Growing up in LA, I mostly ate Korean food and had never heard of butternut squash, for example, until college. While my Korean speaking is still at the level of a third grader, I think my Korean eating and appreciation of Korean food is much, much more elevated. Given this, I was extremely excited to try out a new(ish) restaurant in LA downtown that is known for a specific type of Korean food, both in the method of serving, and in the nature of what is served, called “han jung sik.”
When I first tried this years ago in Korea, I was struck by how close the serving style seemed to the concept I was more familiar with – “prix fixe.” It was not so much a surprise to learn therefore that apparently the concept of prix fixe derived from folks who had traveled to Korea and Japan and first came across this method of serving, known in Korea as “han jung sik” and in Japan as “kaseki.”
Much like prix fixe meals today, han junk sik was considered “haute cuisine” and how the aristocrats or “yang ban” ate. The notable difference between what the yang ban ate and the average person apparently was whether or not they would eat noodles.
My grandmother who came to lunch with us chuckled as she remembered how her father would never eat noodles because of this tradition, and how our great grandmother wasn’t allowed to either, despite the fact that one of her favorite dishes were cold noodles in a beef broth called “naeng myun.” I like to think that my sister and I are making up for her naeng myun deficit since it’s probably our favorite dish and I think we’ve eaten enough of it to keep the noodle companies in business.
Strangely enough, despite this, the restaurant did offer naeng myun as a small side as a last dish – but we’re convinced that was just to keep the modern clientele happy. (Either that or all those years my great grandmother could have had naeng myun!)
So what exactly did they serve us? Well the few pictures above show a sampling, which included some Korean short ribs, special Kimchi that is stuffed with pine nuts and small fish, and a broth with vegetables served on an extremely fancy dragon dish. But the pictures don’t even do the food justice, so check it out if you’re in LA!