I think I have a cure to L.A. traffic. Four foreign words: 포장마차 pronounced “pojang macha.”
Pojang machas are these street stalls set up like big tents that weave the hustle-bustle streets in Korean cities. You can’t miss it, especially when the weather is cold and you get baited into the tent by the puff of aromatic steam whiffing out of the tent, beckoning you like the gingerbread house in the story of Hansel and Gretel.
(Picture credit to cafe343)
Some of them are carts, while others are permanent kiosks. They’re usually open only in the evenings, and stay open till the wee hours of dawn. Customers start trickling in after work to get a bite to eat, down some soju shots and wait for the traffic to ease.
See, if there were pojang machas in Los Angeles, after-work drivers wouldn’t be out on the road jamming up rush hour. They would be in-tents, slurping and dining.
My memory of pojang macha is always with aching fondness: dipping foot-long skewers of squiggly fish cake into soy sauce and chili, drinking up the hot, savory broth and crunching into Korea’s own “goldfish cracker”—goldfish shaped buns filled with sweetened red bean paste.
(Picture credit from Korea Taste)
See that picture above stolen from the Internet? That’s the rows of fish cake skewers that I miss so much. They are called “odeng” (오뎅) in Korea, from the Japanese word “oden.”
How it typically works is you get however many you want, and the lady dunks it to re-warm it in a vat of broth that gets more and more delicious the longer the fish cakes stay immersed in there. After you order your dirt-cheap late-night snack, the pojang macha lady will hand you a paper cup of that steaming odeng broth to slurp up. No matter how cold the night, that odeng broth will send warm tingles down from your belly to your toes.
Unfortunately I can’t find many pojang machas around Los Angeles (probably state rules or something), but I can very easily find the familiar pojang macha dishes.
It was raining Sunday after church service. No, not raining—it was pouring cats and dogs (I don’t get that expression at all…shouldn’t it be “fish and turtles” or something like that?). The wind was whipping and it was just chilly and damp and miserable.
Which meant it was just the perfect weather for pojang macha food. Before Joanna left town, we inched our way (because Los Angeles traffic freaks out when the weather is not perfect) to Koreatown Galleria’s food court.
I am in love with this food court. It’s not too big, but it’s got all the stuff you ever want to get the taste of beloved Korean dishes, and it’s CHEAP.
Joanna and I were in wonderland as we wandered in. It’s a bit tough because suddenly you just want to eat everything. So we did something close to it. We ordered and ordered and ordered and ordered (and ordered).
I was craving odeng like mad, so I gravitated towards this stall called Cham-Cham-Cham with a funny pig logo:
I’m not sure what the name is supposed to mean. But I knew from a glance at the menu that I would eventually order from this stall.
I got a bowl of odeng steaming in its broth and a plate of kimbap (Korean sushi). It came with a side dish of creamy potato salad and two kinds of pickled radish:
Here’s the bowl of odeng:
If you’re wondering what odeng really is, it’s the fish version of hot dogs—processed seafood products (and MSG) ground into a cake, then steamed until firm and chewy.
Don’t wrinkle your nose at the mention of MSG; it’s not the evil cancerous devil health advocates claim it to be if you consume it occasionally within reason.
Aaaah. It tasted SO good and just hit the spot perfectly on that cold, rainy day.
And here’s my pretty plate of kimbap:
Korean sushi is very different from Japanese sushi, even if they look similar. The rice is seasoned with sesame oil instead of rice vinegar, and the ingredients are never raw.
Mine came with SPAM, spinach, carrots, omelet, imitation crabmeat, cucumbers and pickled radish. Total comfort food and a delicious interaction of Japanese and American influences.
And on the side, Joanna and I each ordered a take-out box of jajangmyun (read previous post for description) again, because it was mad-cheap at only $4.99 for a hefty portion. How can you say no to that?!
Joanna ordered three dishes like me, too, because she was in a blundering dilemma of what to order.
“I want everything!” she cried. “I want this and that and this and all of that!”
Mixing the sauce well into the noodles…
Other than the jajangmyun, she also ordered steamed meat and vegetable dumplings:
Made Korean-style with thin wrapper and lean meat. Served with three kinds of kimchi and Korean miso soup.
It wasn’t the best dumplings I’ve had, but they were decent. I can’t help thinking Korean dumplings are too…dry. The difference between Korean and Chinese dumplings is that Chinese dumplings include fatty pork, so it’s incredibly juicy.
Joanna also ordered a bowl of Oyakodon (chicken and egg on rice):
Which didn’t turn out at all like the Oyakodon I know. The egg wasn’t cooked right and the inclusion of mung bean sprouts was so Korean. It looked more like Korean bibimbap.
You know what else I love about Joanna? Unlike many girls, she doesn’t groan and complain about “eating too much” or “feeling fat” after a feast like this. Instead, she talks about the other stuff she wants to eat when she visits Los Angeles again.
Atta girl, Joanna. You show the world how a real lady eats.
Question of the Day: Do you get annoyed when people around you moan about how much they ate? Or perhaps you’re one of them? No shame in that—everyone does that once in a while, but perhaps it’s almost expected to make comments like that in this society… What do you think?