When it comes to food I will try anything once (unless it is moving) and the hotter the bite the better. I am also a quarter Korean (my mom is half Korean), and recently discovered the Netflix show with Chef and Korean, David Chang called, “Ugly Delicious.”
I have become quite enamored with the show and realized while watching, that I haven’t really connected with Korean food. In my defense, I haven’t had the opportunity. Since becoming an adult, I haven’t lived close to any places where Korean food is accessible. And although my mom was adopted from South Korea at age two, she has just recently become interested in her Korean roots. Her American family, probably because it was the 1950s, didn’t try to maintain my mom’s cultural identity as a Korean.
I am obsessed with “Ugly Delicious” right now and became determined to add Korean food to my diet of jalapenos on tacos and jalapenos on hamburgers and jalapenos on pizza. I even put jalapenos in my cucumber salad. My husband, who has strong German roots, has endured a lot of spicy food over the years.
Last month, we took a weekend trip to Colorado Springs. The point of the trip was to attend Hot Rod Rock & Rumble at Pikes Peak International Raceway. However, I had an ulterior motive. I was going to visit one of a number of Korean restaurants I had discovered were in Colorado Springs.
Tong Tong was near our hotel, Hotel Eleganté, and it had high reviews online. Convenient because I wouldn’t know what was good, authentic, or otherwise. I am a newbie when it comes to Korean food.
We made a reservation for Friday night, not because they are necessary but because of COVID-19 they are recommended. Not knowing what to expect, we followed GoogleMap instructions to a strip mall near our hotel. This was an unassuming restaurant to be sure, but according to David Chang, whom I consider an expert on such things, the unassuming Asian restaurants are often the best.
With reservations, we sat right away. There are Asian folding screens between tables so it actually feels perfectly natural. Of course, I don’t know what it looked like pre-COVID-19, so I am assuming these screens are a new addition. Adverts for Korean beer hang on the walls and the restaurant feels clean and airy.
Nervous about ordering at a Korean restaurant, I had done a little online homework. I am right at home when ordering at a Mexican food restaurant, even in Mexico, but Korean dining is different. I found “12 Popular Korean Dishes to Order At a Restaurant” at EatThis.com. Using this as my guide, I tackled the menu.
Ryan ordered a Hite Beer and we ordered Tteokbokki, an appetizer that comes in a bowl the size of my head. It’s a combination of rice cakes and fish cakes swimming in a red sauce. Just like Alyse Whitney had written in the article above, they are addictive. I am a very textural eater and the rice cakes texture, slightly chewy and sticky, was strangely appealing. It’s a flavorful dish with just a hint of an ocean taste from the fish cakes. Full disclosure: I love seafood and the taste of the ocean.
Our eight sides came to the table while we were devouring our Tteokbokki. You read that right. Eight. Ryan’s eyes just kept getting wider and wider as they were put down. These are small sides that come with every meal and apparently you can ask for more if you need a dish to be refilled.
There was kimchi, the food perhaps most associated with Korea, tofu, a seafood-tasting green bean side and so much more. I have read that the norm at a Korean restaurant is five sides, but Tong Tong serves three more and their reviewers loved it (so did we).
Ryan ordered the L.A. Galbi which is basically Korean ribs on the bone. I got Bulgogi Dolsot Bibimbap which is rice topped with vegetables, bulgogi and a fried egg. I had completely forgotten that when we got Hello Fresh, Bibimbap was my favorite. You do not put an egg on that one, but you should. I hold to the philosophy that eggs go on everything.
My meal was as tasty as it was pretty. The rice sticks to the cast iron bowl in the most delicious way and who doesn’t love a dish that comes sizzling to the table?
Ryan’s meal was made up of tiny steaks, and he is good with chopsticks but failed at eating this with anything but his hands. The meat really did have the flavoring of a nice steak. He felt it was a one-note dish, but at least he liked the note. He loved the side dishes which was a bit of a surprise to me because he is not a huge fan of Asian cuisine. For example, he prefers I take someone else along when I go to our local pho restaurant.
We didn’t venture out on a foodie ledge with this meal, but it was different for us and would be for many of you too. And I loved the entire experience. Human beings may have different politics and different outlooks on life. We may like green better than purple and we may believe or not believe in aliens, but the fact is, we all eat. And for the most part, we all like to eat.
In the past, I’ve said sports is what brings us together, but today, in a world that’s gone nearly silent on the sports front, it’s food. Food is the glue that holds families, societies and humans together. I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately, and I won’t go too deep, but we could all use a little bonding right now.
As I was paying my bill, I told our waitress that I was “so very full.” She laughed and informed me that people don’t leave Tong Tong hungry and she went on to explain that in fact, tong tong in essence means, chubby, in a good way. So now we all know, this Korean restaurant is named after me.