Tuesday, May 12, 2009

$4.99 Lunch Special at Shilla

$4.99 Lunch Menu

Intrepid eaters willing to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries in the quest to expand their gastronomic horizons have often encountered the following experience. When going to establishments which serve authentic "ethnic," cuisine and are frequented by a clientele composed primarily of that ethnicity, English largely goes out the window. Save for a basic menu of standards that the proprietors believe that outsiders are likely to order, much of the "real," menu remains untranslated.

While some might see this as conspiracy of the other, to keep the man out. I think it is probably more the result of complacency (and a lack of faith in the adventurousness in the American eater) . Many dishes and their ingredients do not easily translate into anything meaningful to the general public. Going through the effort to make such a menu is seen as too much of a unprofitable hassle for most. Unfortunately this can result in missing out on changing specials, new menu items and the like for those who can't read or speak a certain language.

A good example of this phenomenon is now taking place at K-town's Shilla Restaurant where during the month of May six popular Korean dishes and a variety of pan'chan are available for only $4.99 during lunch (11:00a-3:00p). The special is advertised throughout the restaurant as well as on the window out to the street, however every sign is in Korean.

As a service to all my non-Korean speaking brothers and sisters out there, here is my translation of the above menu. I took photos of about half the menu thus far, so without further ado, the $4.99 menu (in order of their menu listing) is...

DenJang jigae
DenJang JiGae
fermented soy-bean soup

Soon DuBu
spicy Tofu Stew

Hae Jang Gook
"Hangover Stew," a blend of beef stock, bean sprouts, napa cabbage, and sweet potato stems.

The remainder of the menu includes, KimChee JiGae (KimChee Stew), Sol Long Tang (Ox Bone Soup) and Kong Bi Ji (would take to much time to explain ;) .

I've had the chance to try them all and they were all fairly decent interpretations of standard Korean dishes. The KimChee JiGae and Soon DuBu tend to go towards the HOT side, while the rest of the dishes tend to be on the earthy side of the flavor scale. All of the dishes come with a bowl of rice and a selection of pan'chan.

Remember places like this aren't trying to keep you out, they're just lazy! If you ask the servers or other patrons for some help, most of the time you'll find that they'll be more than happy to help you try something new. Someday the people who run such places will become fully assimilated, speak only English and lose their penchant for using spice. Then foodies of the future will lament the loss of another culinary tradition. So until then, eat it while you still can. Besides where else you going to get all this for only $4.99?!

37 W 32nd St.
New York, NY 10001.