Review published September 2005
AS THE SUN BEGINS to set earlier and the days get shorter, those who spent the past few months hovering over the grill are, perhaps, tiring of a constant diet of steaks, burgers, and brats. If that’s true for you, it’s time to go to Dong Yang, which serves some of the best beef in the Twin Cities at tables overlooking a refrigerated tofu case.
Dong Yang is an Asian grocery store just north of Columbia Heights, so large in scale it has an entire aisle devoted to seaweed products. This eclectic collection of all things Korean includes everything from wooden furniture to kimchi by the gallon. But its best merchandise is served out of a small lunchroom in back that’s staffed mostly by Korean grandmothers wearing jaunty white pageboy caps.
Choose a beverage from the drink cooler (we tried an imported soda that was described as “Korean Sprite” but tasted something like pink bubblegum), step up to the counter, and make your selection. No matter what you choose, your order will be accompanied by a set of panchan, a changing array of small side dishes that are a staple of traditional Korean meals. (Skip both the wilted lettuce/kimchi combo and the bowl of peppery broth in favor of the tasty bites of bean curd, bean sprouts, and pickled daikon radish.)
Korean cuisine is vegetarian-friendly (per traditional religious practices), but the country’s proximity to Mongolia has made meat-eating widespread (Genghis Khan trumps Buddha—kind of a rock/paper/BBQ thing). Barbecue beef (such as the thin-sliced rib eye called bulgogi) is ubiquitous and demonstrates a black belt–worthy mastery of marinade. Our favorite bits of beef were in the bibimbap, which translates loosely to “mixed-up rice.” To make this dish, the cook heats up a stone pot and fills it with rice, which toasts to a golden-brown crust against the sides. She tops the rice with meat and vegetables (such as sliced radishes, zucchini, and shiitake mushrooms), then cracks a raw egg on top and stirs it into the simmering mixture. You can add a few squirts of the Korean version of ketchup—a spicy, plummy-tasting sauce. The slices of beef were so tender and sweet that we pursued them with the fervor normally reserved for digging the chunks out of cookie dough ice cream.
For those with a penchant for ribs, the galbi are the short, thick-cut variety, with a fatty texture that’s somewhat tough and gummy. Eating them can make you feel a bit like Cro-Magnon man. The consistency is less than desirable, but think of it as protein-packed chewing gum: what you’re really going after is the flavor—in this case, a medley of soy sauce and greasy sweet char. After the plate was reduced to a pile of disk-like bones, we happily sopped up the drippings with the remaining rice.
Needless to say, our post-meal mess resembled the aftermath of a typical Labor Day picnic—a sign of true soul, er, Seoul food.