Seoul's sprawling Tongdaemun market, known in English as the East Gate market, tempts the shopper with an incredible array of merchandise--silk and brocade fabrics, clothing, shoes, brass ware, pottery, jewelry and much more. It also tantalizes you with food stalls offering hearty Korean dishes prepared with an eye to earthy satisfaction rather than refinement. Pots brimming with soups and stews send forth aromas of such typical seasonings as garlic, chiles, ginger, onion and sesame oil.
From Tongdaemun's savory wares, we have selected one especially appealing dish. It is kalbi chim , a short-rib stew that includes such unusual ingredients as chestnuts, Chinese red dates and Oriental dried black mushrooms. The rich stock is flavored with soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil and a judicious dash of fiery Korean red-pepper paste. Potatoes, carrots and green onions are other ingredients.
Los Angeles may be far from Tongdaemun, but you can capture a bit of the mood by shopping in Koreatown markets, where the special ingredients for kalbi chim are readily available. You can select from bins of plump fresh chestnuts, produce counters heaped with the freshest of vegetables, and meat counters that display ribs and other cuts of beef used in Korean cooking.
Kalbi chim is almost a meal in itself. A few dishes to complete the menu can be chosen from the prepared foods stocked in the markets. Kimchee , the red-pepper-laden Korean pickle, is mandatory. And, for dessert, try the delightful flower-shaped cakes called yak-kwa . Imported from Korea and also made in local Korean bakeries, yak-kwa are deep-fried, then soaked in syrup. Compared to American cakes, they are firm and chewy in texture. Other suggested accompaniments are rice, tea and Korean beer.
(Korean Short Rib Stew)
4pounds short ribs4quarts watercup soy sauce4cloves garlic, minced1 1/2tablespoons sugar1teaspoon saltBlack pepper1teaspoon bottled Korean red-pepper paste12chestnuts, peeled6small whole potatoes, peeled2medium carrots, each cut in thirds6small dried black Oriental mushrooms, soaked until softened6Chinese red dates, pitted; if desired6green onions, cut into 3-inch sections1tablespoon sesame oil Score rib meat at 1-inch intervals, cutting halfway to bone. Place ribs in large Dutch oven. Add water. Bring to boil and skim surface. Add soy sauce, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper to taste and red-pepper paste. Boil, uncovered, until ribs are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. If desired, remove from heat to stop boiling, skim off fat, then return to heat.
Meanwhile, peel chestnuts. Cut an X in flat side of each, place in cold water in saucepan and bring to boil. Boil 1 minute, then remove shell and thin peel underneath. While working, keep remaining unpeeled chestnuts in hot water.
When ribs are tender, add chestnuts, potatoes, carrots, drained mushrooms and red dates. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Add green onions and sesame oil and cook 5 minutes longer. Broth should have cooked down to 3 to 4 cups. Turn stew into casserole for serving. Spoon 2 or 3 ribs, some of the vegetables, chestnuts, dates and sauce onto each plate. Serves 4 to 6.