Rice is rarely this audacious. Jinro is rarely the right choice. At a modest Korean restaurant in the far reaches of Queens, the rare thrill dormant in both staples springs to life in one sizzling sitting.
Containing white rice soaked in a spicy marinade, a portentous mixing bowl greets the happy diners at Flushing’s Tong Samgyeop Gui with the scents of chili paste and sesame oil. For $2 a bowl, the mixture inside is gently plastered onto hot domes of cast iron. The resulting dish, known simply as bokkumbop (“fried rice,” but listed here as “bibimbap”), is best ordered after a full serving of Tong Samgyeop Gui’s excellent pork belly, a full course of meat, vegetables and banchan that leaves behind a savory film of juices and seasoning for the rice to absorb as it develops a crust.
After flipping this layer of rice to caramelize the other side, the staff toss handfuls of dry, roasted seaweed atop to heighten the mixture’s most satisfying flavors. Diners scrape the completed dish off the griddle in browned yet rosy chunks, each grain popping with a bottomless feeling of satisfaction. Korean food has never tasted more comforting, and for once, another shot of soju sounds just about right.
After all, the next train back to Penn Station is just another hour away.
Tong Samgyeop Gui
162-23 Depot Rd.
Flushing, NY 11358