Korean Kitchen Shotchu
4-7-14 Chuo-ku Osaka (Hommachi Station, exit 4)
Lunch time: 11:30 – 2:00
Dinner time: 5:00 – 10:00 (last order)
Closed on Sundays and national holidays
Hommachi’s Heart and Seoul
(note: the names of the dishes are listed here as they appear on the menu – dishes familiar in Japan are given their local equivalents, the rest in the original Korean)
The Korean Kitchen Shotchu is located in Hommachi, on a small side-street a short walk from the exits of three subway lines (Midosuji, Yottsubashi and Chuo). Hommachi, the commerce district of Osaka, home to bankers and brokers, is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of great food, but Shotchu is a cosy shelter in the middle of the concrete jungle.
On the ground floor, a counter wraps around the little kitchen. Lighting is indirect and relaxing. Tucked in the back corner, a great long table of dark, solid wood: a great conversation pit. Upstairs (the place gives the feeling of a converted old home), there is a more spacious dining room for larger groups. The place is uncluttered, but there’s always something to subtly catch your eye: some Korean pottery on a counter, some folk-art or knick-knacks on a shelf by the window, a mask, a poster. There is literally no bad seat in the house.
Shotchu’s owner, Ms. Moon Hong-mi, began her career cooking yakiniku, but wanted more of a challenge. So, a few years ago, she studied Korean cooking in depth, used that knowledge to create a few variations of her own, and in June of 2000, opened her own shop, here in Hommachi. Instead of beef, her dishes are heavy on leaf and root vegetables, pork, and chicken (a generous yakiniku set, though, is available at lunchtime). With so much variety on the menu, we asked Ms Moon for help. She obliged, and the following is a great introduction to the variety of her cooking.
First, of course, came the kimchi. It was the real thing: just the right blend of marinated softness and satisfying crunch, spiced to warm your mouth, not scald it. (¥300) Hot on its heels came the ishiyaki (literally, “stone-cooked”) pipinpa, a (very) hot (indeed!) stone bowl of rice topped with shreds of marinated vegetables, spicy gochujang paste and and a raw (not for long) egg. It’s all presented beautifully in the bowl and you have the fun of mixing it all up while it’s still sizzling away. I like the rice nearly burnt to a crisp, but you might prefer to dig in as soon as the mixing’s done. There are no rules. The sharpness of the gochujang is tempered by the tenderness of the vegetables and chewiness of the fried rice, the egg giving a subtle richness to it all. (¥900).
Chijimi is the Korean cross between a pancake and a crepe. Shotchu serves several varieties (kaki – or oyster – chijimi is presently in season), but the speciality of the house is Ms Moon’s cheese chijimi (¥800). The traditional onion-filled base was poured onto the griddle, turned once, and spread with a thick cheese paste. It was flipped again, browned, placed on a hot serving pan, cut into bite-sized squares and served with a dipping sauce. We found that some beer (Korean or Japanese) just might help you along at this stage, if it hasn’t already. Just a thought.
Samgyopsel, a pork dish, was another one which called for audience participation. First, we grilled thick bacon-like strips on what looked like a slotted sombrero with an oil-filled dent in the crown. Then, at our leisure,we took a lettuce or sesame leaf, spread it with gochujang or other condiments, added deep-fried garlic (that’s what the dent in the sombrero’s for), a strip of the pork, rolled it all up, and dipped one end in a little dish of sesame oil. (¥1200 per person). Take your time and enjoy all this – Ms Moon is in no hurry to rush you out the door.
The popular wisdom in Japan holds that Korean food begins and ends with yakiniku. A pleasant, convivial visit to Shotchu put that tired old myth to rest for me.