Battle Seolleongtang: Anna's vs. Jang Mo Gip
You could be excused for never having heard of seolleongtang. It isn't on the radar for most people who are just starting to delve into Korean cuisine, because it's never sold in barbecue restaurants or soon tofu places. You could be excused for not knowing how to pronounce it (sull-lung-tang will get you close enough).
It isn't even a particularly compelling soup on paper:
The panchan at Anna's are very tasty, since there is an excellent kimchi store next door. The radish kimchi is the best option, quickly followed by the curry pickled daikon and the sliced Korean pears in chile sauce.
Jang Mo Gip (the last word is pronounced "jipp") is a trio of Korean restaurants specializing in seolleongtang and haejangguk (literally, "hangover-cure soup"), one in the Korean District, one in mysterious La Palma, and one in the very furthest reaches of Buena Park, just behind the Orange Curtain from La Mirada.
They don't particularly cater to non-Koreans at Jang Mo Gip: while the sign at the Beach Boulevard location does identify the place as "Jang Mo Restaurant", there is precious little in the way of English to guide the intrepid explorer. Even the table tent menus are written exclusively in Korean. Don't despair: after the initial shock, they'll bring an English menu.
Jang Mo Gip has absolutely enormous bowls of salt and onions on each table, and the soup comes out quickly, steaming hot, and loaded with brisket. You can choose glass noodles (made of mung bean starch) or rice noodles; go for glass noodles, since you will have a bowl of rice with your soup. You will also be given a glass of rice drink called sungnyung and a few panchan. The radish kimchi is standard, but the Napa cabbage kimchi is excellent and fresh, but the best is miyeok--the soft kelp the Japanese call wakame--with a pool of slightly sweet chile-garlic sauce.
The seolleongtang is much, much thicker and heartier here; adding salt really brings out the essence of beef. The glass noodles, impossible to catch with the spoon, add a much-needed textural contrast (but, obviously, not much taste) to the dish and the thinly-sliced brisket is cooked separately to provide a fresher beefy flavor.
After your meal at Jang Mo Gip, you'll be given a dish of shikhye, a cold rice soup made with more than a little bit of ginger and sugar. It shocks the system out of the meat coma it's been in and revives the palate a little bit.
Jang Mo Gip is the clear winner of this week's Dueling Dishes battle, but don't write Anna's Mondu off: their mandu, especially their wang mandu ("king dumplings"), are things of beauty, and they are perhaps the most gracious Korean restaurateurs in Orange County.
If you decide to seek this out for yourself, you'll have greater success if you can read it in Korean (a skill, incidentally, which is easily learned--the Korean writing system was designed to be regular and easy to use, which causes justifiable pride in Koreans). The word you are looking for is 설렁탕: seol-leong-tang.
Anna's Mondu, 9972 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove; (714) 530-0102.
Jang Mo Gip, 4546 Beach Blvd., Buena Park; (714) 228-0767.
Jang Mo Gip (not reviewed), 9711 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove; (714) 534-1340.
Jang Mo Gip (not reviewed), 4877 La Palma Ave., La Palma; (562) 402-7212.
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