If you know me, I grew up in a Korean household. My parents cooked Korean food at home. But I also grew up in Mexico and Guatemala, both countries well-known for their distinctive and flavorful cuisine. Living in Northwest Arkansas, it’s hard to have access to Korean food. This makes us get creative when we have cravings. Many of you know that Korean food is heavily associated with Korean BBQ. If you think about it, there’s nothing uniquely “Korean” about Korean BBQ other than the sauces, the side dishes, and the fact that Korean BBQ is grilled on the dining table. Plus, even if we do go to the one and only Korean BBQ joint in this area, we have to spend at least $40 to get a satisfactory amount of food. In this article, I want to share with you how we satisfy our cravings for Korean BBQ on the cheap.
The Food – Kor-exican
Koreans use different cuts of marinated beef and pork for their BBQ grilling. Beef, no matter what shape or form, is bound to be pricier. Unless it’s a really special occasion, we avoid buying beef, muchless kal-bi, which just refers to the rib cut. We opt to buy marinated pork from our local Mexican bodega. One pound of heavily-marinated pork costs right about $3.50 with our local Mexican butcher. That’s usually more than enough to fill us up. Butchers in Mexican bodegas are usually a great source of awesome marinated meat, as Mexicans (or other Latinos) use a lot of peppers and other flavorful stuff to marinate the meat. While we’re at a bodega, we usually pick up a couple of jalapeno peppers and tomatoes to grill along the meat. Considering the circumstances, in my experience, this is the best substitute there is for Korean-BBQ meat. The tomatoes and jalapenos cost about a $1.00 and we always have a massive bag of white rice. Total cost of food: $4.50. *I bought a pound of chorizo, but won’t count it here since that’ll be a separate meal.
The Grill – American
Koreans use a specific type of table-top grills for their BBQ. We don’t own one, but we do have a George Foreman Grill. We found the Foreman grill to be a genius tool for Korean BBQ because the meat doesn’t stick, it’s easy to clean, and it’s portable enough to easily place it on the dining table.
The Sauce – Korean
There are typically two types of primary sauces to dip your meat in. One is known as “ssam-jang”, a combination of Korean fermented bean paste, sesame oil and Korean red pepper paste. The second one is known as “so-geum-jang”, which is a simple mixture of sesame oil, salt and pepper. It doesn’t matter what meat you’re eating, if you dip it in so-geum-jang, anything tastes like Korean-BBQ meat. There’s no way to go wrong on this. We always have salt, pepper and sesame oil, so our out-of-pocket cost here is $0.00.
The Dessert – Mexican-American
We rarely drink soda. When we do, however, we choose what’s commonly known as the “Mexican Coke”. It’s like regular Coke, but it’s “Hecho en Mexico”, or made in Mexico. The only difference from any other Coke is that Mexican Coke is made with real sugar, as opposed to high-fructose corn syrup. I don’t know about you, but I certainly think it tastes better than the regular Coke, and find some solace in the fact that we’re not consuming any more corn-syrup than we already do (considering that MOST processed food nowadays has corn-syrup). For us, it’s the perfect way to end a Kor-exican American dinner! The price differs from store to store, but I found the average price to be around $1.00, bringing our total Korean BBQ dinner to a dazzling $5.50.
Do you like/have you ever tried Korean food? What’s your comfort food?