Restaurant : Goong (East Hartford, CT)Location: 798 Silver Lane
I am generally wary when I go to a Korean restaurant to eat. I've been spoiled all my life with my mom's cooking and nothing else seems to quite compare. To eat food that was made with love, dedication, authenticity, and creativity is certainly like eating a slice of heaven. I'm not sure when it was that I started appreciating my mom's cooking. I'm guessing it was when I started going to Korean restaurants back in college when all I can think of was my ethnic food in the midst of the abundance of mundane food from the school cafeterias.
My experience at Goong was mediocre. The location of the restaurant was out of place. It was part of this strip of other Korean stores on one side of a large parking lot. The rest of the parking lot was desolate and quiet. It makes me think of a zombie movie. The inside of Goong was definitely more pleasant. though the seating was ordinary, they had private rooms and dividers made of paper, which is symbolic of a more traditional atmosphere. There was nothing special about the service. In fact, it was a bit rude. I wish the people there were friendly, but to them, being there just seemed like a chore rather than an experience. in addition to that, they didn't ask any questions and made assumptions about who ordered what. So I had Elaine's meal in front of me. I guess the guy didn't think that my black friend would enjoy a nice pot of kimchee giggae. Bastard!
Overall the food was as I expected... not to my mom's standards. The Kimchee stew was a bit sour for me. It was made with Kimchee that has been fermented for too long. Generally it's fine, but it's not my preference, especially if it's not made with good tasting kimchee. The flavor of the Kalbi was tasty with that fire grilled aroma, but it was unfortunate that the cut of meat was of poor quality. It was mostly all fat. And if it is mostly all fat, it needs to be cooked longer to have that nice crispy brown. I enjoyed the jjajang myun best. My mom makes all dishes well, but she can never get the jjajang myun to taste like it does at restaurants. The jjajang myun had that nice fire made taste. (I have no idea how they give it that flavor.) If I were to go back to Goong, it would be for this dish only.
I've heard that in general Koreans don't like black people. I don't know where I heard this but it's been over the years and it's been more than once. I think, as a generalization, it seems unlikely but in my experience I tend not to get along well with MOST Asians regardless of where they are from. It's mostly cultural and behavioral from my experience and certainly between Jennie and I.
As I have written in my other blog on Asian drama, the problem stems from my desire to actually communicate and a general Asian desire to keep their mouths shut and lie through withholding. I don't believe in harmony, I believe in truth. As much as I declare myself primarily communist, I believe a balance can be obtained between group success and strength through the truth and common beliefs and goals. But I digress ... well, not really. The whole point is. My experience at Goong was quite a racist one. It's not unlike many experiences I have had when going to foreign restaurants - much like I mentioned in my review of Priya - clearly "they" do not want "us" eating "their" food. I think sometimes "they" wish a sign could be placed on the doors that said "Only WE may eat here. OTHERS need not enter." and that would make everything 100 times better.
If Koreans hate black people so much then why have a restaurant in East Hartford? Nonsensical. Oh I forgot, it's not for "others", it's for "them".
The waiter at Goong didn't speak to us. Well, he spoke to Jennie. Jennie spoke to him in Korean and he responded curtly back in Korean. Jennie ordered three dishes and he brought all three dishes to her. All three. Three HUGE dishes of food. Now, I'm 800 pounds on a good day and Jennie is a wet paper towel even when she's had three full meals, but he honestly thinks she ordered all that food just for herself? He didn't even ask me what I wanted. He never even made eye contact with me actually. He only spoke to Jennie and only took her order. I don't know if she said "we would like" or whether she just said which dishes to bring. Either way, he brought all three dishes back and set them in front of her. He brought no additional bowls either. Did he honestly believe she was going to eat it all? When she asked for extra bowls he brought them back and set them ... IN FRONT OF HER. Really dude? Seriously?
Another couple came in. Two larger sized people - a white woman and a black guy. They were seated right next to us. The waiter came over to them after a while and asked the white woman if she needed help with the menu. She looked up at him and smiled and said, "No. We're just deciding what we want." She leaned forward and said to her companion, "We come here all the time, as if we'd need help with the menu." and he laughed and shrugged. I like that while both of them were looking at the menu the waiter only spoke to the white woman. His back was turned away from the black gentleman, much like he had been when he spoke to Jennie and not to me. The tables there are pretty short (width wise) so you'd have to work pretty hard not to address both people at once. But black people apparently don't exist for this waiter or, more likely, he doesn't want them to.
This is the kind of crap that annoys me. Not the racism - I expect that all the time. Not the rudeness - I expect nothing less from people. What annoys me is the lack of cultural sharing. If white people, Latin people, Swedish people, whomever people, come into your Korean restaurant, you would think it's because they want to experience foreign cuisine for the first time or they are already familiar with it and enjoy it immensely. You would think then you should respond appropriately to them, ask them questions ... "Have you had Korean food before? Would you like any recommendations? Oh you have been here many times. How wonderful. What is your favorite dish?" etc etc. Why? Because don't you want to know? Don't you care? Aren't you interested in sharing your culture? What is wrong with sharing your own experiences? Why do people not want to talk with each other? No one gives two shits about any of it but then they complain about lack of cultural competency and lack of understanding. It makes a clear argument for assuming that Korean restaurants are opened in certain areas ONLY for the Korean residents who live there. Do they not expect other people to be interested in the food or the grocery stores as well? Are they shocked when a black person comes in and wants kimchi? I wouldn't be shocked. I would be happy to see that. I would welcome anyone who wanted to experience my culture. I would be happy to share it and teach it to help diffuse ignorance, racism, and confusion.
A while back when the tribe went to H-Mart in Jersey, Jennie took us to this very typical Korean BBQ place in Palisades Park called Muk Eun Ji. It was the kind of awesome BBQ place where the grills were on the tables - the kind of place you see in Korean dramas sometimes *grin*. There were no non-Korean's in the place. I don't think any of the staff spoke any English at all. When we walked in, this group of mixed races and genders, people didn't even blink, they were too busy eating and talking and enjoying life. Jennie did all the ordering and talking in Korean but the waitress still acknowledged all of us. She was so friendly and I am not sure she spoke any English at all but she made us all feel welcome. She smiled when I tried to speak what little Korean I knew but she understood me and she helped me pronounce things. I felt comfortable enough to even try speaking some Korean. I didn't feel like she would think I was a moron or that it would be rude to fumble through. She was so awesome and the experience there was amazing. The food was DELICIOUS and I have been wanting to go back ever since. All experiences should be like this in my opinion. Open, friendly; an exchange.
So Goong ... yeah ...
Service and atmosphere were rude and hostile but that doesn't reflect on the food for me. For some people it does though but I am able to keep those things very separate.
The kimchi needed to be fermented longer. It reminded me of Mama Song's when it's freshly made. I like the fresh batches but I like to let them sit for a few more months before eating. The kimchi that was served as the banchan tasted really fresh and didn't have a strong flavor. It was good, but just not how I prefer. On the flip side, the kimchi in the stew was kind of bitter which gave the stew this odd flavor. I love kimchi stew and I did like the heat/spice of this bowl and I ate a lot of it.
One of my favorite dishes is kalbi, which Jennie first introduced me to when we went to Ichiban in Hartford (which I loved both the service and the food. Talk about sharing culture and being friendly. Ichiban was awesome), and I couldn't get enough of it. The kalbi at Goong was just nasty, fatty, and impossible for me to eat. I'm really picky about my meat and each bite was less enjoyable than the first. I spent most of my time peering at it, cutting it really carefully to make sure I didn't get a whole mouthful of fat. Jennie helped a lot as well with this process. As she said in her review, the smoky flavor was really good and the seasoning was so much of what I love about Korean BBQ. But the cut of meat was cheap and hardly cooked to my liking. I am sure for most people it would be fine though.
The jjajang myun was the best dish on the table, but unlike Jennie, I really prefer hers/her mom's. Jjajang myun is another one of my favorite dishes and I could eat it all day despite how insanely heavy it is. I had it first at Jennie's place and I think her mom made it. I really, really loved it and I don't think I have had it since until Goong. It was good, and as I said, the best dish on the table, but there was something missing for me.
It is a shame that my experience at Goong was so bad. When I was working on this post I looked up some stuff about Ichiban and other Korean restaurants in CT and a lot of the reviews were like "The service was great which is surprising..." and "Most Korean staff are pretty rude ..." etc. Maybe it is across the board that Korean service is bad? I don't want to think that at all. I want to have more experiences like I had at Muk Eun Ji and even at Ichiban, where I can ask questions, feel welcome, experience delicious food, and people who really want to share of themselves, but I doubt I will, at least not in Connecticut anyway.
I remember when I first met Jennie - and sometimes even now - she was reluctant to share with me any Korean food - that which is primarily her whole diet. She told me it was because she had made something for some friend of hers long ago (or something like that) and her friend didn't like it or said it was gross or some stupid, ignorant, rude comment. How does that have anything to do with me? When I found out that Jennie was Korean and cooked and ate Korean food a lot, I was overjoyed to think I would be able to experience something new. I'd never had any Korean food and I wasn't familiar with the culture or language at all. (I asked her if she would teach me some Korean - she still hasn't aside from a few words here and there. You know, if I asked a deaf person to help me to learn ASL, I doubt they would turn their nose up at the idea.) When Jennie finally served some Korean food I devoured it much to her surprise. It's a running joke with her and even her mother, that I eat more kimchi than they even do. Jennie is still surprised when she shares something with me and I absolutely love it. I am sorry that other people have been morons and haven't cared to learn about all of who she is - food, culture, language, and all - but that is not who I am and that is not who anyone should be.
Experiences like Goong and Priya remind me why I stay home.
Experiences like Muk Eun ji and Ichiban remind me why I keep bothering to leave.