Korean-Chinese Food Woes

The other day our family went to a nearby Korean-Chinese restaurant to get our Chinese food fix—jampong (noodles in spicy seafood broth), jajang myun (noodles in black bean sauce), tang-soo yok (sweet-and-sour chicken), pan-fried potstickers, Mongolian beef, among other dishes. I don’t know why we keep going there—the food is OK, at best, and nothing to rave about—but it’s the only place nearby that doesn’t require driving into the city.

From one meal alone I think I gained five pounds. What kept me eating that night is the fact that they were playing a Korean TV program featuring kkal gook-soo (handmade, knife-cut noodles)—one of my favorite things to eat in the whole world. I must have been imagining that the jajang myun consisted of those delicious-looking noodles on the TV instead of the limp, yellowy, greasy, industrial variety that were in front of me. Talk about major transference.

By the end of the meal, I felt as though I were pumped up with MSG and reconstituted oils. Me and MSG are not a good combination. I blow up like a blowfish and require a few days to decompress back to normal. (Visualize Violet Bauregard turning into a blueberry from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory—that’s yours truly. Where are the oompa-loompas when you need them?)

One of HB’s friends’ wives who used to work for Chinese-Korean restaurant said that it’s amazing how liberally MSG is used for flavor enhancing and stretching out a sauce so less of the prime ingredients are used. She said, “Picture the chefs ladling the MSG into the wok.” And even if you specify “no MSG,” it’s still in there. The commercial grade soy sauce used in these restaurants more often than not contain it. It’s unavoidable.

Now that a few days have passed, I feel almost back to normal. But now I’m determined to figure out how to make some of these dishes at home so I can control what ingredients go in. You can be sure MSG isn’t going to be one of them. If anything, the MSG will be incidental—if it happens to be in the soy sauce already, I can’t help that.

I’ll be sure to share any recipes that turn out.

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