Whatever you call them – panchan, banchan, pantchan or just those countless tiny bowls of often unidentifiable tasties that cover the tables of all good Korean restaurants – we’ve stumbled on a place that does all the hard work for you so you can bust out an over the top Korean feast on the cheap, in the comfort of your own home. Naked bi bim bop anyone?
Mom’s Taste is a non-descript little door in the middle of an old school strip mall. With the exception of the miniscule two-word title, the whole front is marked only in Korean. The name is actually what drew me in as I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t have any affinity with my own mom’s penchant for cream of mushroom soup or powdered ranch dressing.
Walking in, you have two choices. On the left are dry goods- sesame oils, soy sauces, rices and such and on the right is a bank of coolers holding an entire cultural education at 38°F.
Row after row of varyingly sized little plastic tubs are filled with shoots, sprouts, roots, peppers, meats, fish and more squid than I thought possible. They’re pickled, candied, dried, fermented, fried and every combination thereof. All of it is made in house.
Some of the dishes are marked in English but a good portion remain enigmatically unnamed. Often it’s just as well though, since the translated ingredients tend to say things like codonopsis pilosula, and osmund. It’s not a store for the timid but with just of bit of moxie your efforts are well rewarded.
Mom’s Taste is run by the delightful Lee family. The husband and wife owners are fixtures at the store. While both are super friendly and eager to help, they really only speak Korean. On occasion, one or both of their sons are around and the two of them speak better English than I do. I use our encounters as opportunities to grill them on the day’s specials.
In addition to panchan they also carry a variety of soups and prepared meals. Recently, we picked up a miso-based snail, tofu and potato stew that was so delicious I may or may not have growled a little when my wife got to close to my bowl.
They’ve also started making their own dumplings. Gallon ziplock bags, hand labeled with magic marker, come stuffed with either kimchi or a mixed meat and scallion duo. The thin, toothsome wrappers are appealing wrinkled when cooked and the fillings are generous, moist and well seasoned.
On our last visit, Mrs. Lee was in the back surrounded by comically large mounds of cabbage and cucumbers. She was on a low stool, methodically working minced radish and red pepper paste between the leaves of the cabbages, sending them on their way from unassuming greens to addictively flavorful kimchi.
I would say you can’t go wrong with anything in the cases but some dishes like the lightly cured flatfish roe sacs or the caramel coated fish jerky definitely require a healthy amount of caution from most people, myself included.
I will, however, heartily recommend the sliced burdock root, the sweet potato shoots and the thin rectangles of fish cake as being a few of my many favorites. The good news is that you can try as much craziness as you want since almost all of the items are in the $2 to $6 range.
So get cracking people. We can’t let the Koreans keep all the good stuff for themselves.
Oh, and because it would be downright reckless of me to not mention alcohol, I have to say that all of your newly acquired munchies will go quite splendidly with an ice cold bottle of soju. Think of it as a Korean version of sake with a little kick.
Trust me. It’s good for you.