The real K-town in New York City is in Queens, stretching for about five miles from Northern Boulevard and Union Street in Flushing all the way out to Manhasset. This vast K-tropolis is lined with dozens of BBQ restaurants, kimbap joints, large Korean supermarkets, fried chicken spots, a store that sells Korean stone beds, and even a Korean-run Third Wave espresso bar. There are so many places it would take an entire lifetime to document them all. Today C+M’s K-tropolis takes a look at Bonjuk, a Korean porridge specialist.Unlike Manhattan’s sliver of a K-town the restaurants that comprise K-tropolis are almost all specialists. A few doors down from Bonjuk is a mandoo spot and another that trades in gamjatang, a rich pork bone casserole. Bonjuk has been on my culinary radar for years, but somehow the idea of an all porridge eatery has kept me away. So the other day when my adopted Jewish mother, Suzanne Parker, food critic for the Times Ledger asked me to join her for lunch there I figured I’d give it a whirl.
Bonjuk’s porridge selection runs to some two dozen varieties, including everything from a deluxe abalone version ($35.95) to crab meat and cheese ($13.95) to black sesame ($13.95) and sweet pumpkin ($11.95). It was hard to make a choice, so Suzanne called over the waitress who was starting her day with a bowl of beef and mushroom juk two ask if we might be able to get a flight of porridge.
Sad to say Bonjuk doesn’t serve flights of juk, so we settled on samgae ($11.95), apparently the porridgy cousin of the Korean chicken ginseng soup samgyetang and octopus kimchi ($13.95). The dining room at Bonjuk strives for what I presume to be a calm meditative air, but the piped in Bach managed to jangle my caffeinated nerves. I did crack a smile at a sign that compared Bonjuk’s porridge to the sincerity a mother’s love while my very own Jewish mother kvelled to the waitress about my debut on Yahoo Travel.
When the waitress brought over two trays with our juk, the first thing I thought was, “That’s a boatload of porridge, enough to keep Oliver Twist happy for a decade or so.” The chicken ginseng version was not quite my speed, but with the addition of some shredded salted beef and a fiery paste made up of pickled squid and radish it wasn’t half bad. The kimchi octopus juk, however, was stupendously good, fiery and almost smoky with chewy little nubbins of cephalopod. It was so good I almost didn’t want to share. Then I came to my senses and realized not sharing would be a most insincere refutation of a mother’s love, adopted or not. There was so much juk we each took home some of each and were full for hours.
Bonjuk didn’t really change how I feel about porridge, but I’m glad to know it’s there for when that juk craving hits, which by my reckoning won’t be until next winter.
Bonjuk, 152-26 Northern Blvd., Flushing, 718-939-5868
When I was raised in Flushing more than fifty years ago there were only two Asians — my childhood friend, the son of an American marine and the first Chinese war bride, who taught me my ABC’s and my Japanese adolescent friend who was my Hiro and one of the few who attended Bleecker JHS, Bronx Science and Queens College with me.