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Access to enjoy traditional Korean dishes and the city

16 July 2009 2,490 views No Comment

Nashua is home to a number of Asian cuisine restaurants. Most notably Chinese and Japanese cuisine, and all offering a variety of dishes unique to their cultures, but there are two that offer Korean cuisine.

YouYou Japanese Bistro, at 150 Broad St. owned by Vincent Woo, a Chinese man who has been in business for 12 years, and Shira Kiku at 13 Broad St.; a Korean family-owned business run by Rob and Jeany Lee that opened last year.

Both restaurant owners discuss their individual approaches to authenticity in serving their cultural and traditional cuisine.

“I have a network of Korean friends, and over the years, we have learned from our mistakes,” Woo said. “They help me. (I’ll ask them) ‘Where do I find my ingredients?’ and how to make sauce, hot pepper paste and sesame sauce. Most important of all, ‘Where do you buy Korean dry goods?’ Boston. I buy my kimche (a cultural and traditional food) from a Korean store in Boston. They make it in a way where everybody likes it.”

His menu is diverse and offers both Japanese and Thai dishes, as well as Korean dishes.

“Our menu is 35 percent Korean meals; we make our own sauces and dishes from scratch,” Woo said. His top-selling dishes are “kalbi, a marinated beef short ribs, and bibimbop, a Korean combination . . . some form of side dish (kimche) and bobogi beef.”

What differentiates Korean cuisine from the others is the way it’s prepared and the ingredients used for its preparation.

“Korean cuisine is garlic, hot peppers, sesame and sweeteners; Korean-based stock is anchovy and soy,” Woo said.

Side dishes are both cultural and traditional. However, Woo prefers not to serve them because he doesn’t feel that his customers want to spend a lot of time dining in the restaurant.

His restaurant is very modern in decor, and he offers a spacious dining area with a bar at the entrance. As with many businesses in the area, the economy has had an affect on the restaurant, which has changed the demographics of his customers. He said, “When the economy was good, we had a lot of Japanese and Korean businessmen, but now you see more Chinese customers.”

Chopsticks are found on each placemat, and Woo said that “25 percent of his customers ask for forks and knives.” He added that his philosophy is to “make sure the customers have an enjoyable dining experience.”

The Lees, from Shira Kiku, believe that how they purchase ingredients and prepare their dishes is, in part, what makes their dining experience an authentic one.

“We buy most of our ingredients from Korea Town in Flushing, New York, and we import our chili powder and anchovies from Korea,” Rob Lee said. “We are Korean and offer a culinary trip to Korea.”

The menu is split between Korean and Japanese cuisine. All of its main-course dishes and traditional Korean side dishes are prepared by the family from scratch in the restaurant. His father, Yoo Sang Kim, is a sushi chef who owns a restaurant in Boston and prepares their sushi.

As Koreans, they have their own approach to the authenticity of the cuisine they serve and the way they serve it.

“We offer a more traditional and cultural experience; we bow to show respect, and pouring with both hands to show respect,” Jeany Lee said.

The two top-selling dishes are kalbi and Stone Pot Bibimbop, rice with seven steamed vegetables and served with either beef, chicken or tofu.

Traditional Korean food tends to be bold and spicy, but the Lees will prepare any dish to suit the individual tastes of their customers, as well as make a meal vegetarian or vegan.

The Lees want their customers to take their time to enjoy their cuisine and side dishes, creating a dining experience that mirrors that of those who live their culture in Korea.

The decor in Shira Kiku is also modern with a few cultural icons on their walls. And as with YouYou, chopsticks are found on the placemats, but forks and knives are available upon request.

The family’s wish to remain authentic with their Korean cuisine is, in part, demonstrated by Rob Lee’s mother, Young Suk, who travels to Korea three times a year “to buy our chili powder and to look for newer cultural dishes to offer customers.”

In Korea, kimche is a traditional and cultural staple food, and it can be prepared several different ways. Kimche side dishes are traditionally served as appetizers, with kimche stew as the main-course dish.

Suk has been making kimche for 40 years, and she makes it every morning. Her kimche is a spicy fermented vegetable using chili powder and garlic, and she makes white kimche, bachelor kimche (baby radish), cucumber kimche and big radish (ice cube) kimche.

She ferments the vegetables for one week before the dish is served. And “the longer it ferments, the more sour it becomes.” She also said that “some customers prefer it served after fermenting for just one day.”

Suk also makes all of the other side dishes, which include marinated soy bean sprouts, a traditional pancake, anchovies, Korean black beans, and sweet and sour tofu.

She said that “about 90 percent of our customers are American with Koreans making up the remaining 10 percent.”

The Lees’ philosophy is to “provide healthy meals; to promote good health for our customers and to have fun” while remaining “focused on health consciousness to cater to the needs of our customers.”

They also feel it is important to remain true to their culture and traditions, and to share that experience with their customers.

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