Growing up in Philadelphia with New Jersey as your border, you knew it was always there but it was like that <insert family member here> you never really want to talk to. When I lived in D.C., I always felt the need to defend Philadelphians – especially when it came to Philly sports fans. Not all of the bad sports behavior was committed by a Philadelphian (aka this guy and we don’t claim him as ours regardless of who he cheered for). This was also a clear topic of conversation when we hosted a few Fulbright students for dinner at Fond back in the fall – if they were to leave with any key takeaways about Philadelphians, it was that New Jersey was not considered our equivalent but merely as a neighbor whose existence we tolerate.
In general, there is only one main reason I ever tend to cross the bridge – to go down da’ shore (I mean really, what else is there except the NJ shore?). However I may be convinced to cross that newly painted bridge again if it means that I’m headed to Beawon for some Korean BBQ.
So let’s set the scene for when you know you’re in NJ. For starters, if you think that you’ll know that you’ve found Beawon when you see the sign with it’s name on it – you need to think again. The sign in the parking lot clearly reads “Stacey’s Authentic Korean Barbecue”. My initial thought was thank goodness Katie told me the long version of the name. This was shortly followed by I hope we don’t have to use another jug handle to turn left should we miss the entrance to the parking lot.
When we arrived and opened the multi-page menu, I had no idea what I was looking at. While I appreciated the photos, the choices were overwhelming. Most of my previous experience with Korean food came from having bulgogi and bibimbap. In looking at a Korean cookbook to try and learn more about the culture surrounding BBQ, the list of recommended ingredients to have on hand when cooking Korean food totaled 5 pages. Granted, maybe this equated to things I have on stand by in my fridge (like ketchup and mayo) but I appreciated this sampling from Cooking Light‘s June 2016 issue – it’s like phoning a friend.
My friend Katie took the lead, as she clearly had done the dance before. Her ordering consisted of so many things that every time she rattled off a new name I just shook my head in agreement. And things there were – before any of the plates Katie ordered, several small plates known as banchans arrived on the table. Banchans vary from restaurant to restaurant, but are thought to aid in digestion and are expected to be eaten alongside of the meal rather than as an appetizer.
Next, the food Katie actually ordered – seafood pancake, spicy rice cakes, and japchae all arrived. Let’s talk about some logistics here – we haven’t eaten started grilling the meats and there are already 10+ dishes on the table for the four of us. I knew this was going to be a race but didn’t realize it was a marathon (and my eyes have always been bigger than my stomach).
The seafood pancake was savory and delicious. Jeff very rarely eats seafood (basically unless I force him to) and he went back for seconds. The spicy rice cakes had a chewy texture – similar to that of – oh I don’t know a chewy rice cake? They were coated in a spicy red sauce that varied in it’s heat intensity – it all just depended on if you got that little itty, bitty chile that was lingering in there during your bite (or better yet, surfaced afterwards as you continued chewing).
The japchae was hands down my favorite side dish of the meal (or is it 2nd, 3rd, 4th course? I’ve lost count at how much I consumed). Japchae is a dish of clear, rice vermicelli noodles (love me some vermicelli noodles) with beef and vegetables lightly sauced. It was served at room temperature and reminded me of a colder noodle salad that you might find in Japanese cuisine.
Then the show began. Our server took the lead in grilling onions on the grill first, followed by some mushrooms. These vegetables were pushed to the side to make room for the main event – galbi (beef rib) and pork belly. The server had pulled together enough meat to feed the four of us – and really I would say it possibly could have fed 5 of us if the boys hadn’t shown up hungry. After it was grilled, it could have been eaten inside lettuce as a lettuce wrap or simply on it’s own. I tried the lettuce wrap, though in general that ain’t my style. The galbi and the pork belly were tender, juicy, and so tasty that they shined plenty on their own (and that photo below is merely the first round of meats that were grilled – there were multiple rounds).
Fortunately for me, Korean BBQ tends to operate in the same way an Italian dinner does – smaller portions that are well timed and spaced out so that you can maximize your eating.
And while I know that I make cultural blunders on the reg, it became more apparent when watching the following video from Zagat. Sharing is caring my friends. Watch before you eat.