I don't live in L.A.-- I live on a little island off of Vancouver Island, on the west coast of Canada. But I have read about those Korean BBQ tacos from Southern California (my mother's old stomping grounds from when she was a kid). They have been a smash success being sold from the Kogi Korean taco trucks.
Here's what their website says: "Born from late-night hunger by founders Mark Manguera, Caroline Shin-Manguera and Chef Roy Choi, the Kogi truck is a traveling Los Angeles landmark that serves up Korean Mexican tacos, day and night.
... Quality Korean barbecue meets traditional, homemade tortillas and fresh veggies to create a taste that carries the rhythms of LA street culture and exudes the warmth of all that California sun. Under the direction of Chef Roy Choi, Kogi has developed a menu that delivers high-end food at street level prices.
Twitter is used to communicate truck locations and Chef Roy Choi's daily specials to well over 50,000 loyal followers. Add some wheels to the mix and you've got yourself a restaurant that geographically responds to the flavor of the crowd - from Silver Lake to Eagle Rock to all the way down to Orange. Currently Kogi operates 4 trucks - Azul, Verde, Naranja and Roja - and fresh out of the kitchen at the Alibi Room in Culver City."
I first saw a recipe for Korean Tacos on the Steamy Kitchen blog from last July-- meat, of course (kogi means "meat", BTW). But I just got around to trying a vegan version today for lunch. Don't know why it took me so long! It was fast, easy and scrumptious! I'll post the recipe below. (Making your own veggie version is probably going to be the only way you can enjoy it if you are vegetarian. The Kogi BBQ blog has a post about eating veggie from their trucks, so read up if you're veggie and interested-- there is fish sauce in their kimchi and the organic tofu is cooked on the same grill as everything else-- it's a small truck!)
One of the Kogi BBQ trucks (Photo by Tab Harikul)
If you are interested in the combining of cultures in food, the Kogi BBQ blog has a post called "Ess Not Fusion". Here are some excerpts:
"I can see the confusion over the fusion labeL -- there are a lot of Korean fLavors. There are a lot of Mexican fLavors. And sometimes some trashy American fLavors mixed with some SaLvadorean infLuences. It's confusing. But just know that our food is not confused: it knows EXACTLY what it is."
"FUSION implies you take 2 disparate things and FUSE them together. You join two things together with duct tape, you can see where one thing ends and the other begins. It's fascinating, and yet it's not natural. Like French Japanese or Korean Italian. Those cuisines didn't come together through a natural affinity, a natural progression over time. For example: Mexican Italian. I've seen it done and done well -- but it's that European element that's usually utilized to "elevate" a food and make it more marketable as a "serious" cuisine. Moreover, the intention behind fusion is usually to catch someone's attention, to spark or speak to a trend.
We didn't go in here thinking, "Let's bring Mexican and Korean together because it'll be weird and cool."
The thing is, Mexican Korean flavors coming together is only a natural progression. For generations, Chicanos and Koreans have lived side by side in K-town. Tortillas are commonly found in supermarkets around here -- and it wasn't uncommon to bring a bag of those Mission tortillas to a Korean barbecue in the height of summer. What do you think happened when those Korean peoples ran out of rice?
That's why we don't call it fusion.
But what we do call it is Angeleno."
Okay, on to what I did with this today...
As I did have a jar of Korean fermented hot pepper paste (gochujang) in my refrigerator, I used the same sauce that Jaden posted, except that I added liquid smoke because smoky BBQ meats are generally used in these tacos. I used corn tortillas because that's what I had, and, anyway, I think they taste better than wheat tortillas. I didn't have any kimchi (Korean spicy cabbage pickle), or cucumbers to make her Quick Cucumber Pickle (remember, I live on an island and the store is closed on Sundays!). But that wasn't really a problem. I combed through the fridge and found a turnip, some red and green peppers already cut, and some green onion-- good enough! I made a tasty quick pickle/salad with that and we were in business!
PS: If you want to make your own vegan kimchi to use as a condiment with this dish, try Julie Hasson's recipe (with video)! You may be able to find a commercial version without seafood (many varieties contain either fish sauce or salted shrimp)-- see this article for the regional differences in ingredients.
BRYANNA'S VEGAN VERSION OF KOREAN-STYLE SOFT TACOS WITH KOGI BBQ SAUCE
Yield: 8-12 tacos
Adapted from a recipe here. For the "kogi" (which means "meat"), you can use reconstituted Soy Curls™, your favorite type of seitan, commercial "chicken strips", Field Roast "Celebration Roast" cut in strips, even strips of fried tofu or tempeh. I have include a recipe for a Quick Turnip Pickle, but you can use vegan kimchi instead, or use both. This recipe, including the pickle, is very quick to make!
1 lb (16 oz.) shredded or julienned chicken substitute of choice (see text above)
8-12 / 7" corn tortillas
Kogi BBQ Sauce:
2 tablespoons Korean fermented hot pepper paste (gochujang)
3 tablespoons organic unbleached granulated sugar
or 2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Asian (roasted) sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar (or a little more to taste)
1/2-1 teaspoon liquid smoke
Quick Turnip Pickle:
1 medium purple and white turnip, peeled and shredded or grated
1/2 a medium red bell pepper, seeded cut into short slivers
1/2 a medium green bell pepper, seeded cut into short slivers
4 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or lime juice
1/2 teaspoon organic unbleached granulated sugar or agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili pepper flakes
salt to taste
For the BBQ Sauce, whisk all of the ingredients together until sugar has dissolved. You can make this ahead of time and store it in a covered jar the refrigerator, if you like.
To make the Quick Turnip Pickle, mix together all of the ingredients. Taste for salt. Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate as you make the tacos.
To make the taco filling, heat a large nonstick pan with a little oil in it. When hot, add the chicken substitute and toss it around in the hot oilk until slightly browned. Pour in the BBQ sauce and distribute around in the pan until everything is coated and hot. Set aside with acover on it.
Heat the tortillas is a tortilla steamer, or warm them in a covered casserole, wrapped in a clean wet cloth, in the microwave for a minute or two.
Quickly distribute the filling evenly between all of the tortillas and serve with the Quick Turnip Pickle on the side, and some vegan kimchi alongside it, if you wish. Don't forget the napkins!
THE NUTRITION FACTS AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS RECIPE ARE FOR 4 SERVINGS, USING 12 TORTILLAS. IF YOU USE ONLY 8 TORTILLAS, THEY ARE AS FOLLOWS: Nutrition (per serving, 2 tortillas each): 355.1 calories; 25% calories from fat; 10.3g total fat; 0.0mg cholesterol; 948.7mg sodium; 317.1mg potassium; 50.5g carbohydrates; 9.0g fiber; 14.8g sugar; 41.5g net carbs; 18.8g protein; 7.2 points.
Nutrition (per serving, 3 tortillas each): 412.8 calories; 23% calories from fat; 10.9g total fat; 0.0mg cholesterol; 951.5mg sodium; 357.2mg potassium; 62.6g carbohydrates; 10.4g fiber; 14.8g sugar; 52.2g net carbs; 20.3g protein; 8.4 points.