Chinese food for Koreans

A Chinese restaurant in Seoul -- my dad has been a loyal customer here for about 40 years.

FYI if you’re on the prowl for some Chinese food in Korea: Chinese food in Korea Chinese food in America Chinese food in China. Please adjust your expectations accordingly.

Describing Chinese food in China is too complicated (and I also don’t know much, despite living in China for the past year), so let me just tell you what I know about the Chinese food in Korea/Koreatown. Because it is almost like its own cuisine that is inspired by Chinese dishes but has evolved over many decades to appeal to the Korean palate. Instead of kung pao chicken and fried lo mein, you’ll find the following dishes on the menu:

Ja-jang-myun (짜장면): Noodles with black bean sauce. My brother and I looooved this stuff as kids, and we still order it whenever we go to a Korean-Chinese restaurant. Jajangmyun is a variation on China’s zhajiangmian, but they’re very different. Or so I’m told by my brother, who tried it in China and was rather disappointed.

Jahm-pong (짬뽕): Noodles in spicy seafood broth. I used to think of this as the dish that the adults order while the kids eat black bean noodles. I’m an adult now, but I still prefer the black bean noodles. I’m not sure what authentic Chinese dish (if any) this was derived from, but it’s all hearty and soul foody and awesome.

Goon Mandoo (군 만두): deep-friend dumplings. Every culture has its own version of the dumpling, and China has about a dozen types, probably more. Korea’s take is deep-fried, which is actually not that common in China. So many Chinese dishes are stir-fried, but not many are deep-fried.

See the little dishes around the dumplings? The yellow stuff is Dahnmuji (단무지, pickled radish), little white stuff on the same plate are slices of raw onions, which you often eat with the black bean paste (the little plate of black stuff above the plate of dumplings in the picture). Korean-Chinese restaurants also usually serve Kaak-dugi Kimchi (깍두기, cubed radish kimchi), which you can see in the right hand corner of the picture.

Kahm-poong-ghee (깜뿡기): deep-fried pieces of chicken stir-fried in spicy sauce. I think this might be Korea’s version of the Kung Pao Chicken. The name (in Chinese) sounds similar to the Korean name, and they’re kind of the same idea — little pieces of chicken, stir-fried with spicy sauce and little bits of peppers and carrots, etc. Another Park family favorite.

Tang-soo-yook (탕수육): deep-fried pieces of pork stir-fried in sweet sauce. This is another very very popular dish, especially with kids. I am not a fan because I don’t like sweet food that’s not dessert/fruit. But that’s just me — most other Korean people I know can’t get enough of this stuff.

This completes your Basic Guide to Korean-Chinese Food. Now go forth and stuff thyself with some delicious Jajangmyun and Kahm-poong-ghee. In my opinion, this stuff is better than most Chinese-Chinese food, but that’s probably because I have a Korean palate.

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