Before I begin, I want to wish everyone a happy new year! I hope 2016 is filled with love, laughter and an abundance of amazing food for each and every one of you. I know that I haven't been the most consistent glutton in the year that passed; was it just me or was 2015 pretty challenging for everyone else, too? Anyway, in result of my inconsistent chronicling of my gluttony, one of the intentions I have for this year is to, say it with me, eat more! To elaborate, I mean that I will work to be more adventurous in the food I eat and the places I will go to eat them, all so that I can share them with you here :)
To start things off this year, I checked out a place called Mandarin Garden Restaurant, located in a strip mall on Olympic and Vermont – it's in the same strip mall that Nak Won House and Hodori are in, and I know you're familiar with those two 24-hour Korean establishments if you ever found yourself drunk in Koreatown, looking for a place to eat at 3AM that's not greasy fast-food (although I don't have anything against the occasional drunk Jack In The Box indulgence. I think I'm overdue for mine, actually).
As you can tell from my post earlier last year on king dumplings, there is a whole subcategory of Korean cuisine that is influenced by Chinese culture. Mandarin Garden Restaurant is a place where you can find jjajangmyeon (a Korean take on the Chinese zhajiangmian dish) and it's adaptation can be dated back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) of Korea. Jjajangmyeon basically means "fried sauce (jjajang) noodles (myeon)," as the black bean sauce that smothers the noodles is prepared by frying it in a wok. For my parents, dishes like jjajangmyeon were reserved for very special occasions as times were very hard during (and after) the Korean War and their families were poor. Only the wealthy were able to afford the luxury of dining out so the majority of the population would eat at these Korean-Chinese restaurants to celebrate graduations and such.
These were the side dishes, banchan, that come with your meal. On the larger plate are pickled yellow radish (danmuji/takuan), raw onions and the black bean sauce you dip it in. On the smaller plate is kimchi, the probiotic goodness that needs no introduction!
I went with my friend Eric Spivak to grab a bite to eat before he left for a trip to London and, because I'm a fatass who wants everything I'm craving, I got the Noodle Special while he got the jjampong.
Jjampong is a noodle soup that's made of a spicy seafood + chili oil broth, a Korean take on the Chinese specialty dish inspired by tonniishiimen that was first served in the Japanese port city, Nagasaki (known as champon there), during the middle of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). This soup is the perfect comfort food for cold weather! The broth is hearty with just the right amount of spice (unless you're a spice junkie like me, because then you need to order the extra spicy) and savory.
My Noodle Special! It's basically two different types of noodles in one – I'm all about getting the best of both worlds. The noodles to the left with the black bean sauce is, as you can guess, the jjajiangmyeon I mentioned earlier, and the noodles to the right are jjampong.
Looking through their menu, you'll see the usual chow mein and sweet & sour pork and all of that. I've had their sweet & sour beef before on a separate occasion and it's really, really good! I order that with the sweet & sour sauce on the side so that the fried batter stays crispy for a bit longer. They also have a really great lunch special menu; you can get different combination plates for under $10 and that's always welcomed in my life.
So, if you guys are ever feeling like you want to expand your taste buds on what Korean + Chinese cuisine would be like, make your way over to Mandarin Garden Restaurant. Extra thrifty points if you go during lunch hours for that under $10 menu!
Creep it real, get your fat on,
Mandarin Garden Restaurant (Shin Heung Ru)
1001 S. Vermont Ave. #106
Los Angeles, CA 90006