For about seven months, discussion on Chowhound has been fervent and enthusiastic about the “Giant Kimchi Buns” of Ming Chan Dong. After my trip in February, I put in my two cents, which led to bigjeff inviting me to join him and his friend annamatic for dinner last Thursday. I brought Salley, who came with me last time, and the four of us feasted on an obscene amount of food. These are the kind of encounters that make me really love the Internet. Kindred spirits meeting over plates of offal, lamb, and raw potato salad!
bigjeff has a detailed write-up here, and Anna has much better photos than mine here. (I’d admired the photos of Korea on her blog before I’d even met her.) I stupidly arrived at the restaurant with no camera better than my iPhone. But I do always have to put in my two cents, so here are a couple of my photos and thoughts:
We were also comped a wonderful rawalmost raw potato salad, spicy and sharp with vinegar. This felt a bit Korean, as it reminded me of classic muchim preparations for salad.
I probably liked the noodles more than anyone else. The broth was sweeter and more vinegary than I’m used to, but it was still refreshing, and the noodles had a good bite to them. The corn noodles mystified me. They were in the same broth as the chik noodles and served with all the classic Korean cold noodle accoutrements, but I have never, ever had or even heard of noodles made out of corn. Our waitress said their Korean customers are always surprised, and even in China, it is not a common dish. Rather, it’s unique to the particular part of Dongbei the restaurant represents.
The Chinese on the menu called these noodle dishes “leng mian,” which is pretty similar to “naengmyeon” and very similar to the North Korean pronunciation, 랭면, or “leng myeon.” On some level, I’ve always known how much of the Korean language borrows from Chinese, but this dinner made it particularly clear.
For example, we also got some “hua juen” (Chinese), which I’ve eaten many times in Korean-Chinese restaurants. “Hua” or “hwa” in Korean means “flower,” and the Korean word for these buns that fold over and into each other in beautiful layers is 꽃빵, or literally “flower bread.”
The best, I saved for last. We wanted to get candied taro or sweet potato, which I’ve had in Korean-Chinese restaurants. Chunks of sweet potato are fried in a sweet glaze that gets rock-hard, almost hard enough to chip a tooth. According to bigjeff, the glaze gets hard when it gets dipped in cold water. I had never had the taro version, and we were all carefully saving room in our stomachs to eat a piece, when the waitress told us they had run out.
We had already made up our minds to stop at another Chinese restaurant to eat it, when she came back and offered “ba si ji dan.” The Chinese speakers at our table were perplexed, as “ji dan” means “chicken egg,” and we couldn’t imagine how that could be glazed like taro/sweet potato. It turns out it is totally possible to candy-glaze fried eggs, and that it is absolutely delicious.
It was served with bowls of cold water. As we pulled the pieces off the plate, threads of sugar followed, but as soon as we dipped the pieces in the water, the glaze turned instantly crunchy and crisp. Inside, the egg remained tender. I felt almost a tinge of sadness sitting there and wondering if this would be the only time in my life I would ever eat this particular dish. Are eggs ever cooked this way? Would any other restaurant serve it? Would even this restaurant ever serve it if it had taro and sweet potato on hand?
I realize I have very good philosophical problems.