Confused about kimchi? Baffled by banchan? Get coached on Korean food at this West Valley restaurant

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Banchan, or small side dishes, include seaweed, marinated cucumbers, steamed broccoli, sprouts, kimchi, and roasted potatoes, at Myung Ga Korean restaurant, in West Valley City.

West Valley City • Korea’s bold, spicy flavors and ingredients keep popping up in recipes, on restaurant menus and even at street fairs.

Food publications have said Korean cuisine is one of the hottest trends in American restaurants.

Food trucks slinging Korean barbecue have launched all over the country — including Utah — making the food accessible and fun.

And, at least this week, our eyes are glued to Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Our need to dig deeper — without buying a plane ticket — took us to Myung Ga, a Korean restaurant in West Valley City.

Married couple Chan Kyo Park and Hyae Sin Park, both born and raised in South Korea, came to Utah nearly 20 years ago. In 2001, they opened their restaurant in a strip mall near 1800 West and 3500 South.

“My parents started with a small menu, mostly tofu soup and barbecue,” said their daughter, Jinyoung Park. But after customers requested other authentic dishes, “they kept adding more items.”

Three years ago the Park family moved Myung Ga — which means “bright house” — to its current location at 3353 Decker Lake Drive. Larger and more modern, it’s a stone’s throw from the Maverik Center.

Hyae Sin Park created all the Korean recipes and insists on importing many ingredients to ensure the food is authentic.

What should the adventurous diner — with no experience in Korean food — understand about this cuisine? Here are eight things to know:

Kimchi • This spicy, sour fermented condiment, typically made with cabbage or other vegetables, is the national dish. There are hundreds of variations depending on the cook and the region. At Myung Ga, there are two kinds. One is mild and served as a side dish; the other is more pungent (it’s been fermented longer) and is used in soups and other dishes.

Banchan • Side dishes — called banchan — are always included in a Korean meal. At Myung Ga, the lineup includes tender-crisp broccoli florets, mild kimchi, marinated cucumbers, bean sprouts, squares of roasted and salted seaweed, and roasted potatoes marinated in soy sauce and sugar. They come to the table in small bowls that can be refilled as many times as you like. Mix them into your steamed white rice (another meal staple). But don’t confuse them with the appetizers, says the Parks’ son-in-law, Leo Watabe.

Jeon • The Korean word for pancake, but it’s not for breakfast. This appetizer or snack is a popular street food and is made by creating a batter from vegetables, meat or fish and pan frying in a bit of oil. On a recent day, the $5 chef special at Myung Ga was the jeon made with a choice of kimchi or pork.

Bulgogi • The dish, which means “fire meat,” is the quintessential Korean entree, made with marinated slices of beef or pork and served over onion slices. If you’re hesitant about what to order — and enjoy tender meat — try this.

Bibimbap • The one-dish meal ($13), which means “mixed rice,” is the go-to dish for many Korean families, says Jinyoung Park. “Whatever is left over in the fridge goes in — meat, vegetables, eggs.” At restaurants, it’s more refined, but it’s basically warm white rice in a stone pot that is topped with cooked meat, vegetables, kimchi and a fried egg. A squeeze of spicy gochujang finishes it off.

Gochujang • Made with red chile powder, fermented soybeans and salt, this condiment is used extensively in Korean cooking to flavor stews, to marinate meat and as a spicy addition to foods such as bibimbap.

Stews • It doesn’t matter your country of origin, comfort comes in a warm bowl of stew. In Korea, the most traditional is the soft tofu stew, or jigae, with clams, shrimp and mushrooms. It arrives at the table bubbling in a stone pot. At Myung Ga, there are 12 varieties of stew, from kimchi and beef to vegetable and dumplings ($10 each). A fresh egg — cracked on top and allowed to cook to perfection in the hot broth — is optional, but recommended.

Bingsu • Finish off your meal with this addicting Korean dessert made with shaved ice, sweet milk and fruit. There are several variations at Myung Ga, from strawberry and mango to red bean. The large bowl will satisfy at least two people.

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