Japan boasts a large Korean community, and many of its members live in Tokyo. Shin-Okubo is the Korea Town of Tokyo and if you are in the mood for some tasty and stuffing Korean food, this is the place to go! Are you not (that) familiar with Korean cuisine yet? Do keep reading to find out more.
Both Japanese and Korean cuisine encompass elements of Chinese cooking that were brought to these lands hundreds of years ago. However, they have developed unique characteristics and taken new forms over the years, due to the scarcity of certain foods or living conditions at that time. For example, budae jjigae or helmet stew is a mish-mash of ingredients including vegetables, tofu, and spam or hotdog meat in a hot pot that was named this way because it was believed to be a dish cooked in helmets by soldiers in wartime.
The usual suspects of bibimbap, sangeupsal, kimbap, samgyetang, and naengmyeon are some of the examples of Korean cuisine that are commonly found in Tokyo, some of which have a Japanese counterpart. For those not familiar with Korean cuisine, bibimbap is a rice dish that has bean sprouts and other vegetables, kimchi, grilled meat, and an egg mixed in. Sangeupsal literally means grilled pork belly, but is taken to mean Korean barbeque, and is similar to the Japanese yakiniku (grilled meat). Kimbap is often mistaken for a sushi roll, but it is heartier and does not have any restrictions on the filling. Samgyetang is a uniquely Korean ginseng chicken broth that is rich, herby and absolutely delicious. Naengmyeon are Korean cold noodles, which uses a much softer and thinner flour noodle compared to the Japanese al dente soba or chewy udon noodles.
Tokyo’s district of Shin-Okubo has rows of Korean restaurants with pushcarts in front that epitomize the culture of Korean street food. From cinnamon sugar dusted hotteok to spiral cut fried potatoes to ddeoppoki, Shin-Okubo is definitely the place to be for Korean food when you are in Tokyo!
Yes, you read hotteok, not hotdog. Hotteok are rice flour pancakes that are a common street food in Korea. The original filling is a variant of speculoos with brown sugar and cinnamon, but there are also other sweet and savory flavors to choose from. Ddeoppoki are rice cakes stewed in a sweet hot sauce with surimi or fish cakes.
One of the most famous restaurants in this K-town is Tonchang, where the food is hearty and authentic, warming up visitors with hot soups and delectable dishes. Another restaurant named Ondoru, which always has a line outside, serves up a mean Korean barbeque and kimchi and chive Korean pancakes. To further induce a food coma, be sure to have a side of Korean makkoli rice wine or a soju submarine along with the dishes! Gunbae!