Sunday, September 18, 2011

Korean ChamPong Makes Me Happy!

As you know, I am on an epic quest for Asian culinary delights in Central PA.  Although the area is one of the least diverse places that I have lived, and I have lived all across the country, I utterly refuse to believe that I should settle for anything less than great ethnic cuisine.  And so the search continues, and today, I happened upon this little gem of a place, while Eric and I tooled around Mechanicsburg, also visiting the Wegman's.  On Yelp it was described as a Japanese restaurant, but then all of the food described was Korean.  Now, I've had my fair share of bad Japanese in the area, and honestly, I'm taking a break from my epic search for that cuisine currently.  But Korean?  The only Korean place I was aware of was in Lancaster at a diner called The Onion Cafe.  It was decent, and I shunned it not.

It was only mid-afternoon.  Eric and I had eaten lunch only a few hours before, so a Korean deep-dive wasn't an immediate desire.  But we're almost an hour away from home, we've got a new place to try out, we shall not leave town without giving ourselves and this new restaurant a chance!

We walked into Spring Garden and were greeted by the Korean owner.  She was extremely pleasant and had a bit of sass, which is always a good thing in my book.  We explained that we would like to take the food to go but that we weren't going to eat until several hours later.  And then I began to peruse the menu.  Oh my goodness, they have JamPong, or Cham Pong, or Jjampong, boy I've seen this spelled differently anytime I've ever seen it.  It's a spicy seafood noodle soup that was brought to Korea from China, so it employs the use of Chinese-style noodles.  But the Koreans are known for their spice, and just as the Chinese everywhere is catered to local tastes, this version became spicier and spicier until it became, for me, a dish that I would consider decidedly Korean, but with the Chinese influence.

Yes, I am a fiend when it comes to noodle soups.  I have found a noodle soup that I cherish in almost all the Asian cuisines.  In Taiwan, it's the rich, dark, and sensuous Beef Noodle Soup.  In Vietnam, the fresh, bright and light Pho.  In Japan, it's the toothsome opulence of the Chinese-influenced Miso Ramen.  In China, the spicy numbness and savory delectability of the Sichuan-style noodles.  In Korea, it's the Cham Pong that makes my heart sing!  One day, I'll round out the group with a definitive choice in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand... I have a lot of traveling to do!

The last time I had a good one was about 10 years ago on the campus of Ann Arbor where I was getting my MBA.  It's a little divey place called the University Cafe.  Oh yeah, it serves Korean food.  Whut?  But the Cham Pong was great, and I've longed for it every since.

At the Spring Garden, I immediately looked up with wide eyes and a string of drool starting to hang out of my mouth.  Cham Pong!  We discussed how I could take it home without the noodles getting all gummy and nasty.  Simple - she'll just wrap up the noodles and I could take them home and cook it there.  She brought them out, and I was stupefied that they were fresh.  Beautiful strands of noodles that were malleable and soft.  So rare in some of my favorite places, and here I am.  Fresh Noodles.  Bodes well...
Fresh noodles are just so wonderful.  They don't really have that hard core that dry noodles have that give them that toothsomeness we're all familiar with, as long as you're not overcooking the heck out of them.  This is a different kind of toothsome - there's an evenness throughout the entire noodle that gives it a satisfying wholesome texture.  These cook really fast, and as soon as it comes to a rolling boil again, it's drain time.
And then lovingly bathed in a splendid seafood broth that is balanced in its spicy savoriness.  My singular complaint is that the actual seafood was rather parsimonious.  I would have wanted big chunks of fish, some shrimp, fat mussels in lieu of the chintzy leftovers. That was the single aspect that left me wanting.  But don't get me wrong.  I still ate the whole thing.

Eric ordered Galbi - marinated beef short ribs that were tender, moist, and with that really great salty-sweet flavor that is addicting.  Asked whether that Philly boy would prefer an Italian Hoagie or Korean Galbi, he refused to answer.

Of note also are the BanChan dishes - those small appetizers of spicy fermented vegetables.  All of their dishes are made in-house, and they are delicious!  Not as spicy as I would normally have it, but hey, it's Central PA, we want folks to actually be able to taste the food.  I get that.  But boy, if you're a spice monger, find a good kimchi in a larger city.  It'll blow your socks off!!

Eric says I should write the Central PA Underground Guide to Great Asian Cuisine, or CPUGGAC.  As I rethink that name, at least I now have the Korean checked off.

Spring Garden
5 South 35th Street
Camp Hill, PA 17011-4409
(717) 737-0238

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Lina,

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