This month in celebration of AAPI Heritage month we’re focusing on a few Portland chefs and their restaurants and a particularly tasty ingredient, fish sauce.
One of Portland’s best hot dogs comes with fish sauce. At Kim Jong Grillin’ it’s not squirted on the bun like ball park mustard, but it’s an essential ingredient in the kimchi mayo that makes the KJG hot dog so tasty. The Korean-American mashup served at Han Ly Hwang’s cart on SE Division (4606 SE Division St) shows how a creative chef combines the traditional flavors of his familial culture with the favorite foods of his life-long home.
Hwang grew up outside of Washington, DC, eating the Korean food his mother cooked. He started working in restaurants as a teen-ager, cooking at places like Chile’s and spent another 15 years “cooking,” as he says, “everybody else’s food.” Hwang opened his cart in June 2011, and customers loved his bulgogi, shortribs, and kimchi-packed hot dog. Less than a year later, while he was celebrating winning a cooking competition, the cart burned to the ground.
It took a few years, but Kim Jong Grillin’ came back, and hungry Portlanders line up for those Korean-style grilled meats, bibimbap boxes, and, if they’re lucky, his version of budae jjigae, the Korean army stew that combines traditional ingredients like kimchi with processed foods like Spam and instant ramen noodles.
One constant in Hwang’s cooking is fish sauce. Besides using it in his kimchi, he thinks of it like salt. “When I first tasted Red Boat fish sauce, I knew it was a game-changer,” he says, “it’s not just fishy or salty like the industrial brands, but has more umami.”
For Hwang, fish sauce isn’t just for Korean food. He loves Italian food, and when he’s cooking at home, he always adds a little Red Boat to the spaghetti sauce. “I love it in Southern-style greens, like collards or mustard greens,” he adds. So do we.
EXTRA EXTRA, read all about it: Kana + Erik from Fulamingo are our new roommates and we couldn’t be more hyped! They’ve put together an amazing selection of culty snacks, secret weapon seasonings, and all manner of other Japanese goodness you didn’t know you needed (or maybe you did, but you don’t wanna trek allllllllllll the way out to the west side, which, frankly, we get!). Karen Brooks has the scoop for Portland Monthly, so read that and then get down here and check it out in person ’cause the pics don’t really do it justice!