Soo Bak Foods – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Soo Bak Foods, an Outstanding Mobile Kitchen

When I told my friend Jim “Bubba” Chester about having discovered a terrific mobile food kitchen named Soo Bak, he became very animated. Surely, he thought Soo Bak just had to serve the Arkansas-style barbecue he craved. When I asked how he arrived at that conclusion, he explained rather matter-of-factly that the trademarked chant at his beloved alma-mater (the University of Arkansas), is ”Woooo! Pig Sooie!” and of course, the team mascot is the Razorbacks. Hence anyone should be able to see that “Soo Bak” is Arkansas-style barbecue. It nearly broke his heart to learn that instead of Arkansas-style barbecue, Soo Bak serves Korean barbecue (among other paragons of deliciousness). “How in tarnation could someone that far from the Ozarks know anything about barbecue?” he cried. Quite a bit, my friend. Quite a bit.

Korean barbecue, called “gogi gui,” more closely resembles grilling than it does the traditional low-and-slow preparation of meats throughout the fruited plain. This grilling method is distinguished by the use of a charcoal or gas grill, often build right into the dining room table itself. There diners prepare their favorite thinly sliced pork, beef, chicken or seafood. Korean barbecue is actually an overarching term encompassing a variety of marinated and non-marinated meat and seafood dishes. The two Korean barbecue dishes with which Americans are most familiar are bulgogi (thinly sliced rib eye glazed with a sweet and savory marinade) and kalbi (sliced, butterflied and marinated beef short ribs prepared over a wood fire).

The Soo Bak Menu

Contrary to Jim’s rationale, the name Soo Bak actually translates from Korean to “Watermelon,” a fitting appellation considering the mobile kitchen conveyance plies its craft under the shadows of the Sandias. Soo Bak is the brainchild of owner-chef John Katrinak who has reinterpreted his grandmother’s and mother’s recipes so that they meld the complementary flavors of Korea and New Mexico. Those flavors work very well together! During his travels throughout the globe, the impressions he gleaned from the generosity and love many people put into their food resonated deeply with him. It’s his personal mission statement to share his foods in the spirit of that generosity and love. Mission accomplished!

You can’t help but love a mobile kitchen sporting the tag line “Korean Seoul Food,” wordplay honoring the capital of South Korea. Operating across the city since January, 2013, Soo Bak is a ubiquitous presence at the Talin Market where it sets up alongside several other mobile kitchens every Wednesday. Unlike many of its brethren, Soo Bak posts its weekly schedule on its Facebook page and can be counted on reliably to be where it’s supposed to be. Its Facebook page also lists its menu of “everyday items,” though frequently changing specials aren’t listed. Befitting a motorized conveyance with limited operating room, the menu is rather limited, but it’s the flavors and aromas that are far-reaching. As you queue up to place your order, you may want to pull a George Costanza and yank the people in front of you out of your way.  That’s how ravenous the aromas will make you.

BBQ Beef Tacos with Cucumber Kimchi

9 August 2017: Among Soo Bak’s most popular fusion of New Mexico meets Korea are Korean tacos. Available in quantities of two or three and generously engorged with your choice of Korean BBQ beef (with lettuce, cheese, crema and Sriracha), Spicy Pork (with lettuce, cheese, crema, and a side of jalapeño salsa) or sautéed mushrooms (with lettuce, cheese, crema and Sriracha). The Korean BBQ Beef taco is in rarefied company as one of the most surprising tacos I’ve had in years. Many other tacos have surprised me in their use of ingredients which don’t always work well together. Soo Bak surprised me in just how harmoniously well those ingredients coalesce into a delicious whole. The beef is impregnated with a superb smokiness, a grilled flavor with a perfect amount of char that still lets you appreciate the crispiness and freshness of the lettuce and the complementary sauces.

9 August 2017: Air Force friends and colleagues who served in Korea like to use the term “deep kimchi” when someone is in a rather sticky situation. They shared horror stories of kimchi so pungent and piquant that they couldn’t eat it. Because I could, it instantly made me one of the gang. Soo Bak offers three types of kimchi available in small and large portions: Napa cabbage, radish and cucumber. The cucumber kimchi is the complete antithesis of the sometimes cloying cucumber salad oft served with satay at many Thai restaurants. Where Thai cucumber salad is sweet and vinegary, Soo Bak’s cucumber kimchi is pungent, salty and pleasantly piquant with a nice crunchy texture that bespeaks of its freshness. It isn’t nearly as incendiary as other kimchi I’ve enjoyed, but it is a delightful accompaniment to any meal.

Korean BBQ Beef Bibimbap

 9 August 2017: Koreans have mastered the art of “leftovers disguised as a gourmet dish” in a popular dish known as Bibimbap, which translates from Korean to “mixed rice.” As with other Soo Bak dishes, there are three types of bibimbap available: Korean BBQ beef, spicy pork and sautéed mushrooms. The dish is described on the menu as “on a dish of steamed rice with lettuce and chilled daikon, sprouts and zucchini; topped with a fried egg and topped with red pepper sauce or sesame ginger vinaigrette.” My words won’t do justice to this dish which plays with and delights every one of your ten-thousand taste buds. Puncture the yolk and let it run across the other ingredients to maximize the intensity of your enjoyment.  My choices were the spicy pork and the sesame-ginger vinaigrette, both of which interplay so well. As with the aforementioned BBQ beef, the spicy pork is grilled to the point that its exterior is nearly caramelized, the flavor of nicely-seasoned charcoal prominent.  Call it “gourmet leftovers” if you will, but this is an addicting dish. 

16 August 2017:  There’s an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t eat more than one starch in any one meal.  This isn’t as much so that you avoid bad combinations (such as potatoes and pasta) as it is so that you don’t overeat starches.  Somehow Soo Bak can get away with violating this culinary faux pas.  At least they do with the Sesame Noodles (chilled sweet potato noodles with spinach, carrots, onion, and sesame seeds in a sesame soy sauce)  served with steamed rice.  While both the sesame noodles and the steamed rice are exemplars of how each dish should be prepared, eating that much starch in one meal will rankle the ire of your cardiologist.  One way to cut the starch is to add the Korean BBQ beef with the dish.  Yes, the dish will still have two starches, but at least the flavor profile isn’t one-note.  This is an excellent dish.

Korean Sesame Noodles with Korean BBQ Beef

16 August 2017:  Kimchi is as Korean as apple pie is American.  It’s a quintessential food, one offering spicy, salty, sour, crunchy and healthy notes.  With more than one hundred varieties of kimchi, there’s bound to be one to appease ever palate–and contrary to stereotype, not all are made with cabbage.  That said, Soo Bak’s Napa cabbage kimchi is terrific, an exemplar of the kimchi with which most Americans are familiar.  Its pungency and piquancy is courtesy of the combination of red pepper powder and several other seasoning spices.  Its deliciousness is courtesy of Soo Bak’s traditional preparation.  My friend Bill Resnik calls Soo Bak’s radish kimchi the very best he’s ever had.  Made with ponytail radishes, it’s got a pleasant punch and delightfully crunchy texture.

Soo Bak prepares everything to order so waits are in order. If you find them at Talin, there’s a good chance you’ll run into Air Force personnel in uniform. Make sure to thank them for their service and maybe compliment them for their good taste in mobile food kitchens. Soo Bak is among the very best!

Soo Bak Foods
Location Varies
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 221-9910
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 August 2017
1st VISIT: 9 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Korean BBQ Beef Bibimbap, Cucumber Kimchi, Spicy Pork Tacos

Soo Bak Foods Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nanami Noodle House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nanami Noodle House and Sister Restaurant, Plum Cafe

If Chinese superstitions have any credence, some of us may not be long for this world.  Chinese superstitions posit that long noodles symbolize a long life.  Ostensibly, if you cut your noodles, you’re cutting your life short.  Instead of cutting your noodles, the Chinese advocate slurping up long noodles without breaking them.  When it comes to noodles, the Chinese should know.  After all, they’ve been preparing noodles longer than any culture in the world.  In 2005, archaeologists uncovered a 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles in Northeast China, the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.  Buried under ten feet of sediment, an overturned sealed bowl contained beautifully preserved, long, thin yellow noodles made from two kinds of millet. Archaeochemist Patrick McGovern indicated that “even today, deft skills are required to make long, thin noodles like those found” at the Chinese site, adding that  “this shows a fairly high level of food processing and culinary sophistication.” 

If you’ve never seen the art-and-science process of hand-making noodles, it should be on your bucket list–and because the process is quickly becoming a lost art, you should place it near the top of that list.  Fortunately you don’t have to go far to witness veritable feats of noodular prestidigitation.  The art of hand-pulled noodles is on daily display at Beijing Noodle No. 9 within Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas where the open kitchen doubles as an exhibition hall for chefs who’ve been intensely trained on how to hand stretch noodles.  Through a process of stretching and twisting flour, noodle-masters can hand pull hundreds of beautiful long thin noodles for a variety of dishes.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch, but even more spectacular is sampling the results.

Nanami Dining Room

When we heard a new Duke City restaurant named Nanami Noodle House would be launching in January, 2017, we dared hope hand-pulled noodles would be featured fare.  Alas, such was not meant to be.  Nanami showcases noodles made elsewhere and flown in for use on a variety of broth-based, vegetarian and non-broth noodle dishes (if it’s any consolation, very few cities across the fruited plain can boast of restaurants in which noodles are made in the traditional hand-pulled manner).  Captivating aromas emanating from the kitchen gave us very little opportunity to bemoan our ill-fortune.  The source of those fragrant bouquets were in dire need of exploration as was a menu as diverse and delightful as we’ve seen in quite some time.

Befitting the restaurant’s name, which translates to “seven seas,” that menu includes dishes originating in Vietnam, Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan and Korea with a nod to New Mexico here and there.   The Land of Enchantment meets Asia in the very first appetizer listed on the menu.  That would be the green chile Rangoon.  It’s one of nine appetizers, most of which are pretty standard fare.  You can eschew appetizers altogether and enjoy one of the four available salads.  Some diners will gravitate immediately to the noodle soups section of the menu, a listing of fifteen slurp-worthy soups.  If you prefer noodles sans broth, the menu lists four inviting options including grilled vermicelli.  Vegetarian options are also available.

Green Chile Rangoon

Lest I forget, the menu lists a nice array of hot and cold beverages including sixteen-ounce shakes, some in flavors you might not expect (green tea, Vietnamese coffee and Thai tea, for example).  Caffeine fiends should try the Vietnamese Coffee Frappe, an eye-opening meld of strong coffee and sweetened condensed milk.  Hot tea by the pot flavors include oolong, jasmine, green tea and a decaffeinated green tea.  Ice tea flavors include unsweetened green tea, mango, lychee and peach.  Coke products are also available, but other options just seem so much more appropriate.  Oh, and you’ll definitely want to peruse the dessert menu, too.

Nanami Noodle House is located at the former site of Cafe Jean-Pierre off the Pan American Highway.  It faces and is within easy walking distance of the Century 24 theater.  Nanami is the brainchild of first-time restaurant owners Brian and Nga Trieu, both of whom have extensive restaurant experience.  Brian cut his teeth working in restaurants owned and operated by his siblings in Roswell, Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.  Among family owned restaurants with which you might be familiar are Banana Leaf (which a sibling sold years ago) and the Plum Cafe next door.  There are some similarities between the three.

Chicken Dumplings

Sure to become the restaurant’s signature appetizer is the Green Chile Rangoon (crispy Rangoon filled with green chile, jalapeño, onion, cream cheese and Cheddar).  If you’ve ever lamented the cloying flavor of most Crab Rangoon, you’ll appreciate that this six-piece starter bites back–not too much, but enough to be discernible.  The Green chile Rangoon is served with a plum sauce, a term which usually engenders yawning and ennui.  This plum sauce actually has personality courtesy of a nice infusion of ginger and chili.  It only looks sweet and innocuous.

Nanami pays attention to the sauces which accompany its appetizers.  That’s a difference-maker discerning diners will notice.  The chicken dumplings (crispy pot stickers filled with chicken, Napa cabbage, shallot and green onion), for example, are accompanied by a chili oil sweet soy sauce that emphasizes both its piquant and sweet elements.  The chicken dumplings are flash-fried to a golden hue and are generously filled.  It’s telling that the dumplings are delicious with or without sauce though the sauce does bring out more flavors.

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

Whether you noodle over the choices carefully or you espy a noodle dish that quickly wins you over, you’re in for a real treat.  My Kim beat me to the spicy beef noodle soup (rice noodle, medium flank steak, beef broth, tomato, cucumber and bean sprouts in a sate pork-shrimp broth topped with crushed peanuts, green onions, fried shallots and basil), my ad-libitum choice when trying a new Vietnamese restaurant.  While the flavor profile of most spicy beef noodle soups in the Duke City gravitates toward anise-kissed pho made piquant with the addition of chili, this one is wholly different.  It derives its heat from sate, a piquant Vietnamese sauce typically made with garlic, lemongrass, chili, fish sauce and other ingredients.  You may have noticed from the ingredients listed above that the broth is a sate pork-shrimp broth, not a beef broth.  There are many surprises in this soup, the least of which is the addition of fresh tomatoes and cucumber slices.  This deeply satisfying, rich elixir may have you rethink what you believe spicy beef noodle soup should be.

If you can’t get enough ramen in your life, you’ll appreciate Nanami offering one ramen option heretofore unavailable in the Duke City.  That would be the Kim Chi Ramen (wheat noodle, chasu, tofu, soft-boiled egg, mushrooms, bean sprouts and kimchi in a pork dashi broth topped with sesame seed, green onion and nori).  This is a ramen dish rich in umami, one of the five basic tastes (along with salt, sweet, sour and bitter) with a profile described as “meaty” and “brothy.”  The rich stock (dashi), soy sauce, earthy mushrooms and even the fermented kimchi are especially imbued with umami.   There is a lot going on in this dish, a melding of ingredients which go very well together, but if the term “kimchi” inspires visions of fiery, fermented cabbage, you might be disappointed.  The focus of this ramen is in developing a multitude of flavors, not one overwhelming flavor.  This is a memorable dish!

Kim Chi Ramen

The Nanami Noodle House may not hand-pull its noodles, but the chef certainly knows how to use noodles to craft deeply satisfying, soulful and delicious dishes you’ll want to enjoy again and again.

Nanami Noodle House
4959 Pan American, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-1125
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 February 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Rangoon, Chicken Pot Stickers, Kim Chi Ramen, Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

Nanami Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Arirang Oriental Market – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Arirang Oriental Market on Eubank

Cuisine is the tactile connection we have to breathing history.
History and culture offer us a vibrant living society that we taste through cuisine.
All cuisine is a reflection of the society from which it emanates …
in the end cuisine is the result of culture
Clifford Wright

If cuisine is the result of culture, then it can certainly be stated that music is the expressive language of that culture.  Well before the advent of the written word, music was used to tell stories, impart wisdom, express ideas, share emotions and convey the history and culture of the civilization.  Until the 20th century and the rapid cultural changes wrought by the postmodern period, music also bridged the generations.  Family members of every generation typically listened to the same music.
In Korea, there may be no song as beloved–even in North Korea–as Arirang, an iconic folk song often considered an unofficial national anthem.  Its plaintiff lyrics convey a traveler’s agony and anguish while crossing a mountain pass named Arirang with a heartfelt longing to return home.  After its service in Korea during the Korean War, the South Korean government designated Arirang as the official march of the United States Army’s 7th Infantry Division in which my father-in-law served.

The Arirang Menu (An English version is also available)

Because of the deep emotional ties to the song, it’s only fitting that Albuquerque’s premier (but surprisingly not the only one) Korean market be named Arirang.  Serving the Duke City for more than a decade, the Arirang Oriental Market proffers specialty groceries, pots and pans, rice cookers, cooking utensils, perfumes, lotions and unique collectibles.  It’s an adventure and a joy to walk the market’s aisles, peruse the labels and contemplate the purchase of ingredients for a soiree of adventurous dining.  The geriatrically advanced among us may even reflect on the days in which the edifice was a Burger Chef restaurant.

At the back of the market is an area almost too small to call a restaurant, but which serves some of the very best and most authentic Korean food in the Duke City.  A few tables and a counter constitute the eatery’s entire seating.  It could be argued the eatery is devoid of ambiance, but if you look beyond the stark walls and utilitarian surroundings, there is much to see.  Leaning against a wall on the counter is the Arirang menu, written entirely in Hangul, the Korean alphabet.  A laminated menu includes translations for the linguistically challenged among us.  English is a second language to the wait staff, but it’s not too difficult to get your point across and get your questions answered.  The wait staff is unfailingly polite.

Mandu (Korean potstickers) with a dipping sauce

Befitting the eatery’s Lilliputian capacity, the menu is relatively small but also surprisingly ambitious considering its diversity.  A small glass of tea (a surprising contrast to the 64-ounce behemoths served at fast food joints)  is delivered to your table shortly after you’re seated.  A refrigerated case in an aisle hugging the wall includes soft drinks, both the American standards and a few carbonated Korean offerings.  We’ve established that decor is not a strong point, but aroma and food are.

There are only a few appetizers on the menu, the most popular being traditional Mandu, Korean dumplings.  In that Mandu are a Lunar New Year family tradition throughout Korea, it’s fitting that the Mandu at Arirang are shaped like a crescent moon.  These fried dumplings are luscious pockets stuffed with a pork mince and served with a soy sauce dip which includes sesame seeds, shallots and a hint of ginger.

Bulgogi, the national dish of Korea

9 June 2012: Arirang’s most popular entree among non-Asian diners is probably bulgogi, Korea’s signature dish which many Americans refer to as Korean barbecue. Bulgogi  is a marriage of sweet, savory and spicy tastes presented on a sizzling hibachi.  It is the perfect entree with which to introduce diners (especially the non-adventurous) to Korean food.  They will quickly fall in love with the thin strips of lean beef marinated in fresh garlic and soy sauce then stir-fried with yellow and white onions and julienne carrots sprinkled with sesame seeds.   The “barbecue” sauce is wholly unlike American barbecue sauces in that  it’s not “lacquered” on, but penetrates the meat deeply with sweet, but not cloying notes. 

Korean meals traditionally include small plates of sundry appetizers and side dishes all served at the same time. Known as banchan, these side dishes are typically comprised of pickled, spiced and hot and spicy vegetables.  The specialty of any Korean family is kimchee, a fiery cabbage-based staple of Korea which is heavily seasoned with garlic and chile.  Arirang’s rendition is pleasantly piquant and pungent, but not as powerful as some fermented kimchee.  The best description I’ve read for banchan equates them to “Korean tapas.”

Assorted  unfermented salads known as namul and kimchee, a fiery fermented cabbage dish

9 June 2012: Imagine an American dish in which you threw together left-over remnants of favorite foods such as burgers, pizza, tacos and egg rolls, heated the menage, tossed it in a bowl with a fried egg and served it with salsa.  It doesn’t sound especially appealing.  Unlike Americans, Koreans have mastered the art of  “leftovers disguised as a gourmet dish” in a popular dish known as Bibimbap. It’s one of the most popular dishes in Korea and its popularity has been exported to Korean restaurants in America.  Arirang offers two versions, my favorite being Dolsot Bibimbap.  This version is served in a hot stone pot.

Dolsot Bibimbap starts with rice served in the hot stone bowl in which it is prepared, the rice at the bottom of the bowl crackling as it continues to cook and caramelize.  Layered atop the rice are slender strips of perfectly seared sirloin and namul, the aforementioned pickled and spiced vegetables in all their flavorful and colorful glory.  The dish is then crowned with a single fried egg.  You will then stir in gochujang, a Korean chili paste, to taste.  On the Scoville scale the chili paste won’t register very high, but it’s got a wonderfully fruity flavor with just enough bite to complement the dish.    This is a delicious dish with complementary and contrasting flavors coalescing wonderfully.

Dolsot Bibimbap

14 June 2016:  Over the past few months it’s been a highlight of my workweek to introduce my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and the Dazzling Deanell  to restaurants they might not otherwise have known about or visited.  We get together every Tuesday for lunch.  They were absolutely blown away by Arirang which Larry proclaimed “Best of Breed” among Korean restaurants.  One of the pleasures of dining with good friends is our mutual willingness to share the bounty of our table.  We think nothing of reaching over and spearing a forkful of food from each others’ plates.  This practice means we all sample more than just what each of us order. 

14 June 2016: One of the more interesting dishes on Arirang’s menu is JapChae, one of seven dishes on the “Noodles” section of the menu.  Its description: “stir-fried mixed vegetables, beef, vermicelli noodles and toasted sesame seeds” could frankly describe a noodle dish in virtually every other Asian culinary culture.  One of the most distinct aspects of this dish is the vermicelli which is slightly thicker than the vermicelli in say, Vietnamese cuisine.  The vermicelli is also made from mung bean, not rice noodles.  Vegetables are stir-fried to a crispy perfection and the beef has the telltale flavor of Korean barbecued beef with its sweet-savory notes.  Sesame seeds are a nice touch.

JapChae

The Arirang Oriental Market offers wonderful Korean comfort food at reasonable prices served by friendly attendants.  A meal here may inspire you to stock up from the treasures in the grocery aisles so that you can try replicating your experience.

Arirang Oriental Market
1826 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 255-9634
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 June 2016
1st VISIT: 9 June 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Dolsot Bibimbap, Bulgogi, Namul, Mandu, JapChae

Arirang Oriental Market Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

1 2 3