Many folks in our region shop at the Asia Market, presided over by Kang Tae K. and his wife, Lee Kazuko. Others are regular patrons of their Nara restaurant next door, headed by daughter Chieun Oh.

The market is a pan-Asian enterprise but the restaurant serves only Korean and Japanese cuisine. There are a series of off-menu Korean dishes which are truly worth your consideration.

My usual slipshod review of internet sources turned up a welter of rich historical entries on Korea which added up to a complex gastronomic panorama typical of all Asian nations.

Suffice it to say Korea's is distinct from all the others. Where the Japanese prefer refined and subtle dishes and the Chinese like a hearty infusion of oils, Korean food is rustic, hearty, spicy, and often accompanied by tasty side dishes such as kimchi, that fiery fermented cabbage.

Particularly comforting during cold weather are Korean soups and stews. I enjoyed tofu soup (soon doo bu) and kimchi soup (kimchi chigae) for $8.95. These are large bowls rich in broths and chock-full of goodies. The tofu soup includes bean curd, squid, beef, and onion and registers a 6 on a 1-to-10 heat scale, unless or until one adds kimchi cabbage.

Kimchi soup swims with that tangy pickle as well as onion, green onion, mushrooms, and pork and will rapidly produce a sheen of cooling moisture on your scalp.

Lee Kazuko will make you savory pancakes (jeon) studded with squid, zucchini, and scallions as well as, with sufficient notice, a heavenly noodle dish named Jabchae for $12.95. This special meal is based on thick yet transparent sweet potato noodles (dangmyeon) stir-fried with beef, carrots, beef, and mushrooms and garnished with sesame seeds and oil.

The kitchen is geared to producing bento boxes and teriyaki dishes, so it's imperative to give the Nara folks a heads-up up for Jabchae (pronounced, jop chay).

On the regular menu, plan to try to grilled Korean short ribs (galbi) at $8.50 or the marinated grilled beef (bulgogi).

There are also Korean bento featuring bulgogi, chicken, spicy chicken and barbecued pork. These come in a bowl for $6 to $7 and compartmentalized boxes from $7.50 to $8.75.

You might also try the Japanese bento with either chicken or pork katsu (breaded), and salmon, beef, or chicken teriyaki similarly priced in bowls or on a plate.

Nara will make you a home style donburi, a sweet and savory stew of meat ladled over rice at $6.50. You might also be tempted by a yakisoba at $7.95, wheat noodles stir fried with meat and vegetables and served on a plate.

Various sushi rolls are on offer ranging from vegetable at $3.50 up to more complicated ones that top out at $8.50.

For example, the tsunami roll sounds fascinating and contains shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, and cilantro. Even more dazzling is the burrito roll with spicy tuna, crab, avocado deep-fried then garnished with eel sauce, scallion, and salted and dried smelt (masago).

Tea and soft drinks are available but you may bring in your own beer or wine or that powerful Korean firewater, soju, (a clear distilled beverage) if you can find some.

Nara is a pleasant if plain spot, wedged between the defunct Regency Car Wash that faces Riverside Avenue and Winco in a row of small shops. Its windows are papered, but be not dismayed — go right in to the friendly welcome that awaits.

After your meal, wander the packed aisles of the Asia Market and feel free to ask questions or tousle the head of one of Kay and Lee's grandkids. Your own kitchen and family may be ready for some new and tasty dishes.

— Hubert Smith

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