11/05/13 10:20am

How to Order Authentically Spicy Korean Food


Spicy Korean soondubu jjigae.

I’ve been a chili head since I was child. Today I relish the many fiery foods of Queens from Liberian to Thai. Getting my food prepared to adequately authentic spice levels is not so much an issue for me. That’s not the case for my good friend and C+M Desify columnist Anne Noyes Saini who  often finds herself having to convince the waitstaff that she does indeed want her food spicy. So as a service to C+M readers she’s compiled a series of audio guides that demonstrate phrases in several relevant languages (e.g., Korean, Thai, Spanish, Hindi, etc.), which can be used to navigate ordering situations fraught with tricky cultural and language barriers.

Our first lesson is Korean. The first thing I do whenever I take a tour group to gigantic Korean supermarket Assi Plaza is march over  to the endcap of five-pound bags of ground chilies. “When you are Korean,” I say smacking a bag with an open palm, “you use a lot of hot pepper.” Korean-born Christine Colligan agrees: “Usually if  it’s red it’s not a tomato sauce … that means a lot of hot pepper,” she says in today’s audio guide.

She teaches us two phrases “I like hot food”: “Na nun (I’m) Mae un (hot) eum sick (food) jo a ham ni da (like).”, and “I can eat hot dish well”, “Na nun (I’m) mae un gut (hot dish) jal (well) mug ue yo (eat).” As I said I usually don’t have a problem getting my food to be served spicy. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to try these phrases out.

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  • Actually, it’s probably better to say “Juh neun” rather than “nah neun” at the beginning of each phrase.
    “Na neun” is the casual form of “I,” whereas “juh neun” is more respectful and thus more appropriate when speaking with someone you are not close friends with.
    Using “nah neun” may be interpreted as being rude or pretentious.