and made appetizing with lots of complex, intense seasoning. The goat has been cooked for hours, so the meat just melts in your mouth.
Once we fished out all the vegetables per the ladies’ urging, they dumped in a whole new batch of perilla leaves and the plant-that-has-no-name for us. Lovely!
We set there for hours, laughing and talking. All thoughts of dog meat out of my mind.
It was just the perfect kind of meal and atmosphere for a big, loud group like us, and it warmed my heart to see everyone tucking in with joy and gusto.And then, when we were almost done with our feast, the ladies swarmed in once more, and dumped bowls of white rice into the leftover broth. They drizzled in sesame oil and stir-fried the rice with more perilla leaves and strips of toasted nori in the remaining juices/soup, then let us dig in once more:
Oh my God. This was the best treat of the night!!
To be honest, goat meat…was a bit too meaty for me. I could appreciate it, but I can’t love it because the gamey, distinct taste of goat is just too…unpleasantly raw and wild for me.
So I was super delighted to be presented with this starchy dish to neutralize the goat aftertaste in my mouth. The best part was also that when you leave the rice in the pot for some time, the bottom gets all fried and crunchy.
I had five bowls of this. I was also the last one to scrape all the toasted bits into my bowl. Utterly freaking delicious.
When I got home, I did hours of research and still I could not find the history to Korean black goat stew. All I found was that black goat is the only indigenous animal bred in Korea, and that goat meat is supposedly great for male virility—the all-natural way to have an awesome sexy time. Poo. Not at all helpful to me.
So. My question to you, my dear readers is this: Do anyone know anything about the origin to black goat stew? I dearly want to know!
P.S. Please don’t think the worst of us Koreans because we eat dog meat. We used to be a nation riddled with poverty, and dog was the only way the average citizen could afford to eat meat. We actually have a specific breed of dog we eat…we don’t just kidnap the neighbor’s poodle for lunch! Besides, apparently most Koreans have lost the taste for dog meat, now that more and more people start having dogs for pets…