Can’t decide whether you prefer raw fish and seaweed or barbecued beef and chili pepper cabbage? Explore Manhattan’s Little Korea. In one short week, you can sample dishes from a different restaurant daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner without leaving one city block. New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl called the neighborhood that stretches from West 31st street to West 34th street between Sixth Avenue and Madison Avenue “Kimchi Alley” after the spicy cabbage served with most Korean dishes. Our tour of Little Korea is on the busiest street of this bustling neighborhood -West 32nd street between 5th and 6th Avenue just down the street from Macy’s. Find your way to Broadway and 32nd street, where the street sign reads: Korea Way.
The street is jumping with many shops and restaurants open 24 hours to accommodate late night snacks of Korean and Japanese foods, karaoke bars, spa massage and beauty treatments, and a throng of lively Korean tourists, business folk, and enthusiastic New Yorkers. Young Hip Hop Korean-American boys wearing baggy pants dropped to the groin and punky hairdos and Korean girls with razor tight jeans and high heels may teeter down Kimchi Alley on their way to enjoy bulgogi–marinated beef barbecued on a table grill.
The table will be filled with side dishes like pickled radish, steamed spinach, kimchi, seaweed, creamed potatoes, boiled egg slices, squash, little pieces of soy sauce baked fish or other delicacies. A cup of clear rice soup is served at the end of the meal. It resembles a finger bowl to clean your hands, but take a sip to clear your palette. The vin du paye is sujo– Korean potato vodka. Most Koreans dressed in business clothes come for a long lunch or dinner and drink beer with friends and fellow workers before going back for late office hours.
The mood in Little Korea in high-pitched and hurried. It is a no-nonsense business district. Of the more than 250,000 Koreans living in the New York metropolitan area, most live in Queens neighborhoods of Flushing, Jackson Heights, Woodside, Sunnyside as well as in Fort Lee and Palisades Park in New Jersey. Many urban Koreans emigrated here in the 1970s and 80s and started their own businesses throughout the city, including produce stores, wig importers, clothing accessories merchants, and more recently Nails shops where you can be redone top to toe with a massage, manicure, and other spa treatments.
If you want to stay on West 32nd Street you might choose the elegant La Quinta Hotel at 17 W. 32nd between 5th and 6th Avenues. It is suited to people with big expense accounts, but enjoy a drink at the rooftop bar from 5:30 PM, which boasts a great view of the Empire State Building. Tel: 212 290 2460.
Otherwise, if you are psychic, call Korean-owned Hotel Stanford, a modest looking place with pleasant, clean rooms suitable for world travelers and the Maximbar at 43 West 32nd street. Their room rates vary daily according to occupancy. For reservations call 1 800 365 1114. The attractive Korean girl at the desk urged me to call the day I visited because the rate would jump in a day or so. They range from $149 -249 for a Queen bed. They also have suites from $209 – 349. See their website at www.hotelstanford.com.
Tired from travel? Many Asian-run hotels have staff beauticians or connections with local spas. In Little Korea you can treat yourself to a traditional loofah body scrub and pressure point shampoo at SPAdium located at 49 West 32nd street. Tel (212) 967 3131. Open 24 hours for swedish, shiatsu or deep tissue massage, hot tub, sauna, they also have a 90 minute special package for $95 which includes a massage and scrub. Women also get an egg white cleansing, cucumber and herbal facial and body milk rinse. You leave feeling like a crisp salad. The recommended 25% tip may wilt you temporarily, but the service is friendly and professional.
Restaurants and Cafes
Across from the Internet cafe at 9 West 32nd street is Kunjip Restaurant. Open 24 hours (tel: 212 216 9487) they have fast courteous service, long wooden tables, where you can find business people busily munching (Man Doo Jim –steamed dumplings or Man Doo Gui fried dumplings) and doing deals. Entrees include a light beef soup with scallions served in a heated stone pot, codfish caviar casserole with vegetables in a spicy broth, fish combinations, and the ever popular Korean BBQ of short ribs marinated in soy sauce.
Woorijip located at 12 West 32nds Street (tel: 212 244 4726) is a fast food take-out place where you are bound to find young attractive Korean office people lined up to fill their plates from the food bar. There is a lunch counter and a relaxed atmosphere. It is next to the bright and friendly NARA bank, headquartered in Los Angeles. A nearby Citibank will open its doors this fall. You can pop in from one to the other–eating dumplings and writing checks–without blinking an eye.
My favorite Korean restaurant is the elegant Dae Dong at 17 West 32nd Street (tel: 212 967 1900). They have a large bar and wooden tables in semi-private booths, where you can construct your own soups and main dishes come with endless side-dishes. The waitstaff is pretty and hip. They have a nice lunch box –beef, chicken, salmon, or shrimp with fried dumplings california rolls, salad and soup for under $10.
Wonjo at 23 West 32nd Street (tel: 212 695 5815) is a small quiet bar with tables in the back. They serve Japanese teriyaki, sushi, sashimi, and Chinese dishes, soups and stews (one including octopus), Korean BBQ, and for the health minded, steamed dishes and mixed vegetable dishes.
Korean Barbecue House at 37 West 32nd Street (Tel: 212 967 1880) has a quiet atmosphere and black formica tables. Pictures of entrees on the front window hint at rich dishes inside like Deon Jang Chigae fermented bean paste casserole with tofu, diced beef, clams, and vegetables and Duk Mandoo Gook Korean soup with bite size rice cakes and handmade dumplings in a beef broth. For the weight conscious they have a delicious watermelon salad and avocado salad made with shrimp and greens. Both under $6.
Don’t miss a to visit Han Ah Reum the only Korean/Japanese supermarket on the block at 25 West 32nd street (Tel: 212 695 3283). Just past the entry near the checkout counter are all sorts of gooey rice sweets. Opposite them is a freezer with prepared eel. Cooked eel is an excellent source of vitamin D, which is essential for health. On the left wall is a refrigerator section containing frozen seafoods, nato Japanese fermented soy beans, and quick dinners. The opposite wall refrigerator section has pickled radishes, seaweeds, and prepared side dishes like those served in Korean restaurants. In the middle isles are grains, spices, Japanese sauces and soup mixes, noodles, and in back are a butcher and fresh fish section. You will need digestive teas to handle your visit to Little Korea. Han Ah Reum sells toasted barley teas and Japanese green teas. Downstairs they sell hot Korean movies.
If you are planning a trip to Korea in the near future, don’t miss the famous Boryeong Mud Festival from July 15th – 21st this year. It is at Daecheon beach, Boryeong-si, Chungcheongnam-do. Take the train from Seoul or Yeoungdeungpo station and get off at Daecheon station. From there, take a bus on the right-hand side across Daecheon station.
Boryeong mud is rich in minerals that improve your complexion. The high quality sea mud is used to make mud packs and soaps. The Boryeong Mud festival offers mud massages, a mega mud tub, mud wrestling, mud sliding, a mud prison, mud military training (whatever that is) and is one of the most visited summer events in Korea. For full details see: www.Tour2Korea.com or Homepage: www.mudfestival.or.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese.)
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