Posted by Tammy

Since 2010 seems to be the year of the Korean taco truck, I decided to bring this popular Korean fusion food to you. I’m serving up a So-Cal  vs. Nor-Cal face off between two very different versions.

California is Korean fusion cooking central, in a manner of speaking. According to the 2007 U.S. Census, more than 322,628 native Koreans make California their home. It has the largest number of Korean immigrants of any in the U.S., even Hawaii.

Kogi-style* Korean Tacos

Kogi style Taco

First off the grill is a version inspired by Roy Choi’s famous Kogi taco truck. The Kogi Korean taco was born in Southern California, with a strong Hispanic influence. A warm corn tortilla is topped with bulgogi (savory-sweet grilled beef), shredded cabbage and the spiciest kimchi you can find.

The key to this recipe is the bulgogi marinade.

1 pound thinly sliced milanesa beef sliced into thin strips
4 ounces pear juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sake
1 tablespoon honey or mul yoot (Korean malt syrup)
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Mix with the beef and marinade for at least a half-hour. The longer the better.
  2. Grill the bulgogi in a cast iron skillet until it is well done.
  3. Place one warmed corn tortilla on the plate with a small handful of shredded cabbage. Top with bulgogi and kimchi. This recipe will serve four.

Namu-style Korean Tacos

Another Korean taco style hails from San Francisco, which has over 150 years of Chinese, Japanese and Korean immigrant history going back to the earliest days of statehood. Many of the leaders of Korea’s independence movement used San Francisco as their base of operations during the Japanese occupation.

The Namu-style Korean taco is a norikim, in Korean — “taco shell” with a bit of sushi rice, bulgogi or boneless kalbi (grilled ribs) and kimchi on top. It’s more of an appetizer than a meal, but it packs a lot of flavor. For the seaweed used for the “shell,” I used Annie Chun’s Roasted Seaweed Snacks, which I found during my futile search for locally sourced gochujang sauce. I have both the wasabi- and sesame flavored-wraps and used one of each for these tacos.

Asian grocery stores sell small sheets of kim. Koreans often wrap them around a small bite of rice and pop the package into their mouths, eat the seaweed sheets by themselves or cut them into small strips to sprinkle on bibimbap (mixture of ingredients such as vegetables, meat and an egg with rice).

1 pound carne de taco beef marinaded in bulgogi marinade for at least a half-hour
2 nori sheets per taco
sushi rice
diced tomatoes

The most complicated part of this recipe is the sushi rice. Here are the basics.

2 cups Japanese short-grained white rice or Calrose short-grain rice
1/4 cup rice vinegar (no substitutions)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup sugar or add more to taste

  1. Heat the vinegar, sugar and salt in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Do not boil the mixture. You can also microwave the mixture for 30-45 seconds to achieve the same result. Leave sitting off heat until needed. You can make this portion ahead of time.
  2. Take 2 cups of rice and rinse two to three times until the water runs clear or nearly so.
  3. If your rice cooker has a sushi rice setting, use it. Otherwise, remember you need equal parts of rice to water. For example, 2 cups of rice needs 2 cups of water. Keep covered until the rice is done.
  4. Once the rice has finished cooking, take off the lid and let the rice cool down for about 15 minutes.
  5. Once the rice is cooled down, add the vinegar seasoning mix to the rice.
  6. Turn the rice out of the pot and into a nonreactive glass or wooden bowl (tradition dictates a wooden bowl to better absorb the excess liquid). Use a tool like a shamoji, which is a flat Japanese rice paddle.
  7. Use a gentle chopping motion to spread out the grains of rice and ensure the seasoning covers every grain. To speed up the cooling process, some people use a hand-held fan to help in the cooling process, but I didn’t find that necessary.
  8. Once it’s cooled off, you’re ready to grill your bulgogi and assemble your tacos.
  9. Put two sheets of nori on the plate, one on top of the other. Add up to a few tablespoons of sushi rice on top of the nori.
  10. Pile a couple of tablespoons of bulgogi and garnish with diced tomatoes

Which version do you prefer? Tell us in the comments below.

* Kogi style tacos are in no way affiliated with the Kogi Taco Truck, just inspired by it.

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