The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Korean-Chinese in Flushing: Sam Won Gahk

Sam Won Gahk
Sam Won Gahk

"So my parents own this restaurant in Flushing..."

Whoa, wait a second there, Lauren. I've known you for how long? And you tell me about your Korean-Chinese restaurant empire now?

Actually, my first thought was, "Can I be adopted by your family?" But I thought that question might fall until the heading of "creepy."

It wasn't the first time that I found out a friend's family was in the restaurant business. I can think of at least six other people with restaurant business in their blood. As far as I know, no one in my extended family owns a restaurant, nor does anyone in the extended family's extended family own a restaurant either. Maybe my family hates feeding people.

...Not that I'd open one or anything. It's too much work.

Kathy, Olivia and I met up with Lauren, Jones, and three of their friends to gorge ourselves at San Won Gahk two Fridays ago. Lauren already put in the order before we got there, meaning that the food magically flew (by the power of an army of waitresses) onto our Lazy Susan-powered table in no time. Hell yeah.

extra stuffas

Small dishes of pickled radish, pickled onion, kimchi, and black bean sauce were provided to go with the meal, but I soon forgot they were there when our table became overloaded with large plates of food. Oops.

spicy jap chae?
Mm spicy

Szechuan noodles reminded me of your basic japchae with the addition of "mouth-burning and tear-inducing spiciness." Just the way I like it. Japchae is one of my favorite kinds of noodles for its lightly chewy and elastic texture. If someone asked me what noodle I felt had the perfect amount of elasticity, I'd say japchae. But it's quite unlikely that anyone would every ask me that. And if they did, I'd think, "Why the hell did they ask me that?" So don't ask me that. Especially since you already know the answer.

spicy tofu stuf
Spicy tofus!

Mapo tofu is a favorite of mine. Little excitement lies in plain cubes of soft tofu, but add a dash of our favorite condiment, "mouth burning and tear-inducing spiciness,"(not the real name, but that's what it tastes like) and you've got yourself a dish that even a meat lover would love. You know, as long as that person also loves spicy food. Otherwise this dish will probably give them stomach spasms and cause them to hate you.

The tofu blocks were pillowy soft and delicate as a newborn baby's soft underdeveloped skull; the soybean blocks fell apart pretty much immediately upon coming in contact with my tongue. Foosh. Tofu begone Don't try that with baby skulls. Live babies, I mean. ...I probably didn't have to clarify that. I'm also not sure what you would be doing with a dead baby's skull. Nor would I want to know.

fried shrimp thing
Fried shrimps

Fried prawns in tomato sauce just reinforced my golden rule that everything tastes better fried, especially shrimp, which isn't something I would ever order unless it has been battered and subjected to the deliciousifying powers of a giant vat full of bubbling oil. My memory might just really suck (I blame this on many of this blog's deficiencies), but I don't remember the tomato sauce flavor in this dish—I just remember "shrimp" and "fried." My brain only remembers what it wants to remember.

fried dumplings
Fried dumples

Helloo, fried dumplings. I love all kinds of dumplings, fried or not, and I wouldn't say that frying them necessarily improves them in a magical way like it does for shrimp. It just increases its level of crispiness along with the strength of the dough pouch. Certainly a good thing, unless that crispiness is due to converting much of the food's surface to carbon, which wasn't the case with these pork-filled dumplings.

fried rice
Fried rice

Seafood fried rice is like your typical fried rice but with 50% more tentacles!

fried squid
Fried squid

Squid follows the same rule as shrimp; it tastes much better as fried squid than non-fried squid. The batter on these squid chunks reminded me of the kind used for sweet and sour chicken; kind of thick and two-layered, that is, slightly crisp on the outside with a subcutaneous layer of fluffy non-crisp batter. I popped these in my mouth like popcorn. Gigantic clumps of cephalopod-flavored popcorn. However, you won't find this item on the menu—Lauren's mom made it as a special order for Jones. Awww.

chicken thing...FRIED..yeah, awesome!
Fried chicken!

The theme of "meats fried in different ways" ended with the fried chicken in garlic and pepper sauce. The batter was light, as well as the sauce. I mindlessly popped these suckers into my mouth like the squid. They were in front of me, okay? (Admittedly, since we had a Lazy Susan it was technically possible to put everything within arm's reach.) Cannot...resist...craggly nuggets of fried chicken...

We were pretty damn full by this point. Bellies were patted. Throats let out low moans while we eyed the dishes that still contained too much food for our eight bellies. But then came the distant, obese Asian cousin of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Jjajangmyun roughly translates to "big pile of noods"

Jjajangmyun, thick, tender wheat noodles coated in black bean sauce and mixed with diced vegetables and meat—onion and pork in this meal's case, was the only Korean-Chinese dish I had ever heard of. It originated in China but today is mostly found in Korean-Chinese restaurants.

My brain is currently blinking like an un-configured VCR (yeah, I said VCR—because I'm still living in the early 90s) about the details of this dish, I'm assuming because my stomach was already 90% full when I managed to get a few chopsticks-fuls down into my belly. Or more than a few. I'm not sure how to describe black bean sauce; it wasn't too salty, maybe slightly sweet, unless that was the onion talking.

How full were we by this point? Well...actually, we plodded on despite feeling our bellies roll over out waistbands (unless that was just me), except for Olivia. Unfortunately, she has a sensitive stomach that doesn't respond well to spicy foods nor, I assume, overeating, an unavoidable consequence of eating with me. She also has food allergies that could result in asphyxiation. You betcha I'm afraid of killing her during one of our meals.

Let me show you Olivia's lack of movement:

table 1
Fig 1

There she is on on the left, so still, so unmoving (and not just because this is a photo) as the rest of the group continued ingesting calories...

table 2
Fig. 2

...And there she is. Still. I'm quite sure she was still breathing, just not moving any muscles.

Don't worry; she was okay! Her stomach bounced back just in time for dessert.

candied sweet potato
Candied sweet potato

Ba si, or candied potatoes (other common choices being sweet potatoes, bananas and yams), was probably the most interesting dish of the night despite being the simplest. Or deceptively simple considering the steps required on the diner's end and the temperature that the sugar coating had to be cooked to in order to reach the desired effect. I was initially confused as to why the plate of potato chunks covered in melted sugar came with a dish of ice water, but this dish was critical to the ba si eating experience.

pull and dip

The purpose of the ice water is to solidify the caramel coating, resulting in the satisfying combination of a thin crunchy sugar shell that breaks into a hot chunk of fluffy tuber-based carbs. As you pull the chunk away from the mother pile, long strands of sugar form in between the sticky surfaces and quickly cool into micro-thin sugar threads. This is where the name ba si, which translates to "pulling silk," comes from.

I know I said our bellies were full, but there's always room for dessert. ;)

Many thanks to Lauren and her family for the awesome face stuffage! After saying goodbye to Lauren and Jones, we happily waddled back to the 7 train. Although the distance on the subway map looks dismaying, Flushing really isn't that far, especially when the 7 train comes frequently. After this experience I realized that I really have to get my butt out to Flushing more often.


Sam Won Gahk
144-20 Northern Blvd
Flushing, NY 11354


Trish / February 26, 2008 6:04 AM

Flying Spaghetti Monster? I know I came across that article some months ago while I was searching wikipedia for Spaghetti O's. Yeah.. my brain relies in wikipedia for knowledge wikepedia almost knows everything. Almost! Is that your religion? I've been wanting to try candied sweet potatoes but I can't find them anywhere. Can you eat them even if you don't dunk them in iced water?

Trish / February 26, 2008 6:11 AM

Ohnoes! It looks like Olivia's been petrified! Did you see spiders crawling down her chair! Better plant some Mandrakes!

Jennifer / February 26, 2008 7:03 AM

You know, it's funny, I've been going to Korean-Chinese restaurants with my family for my entire life (I'm pretty sure I've been to this one) but we never look at the menu and always get the same things: jjajangmyun is the main reason we go (my parents' current favorite place for that is this other hole-in-the-wall place in Bayside) and then we get a "side dish" or two, usually spicy fried chicken or shrimp and maybe dumplings if there's a lot of people. Perhaps one day I should branch out and get some of those other things on the menu...

Dan / February 26, 2008 8:57 AM

Subcutaneous? That may be both the be-all AND the end-all of food blog analogous etymological badassness EVER.

And thank you for posting gobs of pics of things I can't find here. Hope springs as eternal as a plane, train, or automobile to places where asian-flavored restaurants have reliable seafood and multiple noodle yumminess.

Carl / February 26, 2008 9:15 AM

That candied potato dish is pretty amazing - I've never seen anything like that. Like little sugar-glass coated sweetstarch bombs.

Amelia / February 26, 2008 9:42 AM

I love Flushing and I love Chinese food, this is a sure visit when I go back to NYC. :) You take very very good photographs.

Jones / February 26, 2008 11:11 AM

I was totally unaware that the squid was a Jones-special dish. That's pretty nice. All I have to say to that is it was a good thing I was there!

auntjone / February 26, 2008 11:53 AM

Holy sheep dip. You've been a prolific poster this week, much to my delight.

Fab pix and descriptions, as always. I eat vicariously through you once again, not only because I'm in no-man's land where such incredible restaurants don't exist, but also because I'm preggers and have an extremely limited appetite right now. Like seriously limited. Like 2 or 3 food groups TOPS, and 'dessert' is not one of them. Tragic, I know.

Olivia / February 26, 2008 1:15 PM

ahahaha. okay, the spicy noodles didn't make my eyes cry THAT badly. but it's true, that meal almost destroyed me. I am very excited for our next dinner that will hopefully be milder and less choke-inducing. followed by scrubs! :D

Michelle / February 26, 2008 1:17 PM

I love this restaurant and I had absolutely no idea it was near the 7 train. YAYAY! Thanks, Robin!

Coco / February 26, 2008 2:28 PM

oh man. The whole meal looked fantastic. You could have stopped at the Jjajangmyun and I would have died happy but then... THEN you brought out dessert.

mmmmhmosdsidoowe;hjasndfffffff... ::drooling::

Julie / February 26, 2008 3:08 PM

Ba si looks like it has the potential to be the awesomest thing ever--not necessarily the yummiest, though it's doubtlessly yummy, but just ... cool ... like you can make sculptures out of your dessert that would match up to Food Network sugar sculpture competition standards.

Bummer about Olivia's tummy. =( I have a few friends like that, and I'm always scared of feeding them something that will hurt them. At a Sunday dinner party, I tried to offer beet salad to a friend who's allergic to beets. Luckily, I had Japanese turnips on hand to make up another salad for her that wouldn't turn her inside out!

wonders / February 26, 2008 4:50 PM

"..a newborn baby's soft underdeveloped skull.."

Mmmmmmm That sounds um..very appetizing lols

Danny / February 26, 2008 7:21 PM

Ba si looks sooooo coooool! Do you know any places in Manhattan that serves it?

and i think 'foosh' is definitely the sound one likes when eating tofu. mmmm...

roboppy / February 26, 2008 10:17 PM

Trish: You know wikipedia is great because it has so much info about THE FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER. That may as well be my religion, really...why not?

The potatoes are certainly edible sans ice water, but then the crispiness is gone! :( Which totally isn't the same.

Jennifer: There's mooar food! Buy it! :D

Dan: I do love using "subcutaneous" as much as possible!

Carl: That's a good description. They should put that on the menu. Not enough descriptions have the world "bombs" in them.

Amelia: Thanks!

Jones: You're special! JUST DEAL WITH IT!!!

Aunjone: Oh, this frequent posting won't last long...(sigh).

PREGGERS! Yay!, yay! Except for the lack of dessert. :( Gotta keep that fetus healthy!

Yen: Too bad, I EATED IT.

Olivia: We'll go easy on the spicy Asian food, for sure.

Michelle: No probs!

Coco: It's not finished until there's DESSERT.

Julie: Yeah, it's probably more cool than yummy, but it IS yummy...also. :D

I dunno anyone who's allergic to beets, but at least beets don't come up too often in dishes? Still, that sucks. I don't think I'm allergic to anything. WEEEE.

wonders: I try my best!

Danny: I dunno anywhere in Manhattan that serves it, but I've never looked either. I know there's at least one Korean-Chinese resto in K-Town, but I heard it wasn't that great. :(

Jamie: I hope you can fulfill your craving? ._.

Jesse / February 28, 2008 3:32 AM

Whoa, I read about Ba Si in a novel months ago and got the worst cravings for it. I couldn't find it anywhere though.. and now you've posted its pictures on your blog. WHY ARE YOU TORTURING ME ROBYN!!!

*Skulks back to corner to suck thumb and cry*

waisze / February 28, 2008 11:33 AM

I live right near there! I went there once and it was late and it was after a day of painting ... I didn't particularly like my meal, but looking at these photos.. I may need to give it another shot.

Lauren / February 28, 2008 2:12 PM

"Whoa, wait a second there, Lauren. I've known you for how long? And you tell me about your Korean-Chinese restaurant empire now?"

You make it sound like I was cruelly keeping some kind of secret from you!!!

I'm glad you and your friends had such a great time - nom nom'ing all night!

Tina / February 28, 2008 3:23 PM stomach's growling at the sight of the FOOD! Why do you torment me when I'm at work? WHY?!

...Ok, enough with the theatrics. Why does the food look slightly better than the stuff I've eaten at K-town so far? Or is it just me?

Anyways, hope you'll be able to go to Babbo. Check your email!

roboppy / February 28, 2008 3:49 PM

Steph: I agree with Olivia!

Jesse: Crying will not make the candied potato appear! You must go forth..and...FIND! Yes. :D

Here's a virtual tissue though.

waisze: Maybe you need MOAR FOOD!

Lauren: You were keeping a secret! A DELICIOUS SECRET!!

Thank you for expanding our waistlines!

Tina: My tummy tends to do that at work too. everywhere..

I haven't eaten stuff like this in K-Town before so I can't compare, but there isn't much Korean-Chinese food there, right?...or one restaurant? I keep going to Cho Dang Gol for tofu, heh.

Marsha / February 28, 2008 9:03 PM

I had to read "My memory might just really suck (I blame this on many of this blog's deficiencies), but I don't remember . . ." several times because I was first outraged that you would blame your lovely blog for anything. But I know just how you feel about your memory - mine is the same. And I am so very hungry now . . . so I suppose you can say that your blog is doing its job!

roboppy / February 29, 2008 6:12 PM

Adelyn: Don't die! Visit NYC! :D :D :D PLEEEEASE?

Marsha: My blog accomplishes the task of making you stomach chuurrn, YES!

If I didn't take photos of everything, I would remember almost nothing. So sad. :(

Patty / March 1, 2008 3:04 AM

That place has the best Korean-Chinese food in Flushing (imho) :) I love that place!!! Next time you should try the jjambong. I am getting hungry just thinking about those photos you took!

Steph / March 3, 2008 5:46 AM

YESSS! SCORE!! Awesomeness times one MILLION to the Nth degree.

If I can bribe you guys with more DVD goodness -- I have an disgustingly huge, library/Blockbuster-esque collection. Whaddaya think? ;)

- S

Brian / May 21, 2008 1:15 AM

Wow, its weird seeing this online. This is my cousin's place, I own the one in Bayside.

YJK76 / November 3, 2008 3:31 PM

Was "ba si" the actual term used on the menu?
I have never heard of it and trust me, I've been a Korean all my life. =)
It seems like it's a Chinese term for the same dish?
The caramelized sweet potatoes are called "mat-tang" in Korean and yes, they do have it as a dessert or you can buy it as a dish on many Korean restaurants in the city (Manhattan) and anywhere else, as a matter of fact. I know this because it's one of my favorite desserts and I have actually attempted to make it at home (not easy as it seems). I have never tried mat-tang made out of anything other than sweet potatoes but I guess you could make them with regular potatoes or bananas (?) which is totally foreign to me.

roboppy / November 3, 2008 3:40 PM

YJK76: It probably wasn't written that way on the menu; either my friend told me that or I googled it, heh. Good to know the Korean name too! I never see desserts on the menus of Korean restaurants but I'll check next time I go to one.

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