Fri September 24, 2010
If you didn’t already know this, I’m half Asian-- half Filipino, specifically. I grew up eating rice with every meal, fish with heads on, chicken with feet on, fermented things, and every soy product known to man. My parents are adventurous eaters, so my brother and sister and I ate all kinds of weird stuff from the get-go. There is no food I won’t try at least once.
We were introduced to Korean food when we were little. It’s a spicy, earthy cuisine that is characterized by the use of sesame oil, soy products, ginger, chili paste, and small side dishes called banchan. Kimchee is a common banchan. It is a lightly fermented and pickled dish of Napa cabbage, ginger, hot chili pepper, and salt. It smells funky and a little sour, and can be hotter than hell. You either love it or you hate it. For me it was love at first taste.
We have a great Korean restaurant in Wichita called Manna Wok, at 4865 East Harry. The place is tiny and not much to look at on the outside. Inside, however, the walls are plastered with photos of happy patrons. There are books to read and they play classical music. It’s like walking into a tiny, awesome, nerdy playhouse. When I order, I stick to the Korean menu, and if you don’t know what something is, just ask.
I almost always order the stone bowl rice with tofu. It is short-grained rice drizzled with sesame oil and covered with separate little piles of steamed spinach and bean sprouts, sautéed mushrooms and zucchini, all topped with a sunny-side-up egg and served in a sizzling hot stone bowl. You mix everything together, breaking up the egg and adding some hot chili sauce. It is served with spicy kimchee and an assortment of vegetable sides that are just as good as the rice. The green bean dish is truly addictive.
I think you should try Manna Wok and give Korean food a whirl. It is different than any other kind of Asian cuisine, with a soul-food funkiness that is both exotic and familiar. If you go there with me you’d better keep your eye on those green beans, because if you get distracted, I’ll steal them.