Arirang Oriental Market
Korean comfort food.
There is a small Korean restaurant in the back of a grocery store called Arirang Oriental Market—and it’s worth the effort to find it in the northern strip of the Bethel Center Mall, near the intersection of Bethel and Godown roads.
You stop at the grocery checkout counter on the way in to order your food. The menu is posted behind the counter in Korean and English. There were no categories on the menu; as a rule of thumb, less expensive dishes serve as appetizers, more expensive ones as main dishes. If you have questions, just ask.
I ordered and paid at the register and then took my receipt to the restaurant, giving it to the cook, who didn’t appear to speak much English, but was warm and welcoming. So were the aromas. Décor, however, was not Arirang’s strong point. The food was.
Take a table, help yourself to cold water or Korean tea; if you want a soft drink, go to the refrigerated case near the front door. The cook will call and beckon when your order is ready.
Appetizers included two kinds of fried dumplings. One was wrapped like a wonton, containing pork and vegetables. The other involved seaweed, cellophane noodles, pork and vegetables. Both were delicious. Deep fried shrimp was hot and crispy, like Japanese tempura. Each came with a spicy dipping sauce (soy sauce with sesame seeds).
Dried seaweed rolls with beef resembled Korean sushi and offered sweetened thin-shaved beef or fish with pickled vegetables. Spicy noodles also were excellent, with shredded cabbage and a hardboiled egg over cold chewy rice noodles dressed with a garlic bean sauce that was sour and spicy.
Arirang’s main dishes often came in a bowl. I got lost choosing a favorite among the many kinds of stew. Most included tofu, pork and a spicy bean paste, but there were interesting differences among them that will call for more research to sort out. Among the choices were kimchi jigae (pickled cabbage), doenjang (soybean paste and vegetables), dongtae jigae (pollock), kong biji jigae (puréed tofu) and budae jigae (sausage). I liked them all, but the kimchi was particularly outstanding.
There also was a marvelously rich and spicy pork rib stew, as well as a fine hot pot with succulent carrots and radishes. And the spicy seafood soft tofu stew was savory and just-right spicy, with a wonderful mix of fragrant seafood.
A standby of Korean food, bibim bob, was available, of course: rice surrounded by heaps of beef and many vegetables, topped with an egg and served at room temperature. I did manage haemul pajeon, a generously large and tasty seafood and scallion omelet. I was intrigued by modumtoppoki, a stir-fried dish that included each of the available dumplings, fish cakes and thick chewy rice sticks—all served with a garlic bean paste. Does modumtoppoki mean “everything but the kitchen sink” in Korean?
Really, no matter what you order, you won’t go wrong. This was wonderful Korean comfort food at a great price. You’ll wish the cook was your mom. And if you need Korean groceries, you can just stock up on your way out.
Arirang Oriental Market
1526 Bethel Rd.
Atmosphere: Small, informal, unpretentious and friendly.
Recommended dishes: Dumplings (fried mandu), spicy chewy cold noodles, kimchi jigae, hot pot, bibim bob, modumtoppoki.
Price range: $3.99-$9.99.
Hours: Monday through Saturday 10 am to 9 pm, Sunday 11 am to 9 pm.
Service: Friendly and helpful; you do some yourself.
Reservations: Not accepted.
Rating: *** 1⁄2