The best way to learn about another culture is through their food. It gives you a glimpse into the heart of that culture and allows you to experience what it’s like to live in that culture for a brief moment in time. I’m lucky to live in Los Angeles where I have exposure to all different types of cultures in their purest form.
I remember going to Korean barbecue restaurants when I was younger with my parents. We didn’t know much about their culture and their food, but I remember having a great time watching as my parents cooked the different assortment of meats at the table. How often do you find a table with a grill in it? The idea faded after awhile in my adolescence. My family associated primarily with Chinese communities and we mostly went to American chain restaurants to eat out. It wasn’t until college that I rediscovered Korean food through my roommate.
We were in design school and we loved to eat. She wanted to show me how Koreans eat Korean BBQ. I remember her showing us what sauces are better with the different meats we ordered. I was introduced to Dduk Bo Ssam (rice paper) and Ssam Mu (radish wraps) and it made me feel like I was having Korean BBQ for the first time. Since then, it’s become one of my go-to meals to eat. There are so many All You Can Eat options out there now, but Choi Ga Nei has been one of my favorites for the last two years.
I found Choi Ga Nei one afternoon as I was googling Korean BBQ restaurants from Los Angeles to Orange County. I looked through so many pictures that day and decided to give them a visit because their lunch price was really great and their selection of meat seemed really fresh. The storefront of the restaurant is located on Wilshire Boulevard. (If you’ve driven past the Ramada Hotel, you’ve gone too far), but there is a large parking lot in the back off of Ingraham St. and you can enter through the back of the restaurant. The restaurant seems to be family owned, it has the essence of a hole-in-the-wall, and their quality of food and service is great. We’ve never been rushed or neglected even during peak hours, which makes me feel like this is what it would feel like if I were to have Korean BBQ at home. Their lunch menu is between $10-$15 and their dinner menu is between $20-$25/person.
They serve Doenjang Jjigae (fermented soy bean paste soup) in the middle of the grill, so your soup is constantly at a boil. It’s a pretty great way to start and end your meal.
You can add the small portion of Naengmyeon (Cold Noodles) for $2. I love having Naengmyeon with Korean BBQ because it’s a great palette cleanser and it helps cut the grease from the meat. The side dishes change all the time and I’m always pleasantly surprised during each visit with something new.
There’s something soothing about getting together with friends or family around a grill, cooking your food at your own pace, catching up with what’s happening in life or talking about things to come. Hopefully Choi Ga Nei can make you feel the same way they make me feel… being at home while experiencing another culture.