Flavor Excursions: Koreatown

BY  |  Thursday, Feb 09, 2012 11:00am  |  COMMENTS (1)

Pop Soda!

You’ll have to leave the Garden State for this Flavor Excursion adventure, but I can assure you it’s worth it.  Just across the river (okay, maybe two rivers) and into Queens you’ll be transported halfway around the world.

Head to Flushing’s “Little Korea” or “Koreatown” and after traveling less than thirty minutes by car from Baristaville, you’ll feel like you’re in the East Asia. Looking for some great Korean BBQ and bubble tea, we took a field trip with another family over winter break and ended up immersed in a vibrant culture which brightened an otherwise dreary December day.

We parked just off Main Street near 41st Avenue and meandered around for a few blocks. First stop was an Asian market that absolutely blew us away. Don’t expect Whole Foods. Instead, think Bloomfield’s East West Asian Market on steroids. There were foods I’ve never laid eyes on. And live fish, crabs, frogs and turtles (you heard me right) are there for the picking, just sitting there in large plastic bins set on the floor in front of the cases of fresh (though dead) fish of all shapes, sizes and colors. I had to back track when my friend told me there were live turtles for sale. I walked by their little box, not realizing what was going on inside.  By the way, these aren’t the pretty rainbow-colored kind you’d find in Petco.

Our combined six kids (ages 6-14) crouched over in amazement at these squirming and hopping amphibians. Who knew we’d have a aquarium experience in a grocery store! Before leaving the market, we snagged some Pop Soda (aka the “marble drink”) to take for the ride. Yes, it’s soda. but it’s so much fun! If you’ve never experienced it before, it’s worth easing up on the “no soda rule” and letting the kids give it a try. (They sell them at East West Asian market too.) Basically, there’s a little marble that with a simple push of the palm, gets wedged into the bottle causing all kinds of fizz. And then yes, you drink the soda, with the marble trapped in the bottle. (I’ll admit that I was a bit freaked out that the marble would somehow make it through and choke one of my kids. But I’m pretty sure that’s impossible!) Anyway, they come in all sorts of excessively sugary sweet flavors, from apple to kiwi to cola.

Next stop was the Golden Mall, 41-28 Main Street in Flushing, which has several levels of Korean retailers and has a phenomenal pan-Asian food court in the basement. Every table was filled, with the restaurants offering samples of their specialties. A tangy taste of caramelized pork with ginger and we almost gave up our soon-to-come feast at Mapo BBQ in Murray Hill, Queens.  Back to the food court though, we found the Kung Foo Tea kiosk, a campy bubble tea joint with high tech mixing machines that sealed the lids on an endless variety of flavors. If you’ve never had bubble tea before, you’re in for an experience. You’ll be asked if you’d like yours blended or shaken and with tapioca pearls or without. These slimy gummy balls rest at the bottom of your drink as you slurp them up with a very wide straw. Our kids didn’t unanimously like the bubble tea, wondering aloud what the slime balls were at the bottom of their drinks. But the grown-ups loved it!

Candy Crabs

Two flights up, we discovered a candy store that shocked us all. In addition to the American staples like Kit Kat bars and Snickers, Asian gummies and hard candy, this boutique had strange delicacies like candied crabs and fish. Not your ordinary candy shop! I can’t see Dylan’s Candy Bar enjoying much success selling sesame crusted crabs! At any rate, we let the kids select a small bag of Korean candy and headed for a delicious Korean BBQ dinner where we cooked our own meat over hot coals.  All in all, it was a great day!

And, looks like Montclair be getting a Korean restaurant called Koreander in Watchung Plaza. There are some tantalizing pictures of Korean BBQ and Bubble Tea in the window.  Coming soon I hope!

Here’s our drink invention inspired Bubble Tea:

Kid Friendly Bubble Tea Style Strawberry Smoothie
Makes 4 drinks

  • 2 cups crushed ice
  • 1 cup strawberries, hulled and washed
  • 1 cups light vanilla ice cream
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¼ cup simple sugar
  • Soft baby gummies (such as the Gerber ones)

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Place one packet of baby gummies at the bottom of each glass and pour the strawberry smoothie on top. Drink using a straw with a wide bottom (like the ones for a Big Gulp) and try to suck the gummies through the straw as you drink.

1 Comments

  1. POSTED BY pamplemousse  |  February 10, 2012 @ 7:07 am

    If you don’t want to cross the river, NJ actually has a couple of pockets of Korean communities. Palisades Park for one. Their main street is largely Korean supermarkets, butcher shops, bakeries, restaurants, beauty salons, etc. Fort Lee is another. And there are a couple of H-Marts (a large Korean grocery chain) in Little Ferry, Ridgefield, Fort Lee and Edison. Some, if not all of them, have food courts or Korean restaurants within the same plaza as the market. Although I don’t know if they have live frogs and turtles at the markets. These markets are madness on weekends. Packed to the gills and impossible to find parking.

    I think I’ve seen sago pearls for bubble tea at East West Market. I haven’t made them before but I think it’s just a matter of boiling the pearls in plenty of water until translucent and then shocking them in ice water.

    I’m also looking forward to Koreander’s opening. I hope it’s authentic Korean food and not watered down “accessible” cuisine like many of the Asian restaurants in Montclair. Or at the very least, I hope they have Korean fried chicken. Drool.

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