Anthony Bourdain: Koreatown Los Angeles
"Good Korean kids grow up to be doctors, lawyers or engineers, goes the story," said Anthony Bourdain. "There are expectations. But what if you're a bad Korean? What if you were Korean-American and you just didn't give a f---?"
The host of CNN's "Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown" traveled to Los Angeles for the series' second episode. While the City of Angels may not sound like an unknown part, Bourdain specifically explored Koreatown, where he ate like a local with his two guides, Korean-Americans Roy Choi and David Choe.
Choi, a self-described bad Korean, an executive chef and Koreatown native, owns several restaurants and a fleet of food trucks in LA.
Choi attributed his "bad" Korean-ness to the fact that he dropped out of law school. His parents wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer, Choi said, and in their culture it was far more respectable to be a mediocre accountant than a top chef.
Choi's food trucks, Kogi Trucks, serve up Korean fusion food. Choi and his employees announce where the trucks are going to be parked ahead of time over Twitter.
Kogi trucks go to every single corner of the county and the city, Choi said, not just the trendy areas. (Yes, he's been to Bel Air. No, they don't kick him out.)
Choi also took Bourdain to a Koreatown mainstay, the restaurant Dong Il Jang. Bourdain called the Koreatown mainstay "as unwaveringly old school as you get." They were joined by another Roy -- Roy Kim, whose grandfather opened Dong Il Jang in 1978. Kim has never updated the eatery's decor -- which includes redwood paneling and cherry red vinyl booths -- or waitress uniforms that resemble a cross between Alice's uniform from "The Brady Bunch" and Alice's uniform from the diner-based sitcom "Alice."
The 1970s style remains because Kim refuses to go against his father's wishes. Besides, the outdated digs certainly don't hinder business.
After a little tableside cooking, the trio dined on fat-marbled beef, thin-sliced rib eye and spicy squid with the traditional fixings, including kimchi, pickles and preserves.
Bourdain also visited popular Filipino fast-food joint Jollibee, where after devouring a fried Spam slider known as the Little Big Bite and an Aloha Burger (it's got a pineapple slice), he enjoyed a most unique dessert: halo-halo.
Halo-halo consists of red beans, white beans, chick peas, Jell-O, coconut, shaved ice and flan.
"It makes no Goddamn sense at all," said Bourdain, "I love it."
Bourdain also called the purple, yellow and green treat "oddly beautiful."
Artist David Choe was hired by Facebook to paint murals in the then-startup's offices back in 2005. Facebook paid Choe in stock, and he's now a multimillionaire.
At Choe's art studio in Downtown LA, Bourdain noticed a good deal of weapon-themed art, such as an AK-47 piñata.
"You need a puppy, man," said Bourdain.
Bourdain sat for a portrait in Choe's studio.
Then the pair went to the last place one might expect to find a world-renowned chef and an artist reportedly worth $200 million: Sizzler.
As it turns out, Choe loves Sizzler. This was Bourdain's very first time at a Sizzler.
The CNN host explained that he learned Sizzler "holds an unexpectedly cherished position in the collective memories of many second-generation Korean-Americans."
Choe elaborated, but not before pouring Bourdain's beer, because, he noted, Koreans pour for their elders. He then explained that Koreans very rarely eat out because they almost always cook. But when they want to step a celebration up, they go to Sizzler.
Bourdain and Choe agreed that Sizzler was to be a judgment-free zone where they would take full advantage of the unlimited salad bar and mistakes simply did not exist. They combined a slew of cuisines (two words: meatball tacos) and delighted in the complimentary cheese toast.
Bourdain further described the salad bar as "a world to explore incongruous combinations without shame or guilt. Free of criticism from snarkologists, because there are no snarkologists at Sizzler."
Tune in to "Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown" on Sunday, April 21, at 9 p.m. on CNN to learn more about Choi and Choe, Korean cuisine from delicious mini-mall dumplings to soondubu to chestnut rice to avocado eggrolls, and why Korean food is among the least altered international cuisines to hit American shores.
The next week (April 28), Bourdain is off to Colombia.❚
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