East Asian Food Odyssey
Places to visit for quality East Asian food in the MIT area
The saying, “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” rings true to me.
I inherited the joy I get from food and the importance I put on it from my late grandfather. On family trips he would pick out amazing restaurants that brought back memories of when he was young, and where the food was served “proper.”
Here are a two notable dishes that I recall…
- Dongchimi Makkuksoo (cold buckwheat noodles served with ice radish kimchi). It was so good that despite the fact that it is served cold, long lines of shivering people would form up even in the middle of winter.
- Spicy Chuotang, loach or mudfish soup, served with unlimited potato and rice. This was another great dish for the winter that will warm you up in any kind of cold or wet weather.
Several weeks into my first semester, a longing for spicy foods came over me. Back in my home country of Korea, we have a dish called Haejang-guk, which means hangover-soup.
The day after a party, or when you are feeling that a cold is coming, these soups spread warmth as they flow into you. Beads of sweat form on your upper lip and forehead, and even though your tongue aches from the spiciness, you cannot stop eating it. There are various types of Haejang-guk that are categorized according to their ingredients: dried fish, vegetables, pork or beef.
In particular, the chilly weather of Boston reminded me of Haejang-guk I had previously enjoyed back at home, so my friends and I began a search for something similar near MIT.
Various types of Haejang-guk (Image source: Google Image Search of Haejang-guk)
The first analogue I found was Vietnamese Pho. Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup made from rice noodles, broth, meat and herbs. Le’s Restaurant in Harvard Square serves Pho in small, large and extra-large sizes. The extra-large size is served in a bowl worthy of the description “titanic” and brings awe to the table. Most Pho has cilantro included as default, so people who are sensitive to strong herbs or haven’t tried cilantro before are advised to ask their waiter to serve it separately.
Another amazing comfort food is a Korean Chinese spicy noodle soup served with seafood called Jambong. I had one of the best Jambong at the restaurant Buk Kyung in Allston. We had to wait 30 minutes before getting seated, but the wait was worth it when the waiter brought out the steaming bowl of red orange soup decorated with shrimp, mussels, and calamari.
Pho at Le’s Restaurant (left) and Jambong at Buk Kyung (right) (Image Source: www.yelp.com)
Jambong and Pho are great comfort foods, but for special occasions when we have more time and money to spare, there are many good restaurants near campus that are worth a try.
One very good Korean restaurant is Koreana near Central Square. Their 10-page menu holds close to the full spectrum of the Korean cuisine, from hot pots and deep fried entrees to barbecues and sushi. Among Korean students there is a consensus that Koreana’s Gopchang Jungeol spicy beef intestine stew is better than some of the best restaurants in Korea.
Taking the T (subway of the Greater Boston area) to the Chinatown stop we will find ourselves in the middle of several blocks of Chinese/Taiwanese restaurants. Believe it or not, a sign in the Gourmet Dumpling House, proudly states that it is the 2nd best Chinese restaurant in the country.
The place is always packed with customers, but once seated, food is promptly served. Their Xiao Long Bao, soup dumplings are filled with pork and soup that make them an absolute delight to bite into. Also, Szechuan-style spicy fish soup is a blast of spiciness and flavor that can get you sweating within several sips. After a meal, you can also pay a visit to Chatime or Kung Fu Tea for a soothing cup of bubble tea served at whatever temperature and sweetness you like.
Gopchang Jungeol at Koreana (left) and Xia Long Bao at Gourmet Dumpling House (right) (Image Source: www.yelp.com)
Last of all, if curiosity drives you to try making your own Korean food there are many resources around to help. Recently, there has been a boom in cooking shows on Korean television and one of the longest running shows is Chef Baek’s Zipbab (Home Food). A web version of all the recipes that appear on the show and an English blog that breaks down each step of the cooking process are good resources for beginners.
For ingredients, H-Mart is an excellent Korean/Asian supermarket located near Central Square, with nice sample tables of dumplings, ramen, and fruit. At its entrance it also includes a bakery and a small food court to get simple eats.
Closer to the graduate dorms there is Star Market, which is the go to place for most grocery needs. Also, a longer walk from graduate housing is Trader Joe’s. It is nice place to get good quality organic foods at a low price. Onions cost 69 cents per pound and a whole chicken are priced at under 10 dollars.
Grocery Stores near MIT (Image Source: Google Maps)
This short blog post does not fully cover each of the restaurants introduced and misses some of the other great ones in the Boston-Cambridge area.
However, I hope that some of my enthusiasm for East Asian food is motivation for the reader to visit the places introduced in this post.
Checking out new places or trying menus in restaurants around the area with friends is always a fun and enjoyable experience, and one of the many things that spices up my life as a graduate student at MIT.
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