If you've been paying attention to Netflix lately, you may have noticed a slew of Korean food shows with dramatic names like "A Nation of Kimchi" and "Korean Porkbelly Rhapsody." Each is dedicated to a hyper-specific dish, diving into history and regional styles of delicacies like icy buckwheat noodles, where a friendly host slurps up more than a dozen naengmyeon bowls in a row.
Perhaps it was our hunger for "Squid Game" and "Parasite" that caused this onslaught. But this isn't just BTS. America is downright obsessed with Korean food these days. After feasting your eyes on all this incredible cuisine from the other side of the world, you might wonder, where can you eat some of it around here?
Lucky for us, Long Island has also been going through a Korean food renaissance. Much of this energy is happening in Great Neck, where you'll find multiple bakeries, markets and a hidden Korean food hall. Nearby in Port Washington, Narinatto serves an explosive bowl of sizzling sundubu-jjigae (silken tofu soup) ladled with beef and topped with a raw egg that boils in the spicy red broth.
Korean barbecue is more popular then ever, with a proliferation of all-you-can-eat barbecue and hot pot joints like KPOT in Westbury and the new K-CITY BBQ Hot Pot in Levittown. For a premium barbecue experience, head to Korean Grill in East Northport, which grills your boneless kalbi over fiery charcoal briquettes installed in the center of the table. Once you taste that char on the short ribs, you'll never go back.
Countless hours of Bong Joon-ho movies and midnight bowls of ram-don have led us to this moment. So read on for more interesting trends, and recommended spots to try them.
Korean breakfast (aka French pastries)
It's not exactly traditional, but like many great things, it started in the '80s when French/Korean bakery chains overtook Seoul, offering a wild new synthesis of classical technique and Asian flavors. These chains made their way to Long Island during the pandemic with the opening of Paris Baguette in Garden City and Plainview, and Tous les Jours in Great Neck.
Both businesses have a similar bright look, the floor dominated by self-service cases with fruit tarts and Korean milk breads. Grab some tongs and pick up hot dog croissants, purple mochi doughnuts the shape of baby pacifiers, fluffy green breads flavored with honeydew melon and sugar-crusted buns with ambiguously savory fillings.
Tteok-bokki, K-dogs and other street foods
There's a scene in "Squid Game" where the protagonist takes his daughter to a street stand for a cheap tteok-bokki meal on her birthday. "Mom thinks this is junk food and doesn't let me have it," she whispers in his ear, before digging into a fat rice cake with a toothpick. Viewers leave the episode with a hankering for spicy street food.
Tteok-bokki is a humble dish with some funky undertones. To get into it, you have to embrace the chewiness of the rice cakes, whose glutinous nature is only amplified by the spicy/sweet fermented chile sauce. There's the bubbling pot loaded with fish cakes at Mad for Chicken (five locations on Long Island), but a favorite is the homestyle version at Surasang in Syosset ($11.95).
You can also deep-fry the tubular rice cakes and serve them on skewers, alongside snappy Vienna sausages. Food Court Korea — which is not actually a food court but a restaurant — in Albertson throws enough mustard on these crispy so-tteok skewers to feed a county fair.
But the most well-known is the Korean corn dog (which can also be stuffed with mozzarella cheese). The best on Long Island is at the Kong Dog in the Broadway Mall food court, although less is more. Skip the fruity rice puffs and the Hot Cheetos and go for a potato dog, with potato cubes built into the crispy batter. We'll take that over a round of squid games any day.
Noodles and japchae
The creators of "Korean Cold Noodle Rhapsody" wouldn't have been able to craft an entire show around the icy buckwheat noodle naengmyeon if it wasn't a fascinating dish. But summer's over, so switch your sights to heartier noodles like the Korean/Chinese mashup jajangmyeon, which is bold and addicting. The sauce is completely black, a sweet lava explosion of minced pork belly and fermented black beans. Twist up the long strands of wheat noodles to let the black sauce work its way around the chopsticks. You'll find it at Food Court Korea ($13.95), where the friendly service is even more impressive.
Waxing poetic about Korean noodles necessitates a recommendation for japchae. A vibrant stir fry of sweet potato glass noodles, japchae is how many of us fell in love with Korean food. And I have tasted no better than the variety served at Spoonsticks, a trendy Korean bar in Massapequa. Served on a golden plate, the bouncy noodles ($16) are topped with a medley of crisp carrots, onions and woodear mushrooms.
Korean fried chicken
James Chen credits a different force in the sudden rise of Korean food fame … KFC. That's Korean fried chicken, a sticky sweet barrage of chicken parts eaten with white radishes and large mugs of Korean beer. The owner of the chain Kuku Korean Cuisine, coming soon to Roslyn Heights, said that KFC travels well and was a heavy hitter of pandemic takeout menus. "Korean fried chicken introduced Korean cuisine to a lot of people," he said.
Spoonsticks does a bang-up job with the smaller wings, basting the crunchy offerings in a zippy soy garlic sauce. But for the full KFC experience (minus the beer), head to Song's Family Food Court, a second-level food hall next to H Mart in Great Neck. Here, Han's Chicken offers multiple varieties of boneless and bone-in wings and drumettes. Served in a paper takeout box, the "seasoned" chicken ($28) was scattered with almond slivers and black sesame seeds. Sticky on your fingers and searing hot, the craggly batter collapsed into juicy chicken meat. Bonus points for the unlimited kimchi and other banchan in the condiment bar.
Dessert: Croffles and shaved ice
Pandemic social media feeds were fueled by sweet caffeine drinks and crazy carbohydrates. Take Dalgona coffee, a South Korean phenomenon of sugar and instant coffee whipped together into a turbo-charged foam. Then you have the croffle, a sequel to the Cronut made when you stick a croissant into a waffle iron. (Not as painful as it seems.) You'll find both these treasures at Croffle House in Great Neck, which goes haywire by topping their crusty croissant waffles with loads of whipped cream and chopped fruit. For optimum texture, ask for a plain one fresh off the press.
But with bingsu, a finely ornamented tower of shaved ice, the more toppings the merrier. The crescendo of this Korean food journey is at the Jericho coffee shop Cafeinn. The shaved ice was so delicate and light, almost like a pristine dollop of snow, tinged a faint green from the matcha. Then there were the white mochi balls and the slivered almonds, and a bundle of earthy red beans. And on top, a plop of sweet vanilla ice cream.