Jeon is the word for any number of battered and pan-fried dishes in Korean cuisine. Historically, this type was food was reserved for big celebrations (janchi) or ceremonies honoring dead relatives and ancestors (jesa). The jeon used for jesa, called gannap or gannam, is usually more elaborate and labor-intensive.
These days, Koreans mostly eat jeon as a side dish, appetizer or even anju, food eaten while out drinking. There's something lovely about sharing a large, pan-fried flatcake or buchingae (savory pancakes) over a giant bottle of Hite beer or shots of soju.
Popular varieties of flatcakes include pajeon (green onion flatcakes), hobakjeon (made from Korean zucchini), kimchi buchingae (kimchi pancakes), buchujeon (made from Korean leeks) and haemul pajeon (a variation of the green onion jeon but with a variety of seafoods, including squid, oysters, and shrimp. These are all made with a flour-based batter.
There are also other regional and seasonal varieties. Gamjajeon, for example, are flatcakes made from grated potato, popular in the province of Gangwon-do, an area of the Korean peninsula too rocky to grow grains but good for potato farming. Nokdu buchingae (also called bindae ddeok) is with made with ground mung bean batter, some kimchi and small pieces of pork or other meats.
Jeon can be found on the menus of many Korean restaurants throughout the Southland. Here are three of the best to start your culinary explorations.
Da Jeong — The address of Da Jeong is Olympic Boulevard, but this postage stamp-sized restaurant is hidden around the corner on 5th Avenue. Lucky for you, though, since its secret location means the delicious food hasn't been discovered by the hordes of people hungry after a visit to nearby Olympic Spa. A plate of their modeum jeon ("all jeon") is a carefully laid out plate of fish, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, lotus leaves and stuffed perilla leaves (ggaetnip), all beautifully hand-dipped and pan-fried in egg batter by the owner herself. The next best thing to having a Korean grandmother cook for you. 3909-1/2 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 931-8900.
Chunju Hanilkwan — Although this old-school joint is known for its budae jjigae (army stew), the flatcakes bring in the weekend revelers. The seafood flatcakes are a large celebration dish served on a giant metal pan, with sauce right in the middle for dipping. Other standouts include perfectly crisped kimchi jeon and the thin and chewy gamjajeon. 3450 W. 6th St., Suite 106, Los Angeles, (213) 480-1799.
Kobawoo House — This Koreatown standard is one of the best restaurants to start your introductory foray into eating Korean. The folks here make their dishes like you'd find back in the old country, in a space that's also reminiscent of an old-school joint outside of Seoul. Most people tout their seafood pancakes and bossam (steamed sliced pork) as must-try, but their mung bean flatcakes and the gamjajeon may be even tastier. 698 S. Vermont Ave., Suite 109, Los Angeles, (213) 389-7300.