When I was in Korea a few weeks ago, I fell in love with something called tteok galbi, hand-chopped beef short ribs mixed with vegetables, aromatics, sometimes even pork, then grilled over a hot charcoal fire. Tteok is the Korean word for rice cake, but the patties are so called because they look a little like rice cakes, not because they include rice among their ingredients. They are more or less the local equivalent of hamburgers, served bare on a plate accompanied by neither rice nor bun.
The best tteok galbi tends to be served with the bones inserted back into the patties as a sign of authenticity, and maybe to add a little flavor. In Gwangju, there is an entire street devoted to tteok galbi specialists. In Damyang, the home of the dish, a platter of the juicy, crunchy patties joins bamboo "sashimi" as the heart of the region's famous country meals.
I did not find it beyond imagining that among the several hundred Korean restaurants in Los Angeles, there might be one or two serving some version of the dish.
And when I got home, a quick
So I went to the restaurant on a Sunday afternoon, settled in and ordered a big, chilly bowl of mul naeng myun and an order of what indeed seemed to be listed as tteok galbi, although it appeared in a section of the menu I didn't quite recognize.
The panchan, the usual little dishes of kimchi, bean sprouts and such, were fine. The noodles were as good as I had remembered them, transparent and stretchy, minimally garnished with a gray slice of beef, a few sliced pickles, and a hard-boiled egg.
But the tteok galbi couldn't have been further from what I was expecting – it was a big platter of rice cakes tossed with onions and carrots, a crimson chile sauce, and a double handful of grilled beef, all blanketed with an oozing layer of melted cheese. This was less the meat dish I'd been craving and more a kind of souped-up version of the Korean street-food standard tteokbokki, rice cake sauteed with hot chile paste, a concoction you can get on almost every block in Seoul. This tteok galbi was the carne asada fries of the Korean noodle world. In spite of myself, I kind of liked it a lot.
The website of Chil Bo Myun Ok shows a picture of something resembling the tteok galbi I'd had in mind -- a broad, well-browned pancake of meat showing the imprint of a wire grid. There is no mention of the delicious hybrid.