Friday, April 9, 2010
Edible Enjoyment in a Korean Strip Mall
I love exploring ethnic markets--deciphering packages, discovering new ingredients, and stepping into the unknown. One such Silicon Valley market is the Galleria Plaza Korean market in Santa Clara. In a little Korean strip mall at 3531 El Camino Real, the Galleria Plaza is full of items I know nothing about. I've started to learn a bit more about Korean cuisine ever since my brother Doug married Yoojung Kang, who moved to the U.S. from Seoul during college. (By the way, Yoojung used to be my daughter's preschool teacher and I introduced her and Doug to each other!)
After an 'extreme' Korean spa experience at the Lawrence Health Center next door (that's a whole other story), I went to the Galleria Plaza in my blissed-out state to look for some new items to try. I ended up purchasing:
- Sriracha chili sauce in the famous rooster bottle, made in California
- crunchy rice crackers, lightly seasoned with soy sauce and individually wrapped, making them nice lunch box snacks
- S&B Curry Sauce mix, made in Japan
- kimchi, one of numerous varieties offered, including huge jars that would last for years in our home (imagine the odeur) but probably would last a month or so in a big Korean family's refrigerator
- Super Lemon hard candies, surprisingly one of the most sour flavors we have ever tried (these make a great kid's activity or fun little gift)
- Hanmi pumpkin hard candies, just because I love pumpkin
- Orion Choco Pies, like moon pies (two chocolate dipped cookies with a marshmallow filling), because I once watched an infomercial on a Korean television channel all about this company and how singularly focused it is on producing the highest quality Choco Pie dessert snacks imaginable in the entire universe
In just one shopping trip I acquired a wide variety of interesting, tasty, and, for most Americans, unusual collection of edibles. Prices are so reasonable that it's little risk to try something completely unknown. If you don't like it, pass it on to someone who might. I enjoy conducting taste tests with our family of five to see what everyone thinks of new foods and to get their ratings. We all have very different preferences, and I have to say that there wasn't any one food (even the Choco Pies) that got an enthusiastic thumbs-up from all of us. My husband loves anything hot and spicy, so prefers the chili sauce (on almost anything) as well as the kimchi. The kids like the rice crackers, Choco Pies, and sour lemon candies best.
Our most eaten food in this list is the S&B Golden Curry sauce, one of those fairly rare dinner meals that we all enjoy. It's easy to make, and completely flexible in what ingredients you include. Just follow the directions on the back. The sauce cooks up in a saute pan on the stove top, while you can make rice in a rice cooker or however you prefer. We like to serve it over brown rice cooked with sauteed onion, carrots, and peas. It would be easy to add any kind of meat pieces or other vegetables like potatoes or broccoli. We usually get the mild version because of our kids' more sensitive taste buds, but the more adventurous can try the medium or hot versions. Japanese curry tastes different from Indian curry but has a familiar aroma and kick, both sweet and spicy, with a creamy texture that coats the ingredients in its velvety embrace. It's considered Japanese peasant comfort food, a meal that starts brightly in your nose and mouth, and settles warmly in your stomach.
I'll never forget when my husband and I were in Tokyo and we enjoyed a nice curry dinner from a unique diner. We ordered our food choices from a vending machine, handed our tickets to the fast order cook, and he made our curries to order. We ate in the casual diner-like restaurant, sharing tables with other curry fans, and watching the passers-by outside through the windows. Of course it's not as sophisticated or artistic as sushi, but Japanese curry hits the spot. If you'd rather eat it at a restaurant, Gombei restaurant at 1438 El Camino Real in Menlo Park serves Japanese curry dishes.
Choco Pies are another item worth mentioning in more detail. Considered the quintessential snack of Korea, Choco Pies could be considered the Asian equivalent of Oreo cookies. The Orion Confectionery company has made these snacks for about thirty-five years. They now make up an impressive two-thirds of the Chinese cookie market! Also big sellers in Russia and Vietnam, Choco Pies are apparently considered a sign of capitalism by the North Korean people. Similar to Oreo cookies because of their chocolate flavor, sandwich cookies, white filling, and manufactured appearance and flavor, Choco Pies still offer some fun, sweet pleasure with their squishy marshmallow middles, crumbly cookies, and chocolate coating. You don't have to be a capitalist to eat and enjoy one.
Next time you're in the area, wander around the Galleria Plaza and try something new. You just might find a new favorite.