[Hole in the Wall] Korean-Chinese Fusion Fun Time at Young Pung
Korean-Chinese Fusion Fun Time!
Little Seoul needs your help. On a recent weekday night, Orange County’s original Korean district was desolate, its many restaurants virtually empty save for the barbecue and tofu houses, its original residents having mostly abandoned Garden Grove for newer, richer enclaves in Irvine, Buena Park and Fullerton. There was one exception, where the wait was half an hour and the tables packed with families, elders, texting teens and bouncing young boys: Young Pung, one of the county’s few Korean-Chinese eateries and certainly its most beloved.
To the non-Korean eye, Young Pung (don’t bother looking for its name on the outside, at least in the Roman script; the marquee only reads, “Chinese Restaurant” in English and the windows announce, “CHINESE FOOD TO GO”) looks like a Chinese-American eatery from the 1980s—wood-paneled walls; generic calligraphy art; and a menu featuring stateside classics such as kung pao and orange chicken, fried rice, and lost-in-translation specials such as “aromatic beef” and “three-flavored noodles.” The only readily identifiable Korean touches are the side of kimchi (less pungent than the norm, made with green cabbage instead of the usual Napa) that come with every order and the canisters of gochugaru (Korean chili powder that looks like adobe-red salt crystals and burns like sumac) at each table. Why Koreans would eschew their native grub in favor of run-of-the-mill Chinese is a natural question, one quickly forgotten upon remembering Americans love their tacos and Germans their döner kebabs.
Korean-Chinese is actually one of the more natural fusions in the Middle Kingdom’s many worldwide variants: Chinese dishes are given a couple of Korean touches here, mostly on the salty and savory side to satiate the peninsula’s hearty palate. The most popular dish at Young Pung is jajangmyeon, but good luck finding it on the menu—its Korean name is written only in Hangul. Its English name is the bad-sounding noodles with black sauce, but order these steamed noodles drenched in black beans and corresponding sauce, mixed with seafood: salty, sweet, wonderful. You’ll find soups featuring Chinese bounty with Korean spice, dumplings halfway between mandoos and pot stickers, and freeflowing soju. This is definitely a place where having a Korean friend helps—but that’d be cheating!
Ultimately, the Korean-Chinese novelty for us foreigners wears off—just eat great food, won’tcha? The spicy fried chicken isn’t really spicy unless you ask for it to be, and the results look more like orange chicken: fried bits glopped with a sweet-and-sour sauce, some dried chiles and scallions thrown in. The chicken doesn’t match the deep-battered glories of Kyochon and frankly tastes like the better cousin of Panda Express, but times are tough: Help one of the many communities that help in the resistance against the South County-fication of us all.
Young Pung, 9922 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 537-6884.
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