The Monster Bulgogi Korean Taco Recipe, or: How I fell in love with Floresta
A few months ago a friend from New York visited Buenos Aires with his Korean girlfriend by way of Seoul. He didn’t speak a lick of Spanish, his girlfriend only Korean. It was a tough communication circle. We resolved the issue with games of food ping pong.
First, I made Matt and You-jin this:
MASA’s signature Korean Pork Taco: bondiola marinated in a gochujang based marinade, cooked in the oven to its juicy destiny and topped with julienned carrot and sliced mango. You-jin was so grateful to eat something that wasn’t a milanesa that she stopped mid-meal to shake my hand, and offered to show me around BA’s little Korea Town (no one calls it that but we should).
We arrived to Floresta late Sunday night, at 8pm, which is late by Korean eating customs. Floresta was a ghost town, as it was the eve of a big feriado and there was literally no one in the streets. We meandered from Nazca down Morón, the main drag, to cold metal store fronts and closed restaurants. With our tails between our legs we started to head back, stomachs furious. We did a vuelta down Felipe Vallese where we could hear the growing sounds of clanging dishes and You-jin’s mother tongue.
The restaurant’s entry felt more like the doorway of the shady kiosco I buy beer from when I miss the 10 o’clock cutoff time. A large metal gate guarded the timbre and a plain door that was cracked just enough that we could see the intimate dining room where a congregation of Koreans poured over a table full of food. We rang the bell and were greeted with a polite annyeonghasyo (hello, the extent of my Korean), and a look of bewilderment as to why this attractive Korean girl was hanging out with three gringos. The woman, who turned out to be the restaurants gracious owner, ushered us to a table where we were greeted with similar peculiarity by the all Korean clientele. Matt and You-jin had free reign over the menu and for $75 pesos each we had all the Samgyeopsal (pork belly), which we grilled ourselves at the table, and bachan (a variety of side dishes) that we wanted. We devoured dish after indecipherable dish between reckless shots of soju (a Korean distilled drink that tasted like vodka mixed with rubbing alcohol) chased with coke.
We ate like the kings and queens of cerdos that we are:
This city is so immense and just when I thought I had it figured out the porteño gods throw some hidden Korean food fortress in the middle of Floresta at me. I was fascinated, I needed to know more.
Floresta is as if Barrio Chino and Once had a love child that was better than the legitimate ones. Hidden away but way cooler. Not only is there kimchi sold in vats but the sidewalks are wider, you don’t have to huff and puff your way past all the window shopping pelotudos and no lines! In size it’s somewhere between the two neighborhoods, the streets are spotted with clothing stores and fabric shops, cafes that alternate between modern Korean and old style Porteño, compact Korean markets and restaurants and, although I still don’t know what it implies, an Islamic carniceria and a Syrian bakery.
For this particular recipe it’ll be necessary to take a trip, all the good stuff is on Morón between Cuenca and San Nicolas, drop into any of the markets and they’ll all be selling the same quality of products. The supplies are a bit pricey but long lasting.
To make this simple bulgogi marinade you will need the following to yield 12 generous tacos. Kitty optional, no Asian food jokes intended.
- 2.5 kilos of vacio
- 12 tortillas
For the marinade:
- ½ cup of soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed
- 6 green onions, chopped
Top it with:
- Red cabbage, julienned
- Sesame seeds
- Kimchi, blended into a salsa
Preparing the vacio (flank steak) is a little extra leg work; it’s got quite a bit of fat and gristle that’ll have to be patiently cut off with a very sharp knife. Although I carve off nearly all of the fat from the vacio, the little bits that are left add enough flavor when cooked on the grill that it’s worth buying over the more manageable (and equally delicious) but less commonly found entraña (skirt steak). The majority of the mercados in Floresta sell novillo (a cut of meat that is an absolute mystery to me, somewhere in the twilight zone between a young calf, or veal, and a young bull) cut paper thin. Pick your poison.
Mix the marinade, and let the meat sit for anywhere between three hours and a full night.
Oil your grill or skillet and cook the beef to your preferred level of doneness. I like the meat cut a little thick so its gets brown and slightly charred on the outside while still a bit red on the inside. Cut against the grain in long slices, warm up some tortillas y voila: Sidenote: for $40 you can grab this delicious liter of grape juice, mix it with some soda water and you’ve got something pretty damn close to Welch’s Grape Soda.
Now load it up with some cabbage, kimchi and sesame seeds and don’t look back.
The meat is sweet and juicy, the cabbage packing the crunch, and the kimchi coming in for the spicy tang. My perfect mixture of color, taste and texture.
Cleaning tip: because the marinade calls for a large amount of sugar it could be a potentially infuriating cleanup. Get over how delicious everything smells and clean your skillet immediately before the burnt sugary marinade has time to glue itself onto your cooking tools.