Stinky breath OK
In line at the tiny, old-timey-gas-station-turned-Korean-taco-shop on the corner of T Street and Alhambra Boulevard, I'm doing my best to tone down the eyebrow-raising and lip-pursing—a snobbery to which, as the descendant of still-fresh-off-the-boat-50-years-later matriarchs from Seoul, South Korea, I have an inalienable right.
The reason: I'd agreed to go to Tako Korean BBQ (3030 T Street) at the behest of my non-Korean boyfriend in his ongoing efforts to get me to “leave the house once in a while” and “eat something besides pho.” Thus, as I reviewed the restaurant's concise menu, which features various meats grilled in a Korean marinade and then dressed up in any combination of rice, tortilla, a preshredded cheese blend, kimchi, coleslaw and sour cream, I thought, OK, then. I am about to mix kimchi and dairy products.
It's no accident that the cashier, an enthusiastic young Korean guy, intervened. He gestured to a little A-frame “specials” blackboard to the side of the register—it's easily missed unless one's deliberately looking for something other than Mexi-Korean food.
“You should get the chicken stew,” he said. And if you have never supped with a Korean, know that a suggestion to eat something is actually a mandate in sheep's clothing: Just say yes.
Eating tak toritang, a traditional dish of braised chicken with potatoes and carrots, is the gustatory equivalent of burrowing beneath a down comforter when it's cold out. Tako's version was exceptional. Which is bad news for us all, because when I went back last week for more, the special was over.
But perhaps the greater point is that Korean culture is making its presence felt in Sacramento, having previously been confined to the area around La Riviera Drive and Folsom Boulevard. For the last few years, kimchi has been a darling of chefs across the country, and now this fermented cabbage that smells like the Grim Reaper’s farts is becoming increasingly popular across the spectrum. Point in case: Trader Joe's is now selling it. Which is all well and good, I guess. You have to start somewhere. But if you were to compare it to, say, sex scenes in books, T.J.’s version is Fifty Shades of Grey, and the 1-gallon jar from Smile Food Market that gurgles when you open it, that's some Story of O shit—and it will ruin your breath for at least 36 hours.
It's been three months since Psy's “Gangam Style” came out, and it is presently the second most-viewed YouTube video of all time. While we're probably a ways off from donning massive visors year-round, my guess for what's next in Sac: Korean spas, where you get naked and are aggressively exfoliated by a middle-aged Korean in his or her skivvies. It is indeed as uncomfortable as it sounds, but your skin will never feel as good as it does when you're done. On top of that, almost everyone there will already smell like they've been on a kimchi-eating binge, so if you want to indulge in the full experience, you can do so with impunity. Just don't ask for a side of sour cream.