April 17th, 2013
11:55 AM ET
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World-renowned chef, author and Emmy winning television personality Anthony Bourdain visits Los Angeles' Koreatown in the next episode of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," airing Sunday, April 21, at 9 p.m. ET. Follow the show on Twitter and Facebook.

Roy Choi created a brave new world of gastronomy almost single-handedly with his Los Angeles-based Kogi BBQ taco truck.

A Korean-American who grew up on the fringes of Mexican and hip hop culture, Choi's food reflects a new American idea of natural fusion - culinary influences that grew up next to and with each other.

In this episode of "Parts Unknown," Anthony Bourdain examines the meeting point of Asian, Latino, Mexican and even Bangladeshi culture in modern L.A. Koreatown.

roy choi and anthony bourdain

Choi recently talked with CNN about his culinary vision and the bond between food and cultural identity.

CNN: You broke some boundaries when you combined the traditions of Korean barbecue with Mexican street food. Did you get any push back about being “unauthentic”? Does that matter?

Roy Choi: We were honest in our food and our voice. It's as much L.A. as anything else is. I am from here and this is our sound. We owed nothing to anyone's perception of authentic. We just taste like L.A. and L.A. is a mix of many cultures and taking chances.

CNN: What do you want to communicate about your culture through your food?

Choi: That we are not ethnic.

I don't understand "ethnic" because who is it that is using that word? Is it coming from an English-speaking state of mind and if it is, then how did we as so-called "ethnic populations" become something to be labeled? No one culture is the norm so no one culture therefore is ethnic. We are not different, we are all different, but we are all human and no one culture is the center.

CNN: You were classically trained as a chef and worked at lauded restaurants like three-star Michelin Le Bernardin, what made you go back to your roots?

Choi: I never left my roots, I just didn't know my roots were good enough to be my profession. We get caught up sometimes on a journey to become more educated or enlightened, not knowing sometimes the strength is right where you come from. But sometimes you need that journey to supplement your roots with knowledge and training, and that's what happened to me. I gained training then I finally saw how to apply that to who I truly am.

Explore Anthony Bourdain's favorite places to visit in Los Angeles:

Koreatown Plaza
928 South Western Avenue, #300
Los Angeles, California

Hannam Market
2740 W. Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, California

Beverly Soon Tofu Restaurant
2717 W. Olympic Blvd, #108
Los Angeles, California

12565 Washington Blvd
Culver City, California

Chego! (re-opening in new location in mid- to late April)
727 North Broadway
Los Angeles, California
Twitter: @EatChego

Kogi BBQ Truck
Location varies; weekly schedule listed on website.
Twitter: @kogibbq

4153 W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, California

Dong Il Jang
3455 W. 8th Street
Los Angeles, California

400 S. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, California

Monte Carlo Bar
3514 W. 3rd St
Los Angeles, California
No phone.

Myung In Dumplings
3109 W. Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, California

Julie’s Taco Truck
In front of the Vons on 3461 W. 3rd Street; near the northeast corner of Vermont Avenue and W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, California
No phone.

California Donuts
3540 W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, California

3831 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, California

Dive into the food that Bourdain and guests enjoy in the episode:

Ban chan
Also called “pan chan” - these are pickled, dressed or preserved vegetables, sprouts, kimchi (spicy, fermented vegetables, usually cabbage, that are a staple in Korean cuisine), small fish, mushrooms, tofu and other little snacks that accompany the larger courses. As Bourdain says, “No ban chan, no meal.”

Korean barbecue
Gogigui - more commonly known in the U.S. as “Korean barbecue” - is a style of meal in which diners gather around a central grill (often built right into the table) and cook meat and vegetables. Roast gui - thinly sliced, marbled ribeye - is a specialty of Dong Il Jang (which Bourdain and Choi visit in the episode), as is the more common bulgogi, which is beef marinated in soy, sesame oil, garlic, scallions and other ingredients. Galbi, made with marinated ribs, and seafood are other standard options.

There are many variations, but usually patrons or waitstaff grill the meat, then each diner places some on a lettuce leaf in the palm of his or her hand, tops it with kimchi, rice, chili bean paste (or any combination thereof), rolls the leaf into a little sandwich and eats it. Other people skip the lettuce process altogether and just enjoy the meat and rice.

Kimchi fried rice
Bokumbap (or “bokkumbap”) is not fancy, but it’s filling, economical and fantastic. At Dong Il Jang and many other places, after the meat has been cooked, rice (usually day-old) and kimchi and other vegetables go into the same pan for frying. It just “melts into the pan like paella” says Bourdain, and develops a crunchy outer layer that’s “ridiculously good.”

Korean tacos
Bourdain calls these “one of the great mutation mash-ups” of L.A. food culture. Choi melded a traditionally Mexican format - the corn tortilla-wrapped taco - with traditional Korean fillings like bulgogi and kimchi to create the now iconic and often-imitated Korean taco. Choi’s Kogi BBQ Taco Truck brought the cross-cultural treat to the streets of L.A., and now they can be found on menus across the U.S.

In layman’s terms, this is tofu soup. In Bourdain’s world, it’s a “fiery, tongue-searing, ass-burning soup that will make you forget every bad thing you’ve ever thought about tofu.” It’s a spicy red broth with a soft tofu base, and versions vary from there, but often include kimchi, as well as beef, oysters, mussels or clams, and an egg cracked and added tableside. Spoon it over rice and feel your insides catch fire.

Rice bowl
For $10 or less, a hungry diner can jam down a big bowl of rice with meat, vegetables and “a whole lot of flavor,” per Bourdain. Choi’s soon-to-relocate Chego restaurant features a Spam bowl with fried rice, scrambled eggs and baby bok choy with a touch of butter and toasted sesame, as well as a version with marinated grilled chicken, fried egg, Chinese broccoli, sour cream sambal, Thai basil, sesame and red jalapeño.

Lahori fish curry
It’s not just bulgogi and tacos - Little Bangladesh occupies several blocks within Koreatown, and with it comes goat stew, samosas, tandoori chicken and fragrant, chili-spiked Lahori fish curry eaten over rice and with folds of flatbread.

Spam sandwich
The classic tinned meat plays a major role in Filipino cuisine, finding its way onto morning egg and rice platters, then slipping into sandwiches later in the day. The popular Jollibee fast food chain features a fried Spam sandwich, as well as pineapple-topped Aloha burgers, fried bangus fish, spaghetti, noodle platters and a dessert of tapioca pearl tea or halo-halo.


We’ll let Top Chef contestant Dale Talde field this one. He says, “This is my favorite Southeast Asian dessert that is essentially shaved ice. Halo-halo is the Filipino name of it and there are variations in a handful of Southeast Asia countries (Air Batu Campur or ABC in Malaysia, for example).

Instead of blueberry-flavored high fructose corn syrup (commonly served at roadside snow cone carts in the U.S.), Filipinos use fresh fruit like mangoes, jack fruit, lychee, avocado and young coconut, then tie the whole thing together with sweetened condensed milk and top it off with puffed rice."

Execution varies wildly, and may include any sweet ingredient from flan and tapioca pearls to gelatin cubes and fruity cereal.

Wang mandoo (or mandu) are thick, massive dumplings stuffed with pork, kimchi and vegetables, then crimped and steamed to the point of softness. At Myung In Dumplings (which features both Chinese and Korean offerings), smaller mandoo are more loosely wrapped with a thinner dumpling skin and served with chili paste, and steamed buns with red bean paste make a sweet end to a carb-centric meal.

Read more:
Los Angeles food trucks are in it for the long haul
Bridging generations and cultures, one blistering bowl of bibimbap at a time
Sundays are for dim sum
8 things to know about L.A.'s Koreatown
The ever-changing flavor of L.A.'s Koreatown

soundoff (92 Responses)
  1. Emergency Exchange Support

    the information on this site is just incredible it keeps me coming back time and time again ,personally i met my wife using this site so i couldnt love it any more i have done my best to promote this site as i feel that others need to see this thang ,thankyou for all the time spent in making this fabulous site ! ok,nice one Billy

    January 7, 2014 at 11:50 pm |
  2. leanne F

    Having just recently moved to some koreatown apartments los angeles I am very new to the area and trying my hardest to get the most out of the area as possible. This includes trying new places to eat. Words cant describe how excited I was when I saw that this was going to be on tv. Love Anthony this was so fun to watch!

    April 30, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  3. Bron Skiba

    Very entertaining program on L.A.'s Korea Town. Great characters and a delightful insight into Korean lifestyle and people.

    April 27, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
  4. afireworkinprogress

    The connection between food and culture is a beautiful thing. There's so much room for experimenting with combining flavors that are native to certain cultures with others. It's fusion food at it's finest, because it's fresh and unique. Love this!

    April 27, 2013 at 7:57 am |
  5. hen na gaijin

    Jollibee ????

    April 23, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  6. USA

    Different countries different cultures as well as foods. I travelled all over the world but flexible, open minded when it comes to foods, I tasted and eat so many variety of foods some of them were so good, and some can't wait to get it out from my mouth. Being flexible is a whole more fun.

    April 22, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  7. Smith

    What's with all the Korea-town articles???

    April 22, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  8. What Now

    Best show on CNN! Maybe they could include more programming that actually educates the public. This certainly beats the hour after hour of political talking heads reciting their opinions with little factual information. Also, I really miss the real journalist reporting stories as opposed to interpreting stories.

    April 22, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  9. sharon

    I enjoyed the show. It is refreshing to see how foods of other countries are prepared and what they use for seasonings. IJS! How others use spices, vegetables and meat is interesting. Listen we have to learn to be more tolerant...to different people and different foods that are here to stay. America Is A Melting Pot of DIFFERENT CULTURES...IF YOU don't like the show there are millions of channels to watch...use your remote. Stop being so negative!

    April 22, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  10. Dave Meccariello

    cool show, but why is it on cnn?? what does it have to do with the news?
    it sounds like some program director with a crush added this to the lineup.
    this has nothing to do with the news and should be replaced asap

    April 22, 2013 at 4:06 am |
    • Brian

      Maybe, they realized that hearing the same five minutes of news and soundbites, repeated twelve times an hour, wasn't enough to hold viewers.

      Also, at its root, the show is about culture, not just food. Exposing ourselves to those cultures makes for a better understanding of the news from those areas of the world.

      April 22, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  11. Kang

    I saw part of this report, and I turned it off because it totally misrepresented what Koreatown is really about. There are so many nice, neat, and upscale places in K-town that all ethnic groups can enjoy but none of it was shown in the show. It was so awkward and strange coverage of the K-town. I was so disappointed of what was shown. "Sizzler?" Gotta be kidding.

    April 22, 2013 at 12:13 am |
    • Mike

      Same here.
      Like Korean food a lot, but this show was so disappointing.
      And what the heck that Korean idiot artist said...

      April 22, 2013 at 3:22 am |
  12. Chris

    This guy is a total douche. What demographic are they targeting here? 45-65 males from NYC? Seriously. I am at a total loss why CNN would pick this guy up. This will fail quickly. I hope.

    April 21, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
    • TC

      He's been on Travel Channel for ages. If you don't like him fine. You don't have to tell the world your deep thoughts about everything. I think you are the DOUCHE. He'll be on CNN for years because he has a proven formula, show format and a lot of fans. BTW, you sound like the "arrogant jerk" .

      April 22, 2013 at 12:16 am |
      • Slamma

        Looks like you're the homer that is in love with Bourdain. Get a life fruitcake.

        April 22, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • Little Timmy@Chris

      Aww, poor baby. Did Anthony say something that you disagweed with? Do you feel like he stepped on your widdle toes because he's a confident, world traveler who speaks his mind and you don't?


      April 22, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  13. Kelly

    "Sizzler" on the list????? This is highlarious. Thanks for the laugh Anthony!

    April 21, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
    • germ101

      did yousee the asian guy sticking his finger in his mouth and licking the sauce or food and then touching the buffet food ...

      April 22, 2013 at 1:46 am |
  14. Vinny

    I am Asian and I like Korean food. I just wish they are not that spicy.

    April 21, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
  15. Stephen

    This is the stupidest article that keep showing up on the CNN app right under all that is happening in Boston. Get rid of it! Move it somewhere else! Who is the world is editing the CNN app? He or she needs to go. Let's get on the ball CNN!!!!!!!

    April 21, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
    • Arick

      Go create your own news network, then you can decide what goes where and what gets airtime.

      April 22, 2013 at 2:17 am |
  16. Gia

    Anthony Bourdain just said "God Damn" on the report re: Korean food and Low Riders! Does CNN tolerate this?

    April 21, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • TC

      You really had to post this twice? Bourdain said the S-word as well on his first show and it SURE LOOKS LIKE CNN TOLERATED IT. grow up will you? it's not that bad of a word.

      April 22, 2013 at 12:17 am |
    • Arick

      Oh noes, did your wittle ears bleed?

      April 22, 2013 at 2:19 am |
  17. Gia

    I heard Anthony Bourdain say "God Damn" on the Korean/Low Rider report!! Does CNN tolerate this?

    April 21, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
  18. Mike

    I like how this CNN Special started off by acknowledging the Rodney King's verdict and the riots, but didn't say one word about the Latasha Harlins case, which was the real reason for the frustration coming out of South Central during the riots.

    April 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  19. benwyche

    Is sizzler really on the list?

    April 21, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Wait until you see the episode. The Sizzler part is oddly moving.

      April 21, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  20. Mike

    I'm disappointed in CNN's selection of Anthony Bourdain for a show. I find him arrogant and hedonistic, not to mention narcissistic. So he travels around the world and eats drinks. Who gives a flying flip?

    April 21, 2013 at 12:14 am |
    • Steven B.

      He's a strong personality, but certainly none of the things you believe him to be.

      He also does far more than travel and eat, but if you dislike him, so be it. Many of us do, and find him charming, intelligent, and capable of providing insightful commentary regarding the places to which he travels.

      April 21, 2013 at 2:06 am |
      • Chris

        Mike! I 100% agree! He won't be around long, I hope. He is everything that is wrong about American tourists...even in the USA! Seriously Steven...you dislike him, yet find him charming, intelligent and insightful? I wouldn't trust this arrogant jerk to give me directions to the nearest bathroom.

        April 22, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  21. Robby

    Pictures don't do Korean food justice. I found a lot of traditional Korean food that weren't shown here– well I guess that's why the title is "LA's Koreatown" but still... I've had bi-bim-bap and it is soo good!! It's not only delicious, it's super healthy!!

    April 20, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  22. shawn l

    The only thing that looked good in all of those pictures, are the dumplings.

    April 20, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  23. Jeff

    I am very adventurous when it comes to food and have traveled quite a bit internationally. I can add my two cents worth – Korean bbq and Kimchi is the worst I've ever eaten. I tried a traditional Korean restaurant while staying in a heavily Korean area of Duluth GA, outside Atlanta – it was a packed restaurant and I was the only non-Korean in the place. Terrible, just terrible.

    April 20, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • e

      you tried korean food once in one place in Duluth and declare it awful? That is beyond stupid and shallow.

      April 20, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • Max

      LOL Georgia boy talking about awful food, stick to your fried green tomatoes and fried chicken, out here in big cities we don't care for that

      April 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
      • VladT

        Says you....growing up in Los Angeles, there is no "warmth" to the food in all of our "high quality" restaurants. Just because he doesn't like Korean food, the south doesn't need condescending (insert word that CNN would censor here) like you to judge a whole state's cuisine.
        Let me guess....you believe people in the South are prejudicied too. If so, someone should teach you irony.

        Oh, and love Korean food, by the way. Especially Bimibap (sp?)

        April 21, 2013 at 6:15 am |
    • Dooly

      You tried Korean food, of all place, in Georgia, and declared it horrible?
      If I had Korean food in such place like that I'd have done the same thing! LOL
      Sadly to admit, there are not good Korean places around in the states. You could find the authentic good tasting Korean food only in Korea. Something just does not taste the same here in the states; perhaps the next best place would be in LA, as I'd never been to NY so I can't state much about that city.

      April 21, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
      • sportsmedic22

        Best Korean food I've had was Yong Soo San in Fort Lee, NJ. Great flavors, awesome service in a very nice atmosphere.

        April 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
    • James

      Kimchi takes a while to get used to. Why don't you try a Korean restaurant in a real city?

      April 22, 2013 at 12:22 am |
  24. UncleBuck

    Them foreign foods look like my dog's vomit.

    April 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Bo

      And so are on your dinner table tonight.

      April 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Your Nightmare

      Like your face...

      April 20, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • TC

      That's what your mom said about you when you were born.

      April 22, 2013 at 12:18 am |
  25. pooloo

    Where can I eat Tak Galbi (chicken) bbq?? In L.A., or south.

    April 20, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • e

      Most of the Korean BBQ places offer it. There is a place on western, about 3 blocks south of 8th with a yellow awning that has duck also.

      April 20, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
      • pooloo

        ♥ u! Thanks!

        April 22, 2013 at 12:05 am |
    • James

      Dude! I used to eat dakgalbi in the old part of Jeonga-Dong, Bundang (near Seoul) that was daaaaaaaa bomb. I searched for years around 32nd Street, Flushing and Fort Lee and never ate anything close at any restaurant.

      April 22, 2013 at 12:16 am |
  26. Sally

    I can't believe he left out Paris Baguette Bakery. Freshest French pastries with a Korean influence I've ever ever had.

    April 19, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • sportsmedic22

      roger that. haven't seen one in texas, but in seoul they were fantastic.

      April 21, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
  27. Rob

    What's with all the hate?

    I love Korean food and Mexican food. I can't wait to try some of these dishes next time I go to LA

    April 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  28. bro

    We could care less about tonys food tours, Mexican food is the only great tasting safe food ever...

    April 18, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • VladT

      Especially their water! :)

      April 19, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • pooloo

      Yes, Bro...Hepatitis is an awesome appetizer, I agree.

      April 20, 2013 at 12:22 am |
    • e

      if you hate eating more than one type of food then don't click on the article. Many people prefer some flavor in their life.

      April 20, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
  29. BTWKorean_Food_Is_gross

    Anothony Bourdain is a DISGUSTING human beeing.I HATE YOU!!! GO AWAY!!!!!!

    You are horriable,mean,and DOWM-RIGHT RUDE!!!

    April 18, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • bro

      Agree thanks

      April 18, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • GeorgeJungle

      I can see trolling is on the menu too

      April 19, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
    • koffeenut

      oh, don't be a jealous little bitch just because Bourdain is brutally honest and has done almost everything you'll never ever get to do in a lifetime. ;) btw, Korean food is delicious you loser.

      April 19, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • RichardHead

      At least Tony knows how to use Spell Check,even with a hang over.

      April 20, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  30. TLC

    Seoul Garden should be on this list for Ghangis khan shabu and Naeng Myun(cold noodle w/beef broth). I think it tops Dong Il Jang.

    April 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
  31. AK

    dang it Bourdain, you had to go there and expose it! We Koreans do not like our foods to be messed with. It is our pride and joy. That is why it is SOOO GOOD! Unlike Chinese and Japanese, we never catered our food for nobody but ourselves. That is why it is SOOOOO GOOD!

    April 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • gager

      Agreed, Americans know little of food and spoil true foreign dishes by Americanizing.

      April 18, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
      • Get Realist

        Uuuuuuhhhh have you ever HAD a Korean taco? If you can't appreciate that I'd say your the one who "knows little of food".

        April 18, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
        • TLC

          I've never had a good experience with fusion korean food. Personally, I think they taste out of whack once you start mixing it with cheeses or some sweet syruppy, or fragrant crap. When it comes to Korean food, I like it the old fashioned way.

          April 18, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
      • VladT

        Ignorant, American-hating comments need not apply on the food blog. Please tell us the great cuisine from your country, and how it has stayed "Pure."

        April 19, 2013 at 8:35 am |
      • James

        I agree with TLC so far. Cheese and Korean food doesn't seem like a good combination, but I'll hold out final judgement until I try some of those Korean tacos.

        April 22, 2013 at 12:18 am |
    • Arietta

      I love trying new foods from different cultures, and am rarely disappointed. Somehow, Korean food was just something I'd never gotten the chance to try. I've recently become friends with a nice Korean lady, and she took me to one of her favorite places. I have to say...I was seriously disappointed. I couldn't stomach most of it. The meat was too fatty, and the majority of the food contained ingredients that I simply don't like to begin with.

      April 19, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
      • James

        If the meat was too fatty the restaurant may not have been the best. That said, it took me years to appreciate the fermented tastes of many popular Korean foods. If you decide to try again, bulgogi or galbi are good jumping off points for Korean foods. If the restaurant is good, most Westerners can enjoy those two foods without any trouble.

        April 22, 2013 at 12:20 am |
  32. Lizanne

    OK ... I live on the west side (MDR) ... and I love A-Frame. But it is NOT in Koreatown. Not even close! And why would Anthony list Sizzler as a favorite place?? Crew food? *shudder*

    April 18, 2013 at 3:44 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Definitely watch the episode, because the part about Sizzler is pretty amazing for a whole lot of reasons, both cultural and culinary!

      April 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
      • CobiaKiller714

        sizzler...spend a quick 5 minute scan and I am sure you will find either rat or roach feces.

        April 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • jrose

      I assume A-Frame and Chego were both included on this list because they're Roy Choi's restaurants.

      April 18, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
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