The week after I got back from that trip I took to Seoul, you know, way back when (i.e., May), all I wanted was Korean food. You think I would've been sick of it. But. No. I may have been tired of kimchi by the time I left Seoul, but when I got back to New York City I longed for patbingsu and sujebi and rice cakes and fun little dishes of pickled fermented things. Which is how I ended up going to Koreatown three times in one week.
First stop was Arirang, a new-ish (an age that can be counted in months) restaurant that specializes in sujebi (torn noodles) and kalguksu (knife-cut noodles). While boohoo-ing to Emily about how awesome Seoul was and how much it sucked to not be there anymore, she suggested we try Arirang. My heart let out a little squeal of excitement (imagine the sound of air being slowly let out of a balloon; it's a bit more pathetic than that); THE KOREAN MAGIC BEGAT BY NOODLES COULD CONTINUE.
I've actually been to Arirang twice since mid-May, which is rare for a place that isn't within walking distance of my office. You should go there too. Here's how to do it.
First, find it. It's on the third floor of 32 West 32nd Street and easy to miss unless you know to look for this door. Or maybe you're already familiar with this door because you extend your eyelashes. I won't judge. (...Maybe I will.)
You might also spot the sign above the awning for NY Kom Tang Soot Bul Kal Bi. But probably not.
Second (or pre-first), have at least two people with you. Or four. One bowl of noodles can feed at least two people, and bathe a very small kitten. When I ate in a group of five (Emily, Mandy, Caroline, and Lee Anne), we were stuffed just by splitting two bowls of noodles and one seafood pancake. Later when I ate in a group of three (Jessica and Kathy), we shared a bowl of noodles and a seafood pancake with lots of pancake to spare. And you know how my friends and I roll; we're Asian women who can pack it in.
Third, order food. Specifically, start with the seafood pancake (pajun), one of the best versions of this dish I've ever had (the other being from Organic Tofu House). It's a hearty round of crispy and chewy goodness full of chopped green onions and seafood bits, mostly cuttlefish, methinks.
Dip it in a mix of vinegar and soy sauce, found in your personal woven Condiments Basket, for extra deliciousness.
AND GET NOODLES. We went with kaljebe, or a kalguksu/sujebi mix. I prefer sujebi—I love the pockets of chewiness in the fat dough chunks—but the kalguksu is good too.
Soups, in order of increasing deliciousness:
Kimchi: It's not bad. But not as good as the other two soups I tried. So...that's...not a ringing endorsement.
Seafood: I likey. Underneath that pile of raw spinach was a mass of noodles swimming in a briney soup with cuttlefish, clam, shrimp, and other various bits of sea life.
Chicken: This rich broth made me question what the hell kind of chicken I've been eating my whole life. It's. So. Very. Chickeny. At least, what I think chicken is supposed to taste like considering that most of the chicken I eat doesn't really taste like anything. Or it tastes like everything. IT SIMULTANEOUSLY TASTES LIKE NOTHING AND EVERYTHING.
But this soup of distilled chicken squeezin's is nothing like that. Just try it and tell me if it makes little fireworks go off in your brain (the parts that sense "chickenness"); I can't be the only one. The prospect of getting this dish again, along with the seafood pancake, is what pulls me back to Arirang. I think about it with longing, like a past love, but instead of sickening depression, the memories fill me with warm happiness! Yay!!!@#!@#eeuh [sobs in a corner].
After Arirang you can go to Koryodang for dessert, specifically patbingsu, the Korean version of "shaved ice with loads of toppings and fruit and ice cream and stuff, because if it were just a bowl of ice, that would suck." It's the only patbingsu I've had in New York City, which by default makes it the best. Overall though, I'd call it one of the best shaved ice desserts I've ever had (keep in mind that I've never had shave ice in Hawaii). Unlike the others, Koryodang's is so finely shaved that it melts evenly and smoothly, as opposed to being unappealingly crunchy clumps. The toppings are quite generous, my favorites being the soft lil' mochi nubs and the sweet red beans. The only downside is that one bowl is something like $8, which is a lot compared to...well, Asia, and other similar desserts in the city. But at least you can feed two people with one bowl.
Out of the two bowls we tried—red bean and fruit—red bean was the winner. The might-be-cherry-flavored syrup in the fruit bowl made everything too sweet.
32 W 32nd St
New York, NY 10001