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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Exploring Koreatown In Los Angeles
Aired April 21, 2013 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANTHONY BOURDAIN, HOST (voice-over): For Korean-Americans -- according to the stereotype, anyway -- it used to be that you grew up to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer. There were a specific set of rules and expectations.
DAVID CHOE, ARTIST: Are you asking me to be in a porno? Is that what you're asking me?
BOURDAIN: Thanks to some remarkably bad Koreans, though, things are beginning to change.
ROY CHOI, CHEF: I went to one year of law school and I walked out.
BOURDAIN (on camera): So, you're a bad Korean?
CHOI: Now, I'm bad Korean.
CHOE: Any final advice to someone who's actually about to marry a Korean woman? The answer -- don't do it.
CHOI: All I knew was that this town was going down, and no one was showing up. So we as Koreans figured that out really quickly. There's a point where we look at each other and say --
BOURDAIN: They're not coming.
CHOI: They're not coming.
BOURDAIN: The choppers will not be here anytime soon.
CHOI: That's when all the stuff started to do go down.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Roy Choi is a second-generation Korean- American. He lives in Los Angeles. He's the owner/operator of four groundbreaking and much-loved food trucks, among the first to harness the strange and terrible powers of social media to alert customers to where to find delicious food.
CHOI: This was the command post. From here, you know you could look and you could see if fires were going on. BOURDAIN: When the Los Angeles riots happened in 1992, Roy was 22 years old. In this plaza's rooftop played a central role for Koreans defending their town.
Let's back up a bit. After the Immigration Act of 1965, thousands of Koreans began arriving in L.A. The first to arrive were mostly middle-class, college-educated, hoping to make a lateral move into American society. But unless you have a medical or engineering degree, that turned out to be tough.
They found work as merchants, store owners, opened liquor stores, groceries, massage studios, dry cleaners. They did that in an area that was, as it's called, underserved, where major chains feared to tread, where others preferred to abandon, Koreans moved in.
So, 1992 -- four L.A. police officers are on trial for what sure as hell looked to me like a wildly excessive and prolonged beating of an unarmed Rodney King. In April of that year, they were acquitted. For me, it was a "holy shit, I never saw that coming" moment. For African-Americans, it was a ruder (ph) surprise. To say people were angry would be an understatement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't represent the people no more.
CHOI: So you could almost feel it like a tidal wave coming.
BOURDAIN: The LAPD were completely unprepared for what happened next.
CHOI: Everything you see here, all this was being looted. Chairs and rocks, and everything being thrown through walls. If you go straight down western on Venice, the whole plaza burned on fire. We were calling 911, and there was no response.
BOURDAIN (on camera): Did the cops come at all?
CHOI: I was here all three days. I didn't see any cops.
BOURDAIN: Where did they set up their front line?
CHOI: Rodeo Drive.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Where did the forces of law and order set up their perimeter? Not they're. Koreatown was left to its own devices. The official borders are Third Street on the north end, Olympic Boulevard to the south, Vermont Avenue in the east, and Western Avenue to the west. That's three square miles. That's pretty much to burn or fend for itself.
This rooftop quickly became the command post for rapidly improvised Korean defense forces. They armed themselves, set up crude but effective command and control, communication and patrols.
CHOI: We weren't going around just slugging and capping people. All that was happening was just don't break down my store. Making sure our parents, our uncles, our families, these stores, this town, stays alive. BOURDAIN: Fifty-eight people were killed. Only a quarter of Korean- owned businesses survived, either destroyed outright during the riots or abandoned afterwards by owners who felt the entire underpinning of their contract with America had shifted. Yet today, Korean town is bigger and better and forever changed by what happened in 1992.
Dong Il Jang (ph), however is as an unwaveringly old school. Roy and I sit down with Roy Kim, whose grandfather opened the place in 1978. Like most Korean restaurants at the time, you didn't mess with the original, ever. And like most father/son relationships, you obeyed dad's wishes, no matter what.
ROY KIM: My father opened put all this redwood and cherry, to this day I can't touch certain things here.
CHOI: He doesn't let you change the uniforms, either.
KIM: No. He still controls the restaurant.
CHOI: You just don't the work.
KIM: I just do the work. As a Korean, we know.
BOURDAIN: We start with the bon chon (ph), all those delicious little freebie plates of pickles, preserves, kimchi, a spicy squid or two. No bon chon, no meal.
CHOI: And you know what this restaurant has that a lot of restaurants are going away from is the chairless rooms.
BOURDAIN (on camera): The feet under, knees forward? No can do.
CHOI: That was punishment for Koreans. That's a punishment.
KIM: And with a book over your head.
CHOI: For hours.
BOURDAIN: What would a crime -- what got you into that position?
CHOI: I mean, it could be as minimal as a 94 on a test.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Korean parents? Well, let's just say they veer towards -- moms and dads were not, shall we say, conflicted about corporal punishment. I love that you both immediately recognize it.
KIM: This is roast gui. This is what we're known it, thinly sliced ribeye marbled.
BOURDAIN (on camera): It's beautiful.
(voice-over): Roast gui, thin sliced ribeye. And Bulgogi, thinly sliced fat marbled beef, barbecued tableside.
CHOI: For us Koreans, it's kind of funny that barbecue has become the gateway to our food. BOURDAIN (on camera): Hey, it could be worse. I mean, at least it's delicious.
CHOI: It's delicious and we're like, okay, this is the portal, and we're cool with that.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): And this kimchi Bulgogi, Bokumbap, basically kimchi fried rice, but it fries into the pan like paella, so many great rice dishes with that outer layer of crispy stuff is just the best.
KIM: A tableside cooking, I think people overlook that a lot. This is like crepes suzette, filleting a dover sole.
BOURDAIN (on camera): Oh, man, this is ridiculously delicious. Will you be doing this in 20 years?
KIM: If we did change, tonight I would get a complaint.
CHOI: And you'd have to talk to your dad.
KIM: Oh, yes. That's the problem.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): What do you do if you're a locavore in L.A.? You look around. What's local and delicious? (INAUDIBLE) and authentic and is iconically L.A. as it gets.
If you're Roy Choi, you see tacos. With the Kogi truck, Roy Choi brought one of the first break mutation mash-ups of Korean and Mexican to the people.
What started as one truck became four trucks, and three brick-and- mortar restaurants to go with them.
CHOI: For me Kogi was only one trucks in the line. But the lines got big, you know?
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
BOURDAIN: Roy trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and interned at La Veranda in New York City. He wants his trucks like you'd expect of someone with that background.
CHOI: Within our food media landscape, we've romanticized certain compositions of what a great chef and great kitchen are supposed to look, smell and feel like. But just because those are beautiful doesn't mean this is not beautiful.
For me, I don't see mustard plants and sheep grazing. I see barbed wire and telephone poles. I see puddles, and, you know, all of that stuff contribute to the flavor of the foot. So it's truly what I call a terroir, a regional food.
And they're off.
BOURDAIN: Every lunch shift and every evening, the trucks' locations are sent out over Twitter. The locations change every day. And people flock quickly to find them, as the lines can get long, very long.
I took a run with Roy as he made his nightly rounds.
(on camera): So how often do you make the full circuit between all of your various enterprises?
CHOI: Twice a day, every day, unless I'm doing something crazy like this. It's kind of like I have a huge Las Vegas hotel, but the hallways are the streets.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): First stop, Chego! A rice bowl place in the Palms neighborhood.
CHOI: These are my guys right here. Hola.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
BOURDAIN: Kimchi, spam, classic.
CHOI: That is the menu here.
BOURDAIN: A big bowl of rice with meat, vegetables and lots of flavor, for less than 10 bucks. Good deal.
(on camera): I just want to know, you're so sentimental about the business of feeding people.
CHOI: It's a trippy state sense of romanticism like I'm very hard- assed too. Like you pack your own shit, you get what you get. If you complain, I take the food out of your hands and give you your money back.
But within those rules, there's a lot of love. There's a lot of care.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Across town in Venice is A-Frame, Roy's first brick and mortar.
CHOI: This used to be a IHOP.
BOURDAIN (on camera): Yes.
CHOI: So everything is really new.
BOURDAIN: Hence the shape.
(voice-over): It's heavily influenced by local takes on Hawaiian cooking, not that you would necessarily notice. Every dish designed to be eaten with the hand.
What's good? The baby back ribs are air dried, braised, then breaded and fried. Lingcod tacos treated like shawarma. Beer can crackling chicken is braid (INAUDIBLE) with air dried like Peking duck then fried. Meanwhile, not too far away, a Kogi truck pulls up, stops, reverses back to the corner. Before the awning is up, there's already a line. Hungry people have been waiting in cars around the corner ever since the Twitter announcement 30 minutes ago.
(on camera): I feel guilty, I'm jumping the line. Wow, what's the longest line you ever had?
CHOI: Six hundred.
BOURDAIN: Six hundred people for one truck?
BOURDAIN (voice-over): The Kogi taco, double caramelized Korean barbeque short rib on fresh corn tortilla, with salsa roja, cilantro onion-lime relish, and napa cabbage Romain slaw, and a chili soy vinaigrette.
(on camera): Oh, yes.
CHOI: The rap for Kogi is we go everywhere. We go to every single corner of the county and the city. We're not just going to the hip areas.
BOURDAIN: What about fantastic - what about Bel Air? Can you pull up on a corner in a residential area in Bel Air? What happens there? Do you get rousted?
CHOI: No, no, they come out in a Versace robe and --
BOURDAIN: That I got to see.
CHOI: Beverly Hills has lots spaces.
BOURDAIN: Why should you be excited about food trucks, because they allow creative chefs Roy without a lot of money to start creating and selling their stuff, introducing themselves to the world without having to gather up a million dollars or credulous partners, and they're affordable, they're democratic, and they are faster, better and infinitely preferable to fast food like the king and the clown and the colonel.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Stereotyping coming. Look, how do I put this? Good Korean kids grow up to be doctors, lawyers or engineers, goes the story. There are expectations.
But what if you're a bad Korean? What if you're Korean-American and just didn't give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED)? What if you look around, ask yourself, who am I? Who I suppose to be? Where do I fit in society? And were unsatisfied with the answers you were getting?
What if you were an insanely talented artist in a small startup company called Facebook asks you to do some murals in their offices, and they paid you with stock, and you became ridiculously wealthy, and you still didn't give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED)? Well, then you might be David Choe.
DAVID CHOE, ARTIST: Hi. I'm David Choe.
You're like me.
BOURDAIN (on camera): Is that an AK pinata?
CHOE: That is an AK-47 pinata.
CHOE: I mean, this place is in downtown L.A., so I should have as many weapons like hidden throughout. I got ninja swords and ninja stars.
BOURDAIN: You need a puppy, man. You need a puppy.
CHOE: I do need a puppy.
I'm going to paint you today. Is that cool?
BOURDAIN: Yes, sure.
CHOE: All right. So just sit right there, and -- sorry, I don't usually paint this early in the morning.
CHOE: I'm going to go more expressionistic, if you don't mind.
BOURDAIN: I want to know, you said young people are looking to follow your road to success, your advice is, whatever you do, don't date a Korean girl?
CHOE: OK, I try to be open-minded things, right? But, oh, I'm racist. For me, I've given it a shot and I end up with a situation where I feel like I'm dating my mom.
BOURDAIN: What characteristics in common were you --
CHOE: Jjealous, unreasonable, like unrealistic about life, demanding. Like, I mean, I could go on on and on. If you're a woman, I would never recommend dating a Korean guy.
For the very few women out there into Asian guys, if you are going to go that route, definitely go Chinese. Yes. Come check it out.
BOURDAIN: Oh, yes. Whoa! Awesome.
CHOE: I don't know. What do you think?
BOURDAIN: Dude, I'm honored. I've never had my portrayed done before.
CHOE: Hey, man. You're welcome.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): And this shit (ph) is going to be worth some money on eBay, for sure.
CHOE: Now I'm definitely ready for Sizzler. Nice.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Standing tall and prominent amongst the many Asian and Central American restaurants in the community, one place holds a cherished position in the collective memories of many second- generation Korean-Americans.
I am personally unfamiliar with the Sizzler brand. I know it by name, but never have I managed to actually cross its doors.
CHOE: After you. Thank you.
BOURDAIN (on camera): Wow.
How are you doing today?
CHOE: I'm doing fantastic. I have my Sizzler outfit on.
So, here's the thing. You can get a steak and add the salad bar with it, the best bang for your buck or you could just get the salad bar.
BOURDAIN: I have to have some steak.
CHOE: I am going to go traditional and just get just the salad bar.
BOURDAIN: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can sit wherever you like.
BOURDAIN: Oh, yes.
BOURDAIN: Oh, now, you're getting Korean on me.
CHOE: Super-embarrassed, because we're in Koreatown, and I'm taking you to Sizzler, which for a lot of Koreans, it's the best food in Koreatown.
BOURDAIN: If you eat non-Korean, this was it.
CHOE: We never ate out ever, if we did, it was McDonald's. If it was a birthday or special celebration and wanted to kick it up a notch and go a little bit more special, then it was Sizzler.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): This is a judgment-free zone, where there are no mistakes. A world to explore in congruous combinations without shame or guilt, free of criticism from snarkologist, because there are no snarkologists at Sizzler.
CHOE: Obviously, here's the accoutrements for making a nice nacho, taco salad, and pasta, spaghetti. Get a taco shell and put meatballs in it. This is Italian/Mexican dining, and you make a meat ball taco, and there's nowhere else in the world where you can have this. We put three meatballs in the taco, some guacamole, and then you put all this nacho cheese, all these other stuff.
BOURDAIN (on camera): I know what I'm going. I'm going for the full south of the border experience here.
CHOE: All right. There you go.
BOURDAIN: I'm not kidding around here. Oh, yes, now we're talking, my friend.
CHOE: It's a little bit nicer than I remember.
There it is. That's the best bread that you can get. You tell me if you like that.
BOURDAIN: Now, wait a minute. Are you saying that the cheese bread is complimentary?
CHOE: It's a complimentary. And once we found that out, we would order stacks of it. It was our favorite part of Sizzler. And we're like we need to figure out how to manufacture it at home.
BOURDAIN: So were you good Sizzler customers? Do you think they were happy to see you come?
I love this dish, man. When I go back, I might have to have a meatball taco.
CHOE: We goosed the system a bit, but not completely abused it. There would be the guilt associated with we never eat out, but now we are going out to eat. So you better (EXPLETIVE DELETED) if you've got to put down at least three plates.
So, what do you think of the bread?
BOURDAIN: It's delicious.
BOURDAIN: I get why it could be a wonderland.
CHOE: It's really good.
BOURDAIN: For you, Sizzler a happy place?
CHOE: Still, lots of memories. It's satisfying.
Get me more of this cheese bread.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Something Dave Choe and Roy Choi have in common is they maybe Korean Americans, but they are also very much creatures of L.A. And what is LA.? L.A. is Mexican, Central American, Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai, Samoan, Bangladeshi.
Everybody has left their mark, continues to shape the town, determine its character. K-town exists right upside its Latino neighbors, and I guess it's natural that both Choe and Choi identify very much with Mexican street culture.
Few things embodied a particularly southern California Latino street culture more than low-riding.
Esteban Oriel (ph) is a photographer, chronicler of everything iconic at the crossroads of hip-hop, design, tattooing, fashion, and low- riding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They used to put sandbags in their trunks to make them lower and around the '70s, they got popular.
BOURDAIN (on camera): Why these particular models?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty much always been the late '50 this is through the '60s, and any '80s, they starting bringing in the Cadillacs and Regales.
The most classic well-known car for low-riding is probably the '64 Impala.
BOURDAIN: How many Korean low riders are there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALEL: There's a few Asian ones, sprinkled in to other clubs.
BOURDAIN: More Asians? More Koreans than 15 years ago?
We're seeing a crossover with the food.
CHOE: Right. For the most part things are starting to get more open. If you're asking, I think there's going to be a lot more Asian- Hispanic mixed babies coming up in the future. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen to that.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Ideal low-riding is about getting appreciated by the people who best appreciate the traditions and techniques, the getting it right. For that, you head to East L.A.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most famous notorious street in LA. is Wilshire Boulevard, because of the history of it, and the Crenshaw Boulevard in south central.
BOURDAIN (on camera): So, that's going to be your most critical audience and most appreciative.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, the ones you want to see your car, you know?
BOURDAIN (voice-over): It's a slow-moving piece of art. You treat the car a piece of art, acutely aware of the dangers -- cops, for whom you are a target, potholes, other cars. In East L.A., you see people ooh and ah, you see people change the expression from what is that, to nice ride.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully gang members like cops, giving us respect, you know?
First, you build a car for yourself. At the same time, you're building it for the streets, for the people. You want them to appreciate it.
BOURDAIN: Within the border of Koreatown, it's not just Koreans. There are new arrive arrivals every day. There's, in fact, an official little Bangladesh right in the middle of K-Town.
(on camera): You're not short of options around here.
CHOI: No, you can get tacos across the street. Korean (INAUDIBLE) next door and goat stew. You can pray to Muhammad or Buddha.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): The tiny mosque next door where services are held five times a day.
(on camera): I was talking to a gentleman who said this is the first little Bangladesh in America.
CHOI: And it just happened like two years ago. It was like we went to sleep and woke up and there was little Bangladesh.
BOURDAIN: Here at (INAUDIBLE), step right in for curried goats, samosas, Tandoori chicken. Oh, yes, and this -- fish curry with no small amount of chilies.
(on camera): Just such aromatic, delicious food. What other food.
One good food you're likely to find within the confines of Koreatown?
CHOI: We have El Salvadorian, Guatemalans all around. Koreans all throughout, Pakistani, Bangladesh food. Oaxaca takes over all of Eighth Street.
BOURDAIN: Why Oaxaca? Is that just the way it worked out?
CHOI: Yes. Yu know how it goes. One guy showed up.
Filipino fast food just behind us, and a bunch of riffraffs.
BOURDAIN: Filipinos are very proud of their food, underrepresented.
CHOI: They're going through what we went through, where the glass hasn't been broken yet, to translate it, but stil keep the core and soul of it, but it tastes delicious.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): A few blocks over, the iconic Filipino fast- foot chain Jollibee. Laugh all you one, but ask any Filipino, they love the drive-thru mutation for specialties like this fried spam sandwich thing. But it's the desserts where it gets really crazy.
(on camera): Decisions, decisions.
CHOI: Yes, here we go.
We'll take one aloha burger, and then one spam little big bite. Let's do a halo-halo. That's it.
BOURDAIN: Oh, look at that. What is that?
CHOI: That's halo-halo.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Oh, yes, halo-halo. Dig deep and you hit delicious stratas of red beans, white beans and chickpeas, cubes of red and green jell-o, young white coconut, shaved eye, coconut, and is that flan? It makes no goddamned sense at all. I love it.
CHOI: A part of every Pinoy, Filipino's life, halo-halo.
BOURDAIN: I've got to take a picture of that. It's oddly beautiful.
You know I'm getting a bite of that little -- what is that?
CHOI: It's a little big bite.
BOURDAIN: Little big bite.
CHOI: Favorite thing in the world.
BOURDAIN: No, don't say that.
Actually, I like that.
CHOI: It's good, right?
BOURDAIN: Aloha. It just sounds magical. Is there like pineapple in there?
CHOI: Yes. BOURDAIN: Hence the aloha. That's a very tasty burger. Nice char.
CHOI: Asian fast food. It's fast food, but it's made like just a single family-owned restaurant. Maybe not your family.
CHOI: You like it?
BOURDAIN: It's actually very tasty.
CHOI: Every single thing you like it?
BOURDAIN: Wow, there's so much I don't know.
CHOE: That's true, dad. We all look the same.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love it.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): He may be a Korean gone bad, but Dave Choe still tries best he can to be a good son. He bought them this house in Los Feliz and visits for family meals often.
In fact, when we first met, sensing it had been a long time without a true home-cooked meal, he invited me to dinner with them.
So, guests are not unusual. Jane Choe is an amazing cook.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's going to be very delicious.
CHOE: Nom, dad, look who's here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you smell something?
BOURDAIN: Oh, yes. Good stuff.
UNIDNENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, all the good stuff coming. Maybe something going to hire me later.
BOURDAIN: OK. Which ones are you? Are you the oldest?
CHOE: I'm the middle. I'm the suicidal pirate.
BOURDAIN: Already signs of trouble here. CHOE: My older brother is the hip-hop Santa. He was the oldest. He beat me up, I beat him up, and then he would just cry.
Show you my dad's painting. Hey, dad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes?
CHOE: Hey, come over here for a second. Would you paint this, dad, 30 years ago?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 1973.
CHOE: Every Christmas he unrolls it and just scotch-tapes it to the wall. My mom's the artist in the family now.
BOURDAIN: So this is a family of artists?
(voice-over): The Choes are devout Christians, not unusual in the Korean community, but they are unusual in that they're both artists of a sort.
Jane treats the house like an ongoing art projects, drawing sun grasses on pictures, stapling angels to day's painting that have hung in the White House, getting crazy with the glue gun, adorning wreaths with happy meal toys, sticker bombing the kitchen with birds, cows, space ships piloted by her three boys. She is relentlessly energetically and inarguably creative.
CHOE: She brainwashed me. From the time, we were kids. She was like you're the best artist in the world. You're the best artist in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are.
CHOE: Oh, thanks.
But now she's telling me she's going to be the best in the world. She's very competitive. She says she's going to destroy me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Awesome.
BOURDAIN: Food is ready.
CHOE: So you want to explain what everything is, mom?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The food I prepared tonight is very common Korean food, (INAUDIBLE). This is beef with stew.
CHOE: Kimchi is looking fresh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, kimchi is fresh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today is chestnut rice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one has this kind of rice.
CHOE: Special rice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Special rice for Tony.
CHOE: And stuffed peppers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that's David's favorite.
BOURDAIN: Cheongpomuk, seaweed and jelly Mung beans, chop suey, noodles, shiitake mushrooms and vegetables. Avocado eggrolls, fried squid and shrimps. Potato pancake. Often, at the Choe's house, there's a few Mexican dishes sprinkled in as well.
It's always a great meal. I can tell you that.
CHOE: Thanks, mom. This is delicious.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is awesome.
CHOE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love it.
BOURDAIN: During the riots of '92, Jim and Jane Choe worked as real estate agents and property managers, so the destruction in Koreatown had a direct impact on their lives.
The Choes watched from homes as the chaos unfolded on TV. After the riots, Jim wrote a letter to the editor that was published in "Los Angeles Times."
JIM CHOE, FATHER: I'm extremely angry with the LAPD, for their outrageous action. Why the cops let looters run wild and rape our city, they somehow had time to bother Korean chef/owners guarding their stores. How can the owner of a business just sit back and watch his life be burned to the ground?
BOURDAIN: David would have a very different reaction.
CHOE: My brother stole a car, and we went into like all the neighborhoods, and then quickly realized it wasn't like about race, it was just about people stealing stuff.
But we were out looting, causing chaos. I don't think we got anything good. I think I got a TV stand.
BOURDAIN (on camera): Was it life-changing for you?
CHOE: It's like you grow up and things are explained. Here's the police, they're not doing anything they're supposed to do, just normal men and women of society acting like animals, and I was like oh, everything I've been taught and learned my whole life is disintegrated before my lives, but in the end. We're from great disasters come great things, right? I mean, Koreatown burned down. It's like we own L.A. now. It's like half the L.A.
JIM CHOE: Now, it's Korean culture, K-pop and Psy, all the over the world influence, you know?
BOURDAIN: Filmmakers, all the top Korean film makers.
CHOE: What about me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BOURDAIN: Artists, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry, David. He's incredible (ph).
CHOE: Today I went into all the different ways you guys used to beat us when we were kids, the stress positions like, you know? All the Korean punishments.
BOURDAIN: What's remarkable to me, every kid, I mean, all Korean kids, the same position, holding a book --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's the way we learned from generation to generation. We don't know why.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): To take a peek into the dark heart of the Korean psyche, make it helps to get familiar with Han, a concept no non-Koreans can be difficult to fully grasp.
CHOE: All right. You want it? Here we go. Han denotes a collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face of overwhelming odds. It connotes aspects of lament and un-avenged injustice.
CHOE: I some occasions, anthropologists had recognized Han as cultural specific medical condition. Someone who denies of Han is said to have been died of --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's heartburn.
BOURDAIN: Well, I mean, it's been described in a way that sounded benign. This is a burning sense of injustice, besiegement and desire for revenge.
CHOE: The Han is the reason we are who we are, but also the same reason why I won't marry a Korean woman.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You never know --
CHOE: I know, mom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's cute. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Main drag of K-town, another mini mall among many. Karaoke, no.
CHOE: This is the best dumpling spot in town. My mom would just order all these dumplings and leave them on my door, because she's not let in my house.
I just said, where are you getting these? My mom likes to withhold information. I finally got it out of her.
BOURDAIN: Myung In Dumplings, where they served a mix between Korean and Chinese. Each plate handmade to order by friends, opened in 2007 on Olympic Boulevard, it's run by Yu Jin (ph), a Korean by way of a Shenyang province in China.
CHOE: I'm coming here for about two years now, there's no one ever in here. Every time I've ever come in. I don't understand how they're open. They're the best dumpling you've ever had. Maybe just people get them to go.
BOURDAIN (on camera): Right.
CHOE: They all look like butt holes, actually.
BOURDAIN: Kind of, yes, pre-prolapse.
(voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) king dumpling. Thick dough, stuffed to the gills with pork, kimchi, vegetables, precisely made, weighed and crimped. Steam until soft, eat.
(on camera): Wow, nearly the size of your head.
CHOE: Yes, it's like pizza. I'll eat them cold, too. Save two and have them for dinner.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): And mandu (ph), smaller with thinner dumpling skins served with red chili paste.
CHOE: That's the dessert one.
BOURDAIN (on camera): Wow. Boy, these are delicious.
They are like so huge.
So would this be classically post-drinking food or pre-drinking food? Laid out of base of absorbent material --
CHOE: Yes, there's a lot of bread here. I don't really drink. Just falling to peer pressure here, just to be one of the cool guys, so --
BOURDAIN: I like this place already. Good signage. That's important.
CHOE: The sign's awesome.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): If that sign does not sing to you, then we cannot be friends.
CHOE: Mari, hi.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, David. How are you?
CHOE: This is my Uncle Tony. This is Mari.
BOURDAIN: Hi, guys.
CHOE: This is Perry Kim aka Tom Cruise (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More Koreans here.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Some friends of Choe seem to favor this, they are a very thirsty and diverse bunch.
(on camera): Asking everybody the stretch position as a child. Did you have to do? Went right into it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stress position.
BOURDAIN: The speed with which they assume the position.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Water.
BOURDAIN: Water, wow.
What if your arms get tired?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make you do it again for 45 minutes to an hour.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole thing is doing it again.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Look, I'm not Korean, I'm not Asian, I'm a white boy from the suburbs, but I noticed something over time in my K- Town adventure.
Similar anecdotes, you might say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, they have done this quite a bit. They came up a new one.
BOURDAIN: I was very aware that all my Korean friends no matter how creative or successful seemed strangely haunted by something, but I never knew this.
(on camera): How do you do this?
CHOE: Oh, it goes up like this, and then it's like opening up an umbrella inside someone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colleagues.
You think it's hilarious and adults do that to each other.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): What the hell that is about, I can only guess.
(on camera): Cheers. Koreans gone bad.
CHOE: You're Korean now officially.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Pretty much any Korean you meet anywhere, you can take it for granted they like food, that they are passionate about food, particularly their food, which of all the immigrant cuisines has probably been messed with the least. Unlike many new arrivals, Koreans seem to have been the most unwilling to accommodate western tastes. Maybe that's why it took us so much time to love this stuff.
Beverly tofu house, like so much of K-Town's finer establishments, is tucked away in the corner of a strip mall.
CHOI: This is one of my favorite spots, where I've been coming for almost 20 years. This is a soup that's just like it's kind of Korean but really more --
BOURDAIN (on camera): This is not a direct transplant from Korea.
CHOI: It became what we're about to have here in L.A.
CHOI: It's different because of the ingredients we couldn't find, but never thinking about leaving the American palate just to make ourselves happy.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Sonsobu (ph) is the thing to get, a fiery, tongue-searing, ass-burning tofu soup that will make you forget every bad thing you ever thought about tofu.
A spicy, spicy red broth of tofu as the base. We're taking soft tofu here, with a texture like boratta and from there a handful of variations. But the most common is with kimchi with everything -- beef, oysters, mussels, clams, oh, table size. They crack an egg in there.
(on camera): Wow. Right in there, cool.
That looks completely awesome. Well, we better wait for this to cool.
So how do we eat this, spoon it over rice? CHOI: Spoon it over rice. Just mix it in.
All tofu should be spicy by my way of thinking. So good.
CHOI: Yes. Really.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): Koreans can well remember when nobody was interested in their food. Now, it's confusingly au courant. Must be strange for the owners to be doing what they are doing for years.
CHOI: Like, for example, like us sitting here like this, the questions that a lot of people are asking me in Korean, like I'm telling them, we're filming, you know, we're trying to show it, the number one question, they are not mad or vindictive. The question is why?
BOURDAIN (on camera): Why wouldn't we be interested?
CHOI: Why wouldn't we be interested? Why would you waste your time? There's other things to do.
BOURDAIN: It's an extraordinarily beautiful and delicious things.
CHOI: That's the thing. The beauty is just already a given, already a part of fabric, so it's like why congratulate you, you know? There's no reason to congratulate you because this is like what we do.
BOURDAIN: It sounds awful honestly. Totally enjoying this.
BOURDAIN: What do your parents want you to be when you grow up?
CHOI: For me, a doctor, a lawyer.
BOURDAIN: Right. Obviously not a doctor or lawyer. Did you finish college?
CHOI: I finished college and went to one year of law school and I walked out.
BOURDAIN: Right. So you're a bad Korean.
CHOI: I was a bad Korean.
If I was a mediocre accountant, it would be better than being a top chef.
BOURDAIN: According to who?
CHOI: According to Korean culture, according to Korean uncles and aunts. It doesn't register that that is a profession, you know? I wouldn't have to explain myself if I just said I was a CPA.
CHOI: Never. You know that.
BOURDAIN: Still got some explaining to do.
CHOI: Still. Just get it across that I cook, and that there was this phenomenon that happened on the streets of L.A. that changed and opened up Korean culture to the world.
BOURDAIN (voice-over): What does it mean to be Korean-American? Does one create one's own world?
I don't know that I'm any smarter about that now than when I first came to K-Town in the middle of the night to discover a strange and fabulous and delicious slice of America I had never known was there, but I'm trying to figure it out.