5.025 Tangsu Yuk

 -Cycle 5, Item 25-
30 (Thu) January 2014

Tangsu Yuk


at J&J

-Geumgok, Bundang-

with the Family and the Folks

The Prodigal Son Returns for the Lunar New Year, Day 1.

In Seoul to spend the Lunar New Year holiday with the family, the first time that I've been home since leaving for Manila earlier this month.  Flying back Sunday evening, giving me 3, maybe 4, dinners in town--yes, thanks to the blog, that's how I calculate time these days, in units of dinner.

J&J is a Chinese restaurant.  Located in Bundang, on the first floor of my parents' apartment building.  Mid- to upper-range, in terms of both price and quality.

For dinner this evening, long story short, everything else in the neighborhood was closed for the holiday, so we ended up at J&J.

Tangsu yuk (탕수육) is a Chinese dish.  Strips of meat, pork by default, but sometimes beef, or chicken (see for example 4.300 Orange Tangsu Chicken), or fish (see for example 2.342 Tangsu Eo), battered and deep-fried, tossed in a tangy glaze, along with some veg/fruit, such as carrot and onion at a minimum, pineapple perhaps.  Essentially, it's the Korean version of sweet & sour.  The term means "tangsu = taffy water" + "yuk = meat," though variations of sweet & sour dishes in China are sometimes referred to by other names.  

What really sets tangsu yuk apart from sweet & sour anywhere in the world is the vapid yet rabid popularity of the dish in Chinese restaurants throughout Korea.  Unquestionably, undoubtedly, undeniably, unmistakably, unequivocally, unambiguously, incontrovertibly, irrefutably, incontestably, conclusively, categorically, plainly, patently, definitively, decisively, explicitly, implicitly, it's the undisputed, unrivaled, unassailable, unconquerable, indomitable, inviolable, invincible king, emperor, pharaoh, raja, sheik, shah, chief, sachem, liege, lord, potentate, padrone, allah, jehovah, master of the universe, ruler of all things, god.  Seriously, without exaggeration, I'd estimate that tangsu yuk accounts for 80% of all dishes sold here, the remaining 20% only when tangsu yuk is already on the table; in other words, the first dish is always tangsu yuk, then maybe additional items, or maybe some more tangsu yuk.  

To be clear, I'm referring to special dishes, served on platters and shared by everyone, not individual noodle or rice dishes, like JJM or JBB, which is another story, though actually the same story, only on a different level (see generally 2.224 Hayan Jjambbong).

Tangsu yuk epitomizes what I hate about Korean food culture: prescriptive predictability.  I've discussed it before--coincidentally, on the occasion of my first trip to Manila, where the open-mindedness is mind-boggling--in the context of ramyeon (see 2.033 Roast Duck Noodle Soup).  Lack of imagination, fear of the unknown, laziness, ignorance, whatever, it's why Chinese cuisine, the most diverse in the world, has been reduced in Korea to less than 10 dishes in all (see generally 3.198 Stir-Fried Shrimp & Tofu Skins; see also 3.258 Japchae Bap), led by tangsu yuk.  In protest, it's the only dish that I refuse to order on principle, disallowing it if I have any say in menu choice.  

I wield no authority over my father, so tangsu yuk it was.  

The tangsu yuk at J&J was actually one of the best that I've ever had.  Juicy on the inside, crispy outside, perfectly sweet and sour balance in the sauce, wide variety of veg/fruit, including lotus root.  If the dish were always like this, I wouldn't complain so much.

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