Popular culture is defined as “commonly known information that briefly holds the public interest. It is typically discussed in various mass media, including TV and the Internet, and becomes a topic of everyday conversation (what used to be called a “water cooler conversation” before that term fell from popularity). Apparently you’re out of touch with pop culture when you believe Game of Thrones is a video game and that Taylor Swift is a sprinter, the female equivalent of Usain Bolt.
Approaching forty years of youth, I’d probably be completely out of touch with pop culture were it not for our interns at UNM Information Technology. They do their best to educate this old fogey on what’s lit, cool, on fleek or whatever their generation’s version of groovy may be. My lack of pop culture knowledge puts me in the same company as their parents and grandparents, all of whom are clueless as to what’s important. While they might be less patient with their parents, they find my ignorance humorous. For example, when I walked in on a conversation they were having and overheard the term K-Pop, I asked if it was a Korean dish similar to bibimbap. I still haven’t lived that down.
K-Pop, as it turns out (other seasoned citizens might benefit from knowing, too) stands for Korean pop music.” According to the Los Angeles Film School, “K-pop is the internationally popular, aesthetic-driven, style-bending, trendsetting, music genre of the 21st century. Originating in South Korea, K-pop draws influence from a range of genres like pop, experimental, rock, hip-hop, R&B, electronic, and dance.” It doesn’t much appeal to me (and probably not to anyone else approaching their forties), but knowing what K-Pop is should prevent you from mistaking it for a Korean dish.
While researching K-Pop, I did come across an online post listing seven foods that K-Pop idols love to eat. If nothing else, the list reminded me we don’t visit Korean restaurants often enough. Some of that has to do with just how very few Korean restaurants there are in the metropolitan area. Then there’s the “out of sight, out of mind” factor; the few Korean restaurants there are seem to be located closer to Seoul than our Rio Rancho home.
“Researching K-Pop had the additional benefit of helping us locate a Korean restaurant we hadn’t visited. Hanmi Korean-Japanese Fusion is ensconced in a timeworn shopping center on Juan Tabo in a space that previously housed New Yorken and before that, Dagmar’s Restaurant & Strudel Haus. True to form, it’s about 800 miles and two time zones away from our home. Hanmi has been operating since just shortly before the closure of beloved Korean food institution and Northeast Heights neighbor Fu Yuang.
Hanmi, a Korean term which seems to have several meanings: shooting star, movement in the martial art Aikido) isn’t entirely unfamiliar. It’s owned and operated by Carol Chiang whose retirement was short-lived after selling Yummi House, the popular Chinese restaurant she ran for fifteen years. The vivacious Claudia, a server for ten years at the Yummi House, came with her. That’s a good thing. Claudia’s familiarization with the menu and knowledge of Korean food will help ensure you have a terrific dining experience.
So will the menu which not only features Korean and Chinese dishes, but dishes which fuse elements of both. It’s an intriguing menu with some of the usual Korean suspects–bulgogi, kimchi, seafood pancake and more–as well as some dishes you may not have tried before. Chinese dishes are mostly familiar, but look to the Korean style Chinese dishes for a more unique interpretation. The lunch specials section of the menu is primarily Chinese.
2 July 2022: Most of us have partaken of calamari, a very popular appetizer at restaurants of all stripes. Calamari is especially good at absorbing spices and aromas (much like tofu) though when not prepared well, it can have a rubbery texture. My Kim will tell you you’ve never had calamari until you’ve had Korean style calamari (squid). Contrary to the ring-shaped, deep-fried strips you’ve probably had, Hanmi’s version is more akin in shape to lump crab. Instead of ringlets, it’s presented as a crispy, crunchy lump of deep-fried batter enrobing calamari, carrots and garlic. Hanmi serves it with a soy-bases sauce (soy sauce, garlic, chili, sugar) for dipping. You may not want any other type of calamari after enjoying this one.
2 July 2022: According to Oprah’s website,”Leafy greens get all the antioxidant glory, but black-colored foods can also be loaded with health-promoting compounds. Research suggests that anthocyanins (pigments abundant in black, blue, and purple whole foods) may help lower your risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer—and make your skin glow. Most of us are challenged with naming more than one or two foods that are the color black. One of my favorite of all black foods is jajangmeyon (noodles in black bean sauce). Not only is it healthy, it’s absolutely delicious.
2 July 2022: Jajangmyeon, one of the most popular foods in Korea, is a special occasion dish, served during such events as graduation and birthdays. Fittingly it’s a symbolic dish eaten on Black Day (April 14), an unofficial holiday observed by single people commiserating with one another for lacking a romantic relationship. Just as pizza is the most popular home delivery dish in the United States, jajangmeyon is the home delivery dish of choice in Korea–for good reason. This is a fabulous dish created with Korean-style black bean paste made with fermented wheat flour, soybeans and caramel sauce. Its flavor profile is a melange of palate-pleasing tastes: bitterness, sourness, saltiness, sweetness and pungency in a multi-part harmony. It has the viscosity of syrup and of course, it’s a beautiful black dish.
2 July 2022: Another of Korea’s most beloved and traditional dishes also involves noodles. Japchae, sweet potato starch noodles stir fried with vegetables and meat (although the only vegetable my Kim wanted was onions) offers a variety of flavors and textures. The noodles, of course, are slightly slippery and chewy, requiring a deft touch with your fork. A light, refreshing taste with the pronounced flavor of garlic and your protein of choice makes it a favorite of my Kim’s, too. She passed up the opportunity to order bulgogi in order to order this thoroughly enjoyable dish.
20 September 2023: Bulgogi, perhaps the quintessential Korean dish is to Korean households what spaghetti and meatballs are to Italian Americans and matzo ball soup is to Ashkenazi Jews. It’s a ubiquitous dish and likely the first Korean dish to break into the “mainstream” of American culinary culture. Though it may be relatively new to the United States, Bulgogi’s origin stretches back to times before Christ. Commonly referred to in this country as “Korean barbecue,” Bulgogi is thinly sliced, marinated and charbroiled beef. It’s a luxurious dish with a slightly sweet marinade that (like Pad Thai in Thai restaurants) has become the favorite exotic dish of many Americans. My Kim loves it–and that’s an understatement. Though she could manage to polish off only half the dish, she woke up in the middle of the night craving it. Unlike her weak-willed husband who would have devoured it at 2AM, she saved it for lunch the following day. In her estimation, Hanmi’s bulgogi is the best in Albuquerque.
20 September 2023: As proud as my Kim and I are about our egalitarian marriage, there’s one thing we don’t share. Some foods are so offputting to my bashful bride that she won’t try them just as I can’t get myself to drink tea. Her aversion is especially true with pork blood (Basil Leaf) and squid (though interestingly she loves Hanmi’s calamari). She wouldn’t try Hanmi’s spicy squid, both because the texture is characteristically firm (some would say “rubbery”) and because it’s quite piquant. Any characterization of firm as rubbery or tough doesn’t really apply to Hanmi’s version. It’s just squid being squid and being absolutely delicious in a spicy gochujang-based sauce. Gochujang, a a thick, sticky condiment that’s spicy and very concentrated and pungent in flavor is quicky becoming one of my favorite Asian sauces–when used correctly. Hanmi uses it in an exemplary manner! The spicy dish also includes a hefty amount of eye-watering Thai peppers as well as sesame seeds and green onions. The spicy squid is so good there were no leftovers.
21 September 2023: Knowing my friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and I would be visiting Hanmi the following day, I asked our server about Sr Plata’s favorite Korean dish, Korean style beef ribs (Galbi). Our server assured us the beef ribs are one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes and that they are extraordinarily delicious as well as generously plated. The beef short ribs are marinated in a slightly sticky, sweet-savory sauce similar (but discernibly different) to the sauce used on bulgogi. In terms of thickness, there’s not much meat on each rib though they’re cut to ensure that meat extends far beyond the rib. There’s meat around the rib, too, and gnawing at it is delightfully primal.
21 September 2023: When Sr. Plata and I don’t find an appetizer to our liking, we often order a second entree. On this visit we were torn between fried chicken with garlic sauce and spicy fried chicken with chili sauce. Our server explained that even the fried chicken with garlic sauce had a piquant punch. That sealed it. At first glance, the fried chicken may remind you of caramel popcorn. Lightfully breaded with dual textures of crunchy exterior and pillowy soft interior the chicken is covered in a lacquer-like sauce that seals in moistness and flavor. In terms of flavor, this was one of the very best fried chicken dishes I’ve had in a Korean or Chinese restaurant. There’s a discernible hint of chili (especially if you accidentally–or deliberately–bite into one of the Thai chili peppers) and a prominent pungency from the garlic.
21 September 2023: Emily Post might debate the propriety of watching servers deliver a dish to another table–or even worse, asking other guests what it is–but we’ve found it an excellent way of discovering dishes we might enjoy during future visits. Sometimes, however, the aromas emanating from a dish leave a “vapor trail” that hints at what that dish is. Such was the case when a large bowl of mixed seafood soup noodle was ferried over to a table across the room. With just a hint of piquancy, the rich red soup is studded with clams, immitation crab, shrimp and squid as well as a gardenful of vegetables and a generous tangle of noodles. This soup is served in a swimming pool-sized bowl. The aromas are a precursor to just how delicious a seafood soup can be. This is one of the best I’ve had.
Beverage options include oolong tea and Ramune (Peach or Strawberry), a unique Japanese soda widely known for the distinctive engineering of its bottle. Made of glass and sealed with a marble, the bottle is opened by a puncturing device which pushes the marble inside the neck of the bottle where it rattles around while you drink it. If you’ve never had Ramune before, you’ll find it takes practice to stop the marble from blocking the flow of liquid. Its flavor is somewhat reminiscent of fizzy Kool Aid, but it’s not overly sweet.
Just as I didn’t know what K-Pop was, my interns have no clue about japchae or jajangmeyon. Maybe Korean food isn’t a pop culture favorite, but it is one of mine. NOTE: Every time we’ve asked one of Hanmi’s wonderful servers about a dish, they become visibly excited to describe it. Their enthusiasm for the menu and experiences in actually eating most entrees has inspired us to try dishes we might not otherwise have tried. It’s not every server who shows as much enthusiasm about a restaurant’s dishes as they do at Hanmi.
2120 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 21 September 2023
1st VISIT: 2 July 2022
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Spicy Squid, Bulgogi, Soybean Paste Noodle with Kimchi and Pickled Daikon, Chapchae, Korean Style Beef Ribs, Seafood Soup