Two weeks ago I realized my hair was starting to look like Kim’s weave on Housewives of Atlanta, (OMG, wasn’t that show the best? All I have to say is ‘POW!,’ ‘WOW!’) so I stole away from the office to get a quick trim on 32nd street. Leaving the salon after my haircut, I realized I was late for a meeting, but still hadn’t had a bite to eat. Being a few doors down from Woorijip, I planned on running in and grabbing some kimbab (김밥, also called gim bap, kimbop, kimbob, etc… it’s all the same) before hopping back on the train. But, as fate or Woorijip management would have it, there was a ten dollar credit card minimum, and having spent the last few singles on a tip to the shampoo girl, I had no choice but to return back to the office with a growling stomach. I eventually ended up eating animal crackers from the vending machine in the office pantry. Not a nice lunch.
A few days later, David and I were heading to Flushing, where Ellie, Gil, and Julie were going to pick us up for a day trip to Mohegan Sun. Yipee! During the ride there, Ellie texted, “Did you guys eat?,” like a good friend of mine would ask. When I replied no, she texted back, “We’ll pick up some food on the way. Maybe gim bap.” Double Yipee!! A quick ride on the LIRR later, we were at Song’s Family (송가네).
You may be wondering if Ellie had read my mind, but kimbab is the usual traveling snack/meal for Korean people. Growing up, whenever my family went on a trip anywhere, my mom was sure to have rolled some kimbab in the morning and packed it in the car. Have kimbab, will travel. Conveniently wrapped in seaweed (kim, 김) and filled with rice, meat, and veggies, it’s the Korean version of the sandwich in that it’s portable and easy to eat with one hand, with or without chopsticks. (This is not sushi, which is Japanese, and usually consists of raw seafood. Kimbab is 100% Korean. Don’t get it twisted.) Of course, it’s not only for traveling. It makes tasty lunches for school or work. Although, my first day of school didn’t go too well, when I opened up my bag lunch in the cafeteria, and my new classmate shouted at the top of her lungs, “Ewww, is that raw fish?!” Mothers out there, a piece of advice, kids can be cruel. Don’t send your kid to school with anything more unusual than a wonder bread sandwich unless the school is extremely diverse, or you have money to pay for your child’s therapy ten years later. Anyway, I digress…
Song’s family is in the same location Nolbu, another kimbab joint, used to be in. I used to go to Nolbu all the time a few years back when my parents lived nearby in Bayside. They had the best kimbab in New York City. According to the gossip, Nolbu was given the boot because Song’s Family offered to pay the owners of the building more rent. Now Nolbu is across the street. Not sure if this is true or not, but that’s the rumor. Kimbab drama, don’t you love it?
At Song’s, we loaded up on a few different types of kimbab. The first was Cheese Kimbab ($4.50), which is always my favorite. I know some people have a problem with American cheese, but it is what it is. Artificial yumminess that reminds you of your childhood. Of course, I rather eat some Winnemere from Jasper Hill when I want a nibble with a glass of wine, but not in kimbab. Kimbab is simple and should be kept simple. Also in the kimbab was some spinach, carrot, odeng (fishcake), takuan or danmuji (단무지), and egg. It was good, but could have used more cheese. You really can’t go wrong with more cheese.
The next roll was Sesame Leaf Kimbab ($4.50). Besides the addition of sesame leaves (actually perilla leaves, kkennip, 깻잎), the filling was similar to the Cheese Kimbab minus the cheese and with a sliver of bland sausage. Spinach, carrots, egg, and takuan are the usual fillings. I thought this kimbab was a bit plain. I was expecting more of a pickled kkennip taste, so these were bland in comparison.
The Avocado Kimbab was David’s pick ($5), and this too was a little boring. All the ingredients inside were a bit flavorless: avocado, imitation crab, takuan, and cucumbers. Kimbab, unlike sushi, is not dipped in any soy sauce, so although these ingredients may have worked in a california roll, if you are into fake sushi (which I’m not), in a kimbab it completely bombed.
The last roll was Ellie’s Combination Kimbab ($5). Again, it was filled with the usual ingredients of odeng, carrot, spinach, egg, and takuan, but also had some kimchi in it. The kimchi, however, was very mild. It seems they rinsed the kimchi before adding it to the roll. I wish they hadn’t though, or perhaps wish they hadn’t done such a good job. There was hardly a hint of spice.
The problem with all the kimbab at Song’s Family were that they were all a bit boring. Not horrible, just lacking any excitement. As I said, kimbab is simple, but it should still be flavorful. Another problem was that all the rolls were a tad too loose. That combined with the fact they were sliced thinner than normal, some pieces were hard to pick up without falling apart. Ellie said the tightness depends on the people that happen to be rolling the kimbab that day, as she can attest to eating well rolled kimbab at Song’s Family, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. However, flavor-wise, Song’s Family needs to jazz it up a notch. I haven’t tried Nolbu since the move, but I do know Nolbu from yesteryear can kick Song’s Family’s kimbab butt. One saving grace was the little styrofoam container of kongnamulguk (콩나물국, soybean sprout soup) with red pepper. Usually, kimbab is accompanied with some form of miso soup, so kongnamulguk was a nice change of pace. Although, we almost didn’t get the soup because Ellie kept trying to convince us in the shop to tell the people we didn’t want the soup since it might spill in the car. It’s very rare I turn down free food, so of course we took the soup. And luckily, we didn’t spill a drop or else Ellie would have unleashed her wrath upon us. Haha, probably not, but all the same, it’s a good thing the ride up to Mohegan was accident free. And big thanks to Julie for driving our gambling asses all the way to Connecticut. We love you Julie!
The next week, I was still in the mood for kimbab, so during lunch I made my way down to K-Town and went to E-Mo, a tiny shop specializing in just kimbab. Now emo (이모) means aunt on the mother’s side in Korean, so you’ll be served by a nice Korean woman there and not someone that looks like this. No offense to my wide emo fan base, of course. Usually I get the Cheese or Spicy Squid Kimbab, but this time I got the Beef Kimbab ($5.50). So far Beef Kimbab is my favorite at E-mo. The meat could have been more moist, but it was still tasty. Besides the beef, it was filled with, again the usual, of carrots, spinach, takuan, and egg, but at E-mo, they also add some marinated burdock root. Not all places add burdock, but when they do, I appreciate it. It adds a slightly sweet and crunchy earthiness to the kimbab. In general, the kimbab at E-mo are what good kimbabs should be, simple yet full of flavor. In a beef kimbab showdown though, I don’t know if E-mo could take on Nolbu, which has Bulgogi Kimbab. I’ll have to revisit Nolbu the next time I’m in Flushing to find out. Oh the pains of blogging.
Song’s Family (송가네)
151-29 34th Ave (Northern Blvd.)
Flushing, NY 11354
2 W. 32nd St. (betw 5th Ave & Broadway)
New York, NY 10001