Since my office and apartment don’t require me to trek much farther north than 17th Street, I relish in every opportunity I get to conveniently go to Koreatown. An uptown appointment had me fantasizing about what I’d partake, and eventually I decided on Korean-Chinese, since it was the only place in the city I knew I could sample the ethnic mash-up of flavors and ingredients.
Korean-Chinese cuisine is a term dubbed for dishes that were cooked up by the Chinese who immigrated to Korea because of the war. While my dad was born and raised in China, my mother grew up in Busan, South Korea, hence my taste for Korean-Chinese food. The dishes are derived from traditional Chinese cuisine and are strongly influenced by ingredients inherent to Korea.
Brightly embroidered pillows line the benches along the red silky fabric cushioned walls inside. Red, being a symbolic color of good luck and prosperity in Chinese culture, was everywhere. I felt like I was in a Chinese palace with Western touches what with the button- tufted plush and a sparkling chandelier hanging above it. The waiter led me to a circular space in the center of the restaurant with two curved dining counters encircling the purple velvet couch. The counters are mounted against the wall and are only about a foot deep, so diners sit down to face the wall.
As I sat down in the red leather chair, I looked up only to see myself in a small mirror mounted on the wall before me. Then, as I shifted my focus to look at the mirror itself, I saw the words “You Are a Princess.” Well, sure, why not? Maybe I am.
I sipped on my hot bori cha (free), Korean barley tea, and scoured the menu until I found N-3, the half-and-half bowl ($8.95). Two dishes most commonly associated with Korean-Chinese cuisine include jajiang mian and zhowmar mian, or jjamppong in Korean.
Jajiang mian is a noodle dish with black bean sauce and onions, meat and sometimes seafood, and jjamppong is a bright red, hot and spicy seafood noodle soup dish. Being a soup girl, I usually order the jjamppong and hope someone else will share their noodles, but I was dining solo and Shanghai Mong offers a half-and-half bowl, so I was in luck.
The waitress, dressed in a silky Chinese qi pao top, brought me my banchan, which at Korean-Chinese restaurants usually consist of pickled yellow daikon radish, raw onions with a black bean paste dip and, of course, kimchi. Instead of the raw onions and black bean paste, I got saltier pickled strips of radish, which were even better than the raw onions.
The banchan were served in three small square plates, and the white and abstract serving bowls and plates added a modern touch. Unfortunately, the chopsticks were disposable, but the silver Korean spoons—large shallow round spoons with thin long handles—were perfect for slurping my soup.
My order was one big round bowl divided into two: Red soup and seafood sloshed around on one side, and noodles draped in black bean sauce topped with freshly sliced cucumbers on the other. I started with the jjamppong, and it easily satiated my craving. One large shrimp, head and skin still attached, floated in the soup, along with an even larger mussel, bok choy, baby corn, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, squid and scallops.
After a couple bites, I shifted to my left, mixed up my black bean noodles and took a bite. Not the best jajiang mian I’ve had in my life, but it was still pleasing to the palate. The sauce had a great consistency and included diced zucchini, potatoes, onions and pork. Usually for these dishes, hand-pulled noodles are ideal for their texture, but these noodles were smooth and even, while still maintaining a hearty thickness.
The menu claims to be “Chinese-Fusion” and is very extensive. Prices range from $5.95 for rather large bowls of soup to $43.95 for the house special cold dishes, which include items like fried pork ribs, fried king prawn and stewed shark’s fin with seafood. Shark’s fin dishes are about $37.95 and sea cucumber and abalone dishes range from $29.95 to $35.95.
Though it sounds like Shanghai Mong is a little steeper with its prices, portions are large, and if you stick to the staples of jajiang mian, jjamppong and dumplings, you’ll be satisfied without breaking the bank.
But what I most enjoy about Shanghai Mong is its ingenious idea to offer the half jajiang mian, half jjamppong bowl. The ability to have both without having to order a huge bowl of each will have you—even if while dining alone—feeling like you’re royalty.
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