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Great Korean in a Tijuana mall

It’s called Chopstix Comida Coreana

Galbi beef ribs, white sticky rice, salad with danmuji, and a side of kimchi
Galbi beef ribs, white sticky rice, salad with danmuji, and a side of kimchi

In Tijuana, if you crave sushi you are limited to two things: bad but cheap sushi or decent sushi in a fancy sit-down restaurant. I knew that the Friki Plaza, the nerdy mall where Dorian’s used to be, had a Shigeru Sushi Express in their food court. Shigeru is a chain of very bad yet reasonably priced attempts at sushi. Usually, the horrible sushi is covered in the many sauces they provide to mask how cheap the ingredients are. But my cravings were so bad that Shigeru was my destiny.

The mall offers dozens of food choices

As I made my way through the food court, before getting to Shigeru I noticed a spot that I’ve never seen before, Chopstix Comida Coreana. Korean products littered the counter space and the shelves. An improvised menu hangs from the ceiling with an overwhelming choice of options and three selections of “Korean sushi,” better known by its real name kimbap (or gimpab). I peeked inside and saw a Korean man eating tacos de adobada with chopsticks.

Kimchi kimbap and a Korean peach soda

With difficulty, I told the Korean guy I wanted the kimchi kimbap for $5 (misspelled on their menu as kimbab) and chose a random Korean soda. He did not speak much English or Spanish, so when ordering I communicated by pointing.

I waited 15 minutes, and I was presented with a Styrofoam box with the kimbap. Chopsticks were provided, and the paper wrapping wished me good luck. The roll was outstanding, especially since I was expecting nothing better than half decent. The kimbap had a strong and semi-spicy kimchi taste. I added sriracha and soy for a bit more flavor. The soda tasted similar to Fanta.

Korean treats and pear nectar juice

I haven’t had Korean food since years back when I lived near Koreatown in Los Angeles. I have never seen any Korean restaurants in Tijuana, despite Koreans being the third largest Asian population south of the border (behind Chinese and Japanese). Chopstix kimbap was so good that I went in the next day and repeated my order, this time chosing a different Korean soda. This time it tasted like mineral water with a hint of peach.

Moo Jung Kim, inside of Chopstix

I went a third time, this time determined to know more about the place and its history, but communicating with the Korean cook was next to impossible. I learned his name, Moo Jung Kim, and that he has been in Tijuana for five years. Chopstix opened five months ago, and they have a store across the hall dedicated to K-Pop named Mooss.

Mooss, K-Pop store counter across from Chopstix

I ordered the most expensive thing in the menu, the galbi — beef short-ribs in a semi-sweet sauce for $9 with a side of rice, kimchi, and a salad. It also came in a Styrofoam container.

The rice was simple — flavorless, sticky white rice. The kimchi was delicious and everything you expect from a small kimchi side. The salad was coleslaw with a sweetish dressing (like Thousand Island) plus three small slices of danmuji. Danmuji, known as Takuan in Japan, is a pickled daikon radish.

The beef ribs were praiseworthy. The meat came off the bone with ease, and though it was a bit chewy, it was delicious. I never expected such quality at a mall.

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Galbi beef ribs, white sticky rice, salad with danmuji, and a side of kimchi
Galbi beef ribs, white sticky rice, salad with danmuji, and a side of kimchi

In Tijuana, if you crave sushi you are limited to two things: bad but cheap sushi or decent sushi in a fancy sit-down restaurant. I knew that the Friki Plaza, the nerdy mall where Dorian’s used to be, had a Shigeru Sushi Express in their food court. Shigeru is a chain of very bad yet reasonably priced attempts at sushi. Usually, the horrible sushi is covered in the many sauces they provide to mask how cheap the ingredients are. But my cravings were so bad that Shigeru was my destiny.

The mall offers dozens of food choices

As I made my way through the food court, before getting to Shigeru I noticed a spot that I’ve never seen before, Chopstix Comida Coreana. Korean products littered the counter space and the shelves. An improvised menu hangs from the ceiling with an overwhelming choice of options and three selections of “Korean sushi,” better known by its real name kimbap (or gimpab). I peeked inside and saw a Korean man eating tacos de adobada with chopsticks.

Kimchi kimbap and a Korean peach soda

With difficulty, I told the Korean guy I wanted the kimchi kimbap for $5 (misspelled on their menu as kimbab) and chose a random Korean soda. He did not speak much English or Spanish, so when ordering I communicated by pointing.

I waited 15 minutes, and I was presented with a Styrofoam box with the kimbap. Chopsticks were provided, and the paper wrapping wished me good luck. The roll was outstanding, especially since I was expecting nothing better than half decent. The kimbap had a strong and semi-spicy kimchi taste. I added sriracha and soy for a bit more flavor. The soda tasted similar to Fanta.

Korean treats and pear nectar juice

I haven’t had Korean food since years back when I lived near Koreatown in Los Angeles. I have never seen any Korean restaurants in Tijuana, despite Koreans being the third largest Asian population south of the border (behind Chinese and Japanese). Chopstix kimbap was so good that I went in the next day and repeated my order, this time chosing a different Korean soda. This time it tasted like mineral water with a hint of peach.

Moo Jung Kim, inside of Chopstix

I went a third time, this time determined to know more about the place and its history, but communicating with the Korean cook was next to impossible. I learned his name, Moo Jung Kim, and that he has been in Tijuana for five years. Chopstix opened five months ago, and they have a store across the hall dedicated to K-Pop named Mooss.

Mooss, K-Pop store counter across from Chopstix

I ordered the most expensive thing in the menu, the galbi — beef short-ribs in a semi-sweet sauce for $9 with a side of rice, kimchi, and a salad. It also came in a Styrofoam container.

The rice was simple — flavorless, sticky white rice. The kimchi was delicious and everything you expect from a small kimchi side. The salad was coleslaw with a sweetish dressing (like Thousand Island) plus three small slices of danmuji. Danmuji, known as Takuan in Japan, is a pickled daikon radish.

The beef ribs were praiseworthy. The meat came off the bone with ease, and though it was a bit chewy, it was delicious. I never expected such quality at a mall.

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Comments
2

I’m Gwang-chul Chang from Global Error Monitoring Staff under the KOCIS (Korean Culture and Information Service) of Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism of Korean Government and also from Korea Industrial Field Professor in Korea. My volunteering is for changing the wrong image about Korea, including Korean language, Korean culture, history, territorial issues, and her country brand. Not only that, I also try to promote Korea through various events. I research errors on web pages and request for its change.

While reading your story, I found the editorial error about ‘Gimbap’, that you wrote as ‘Kimbap or Kimbab’. Although it is spread error, I think that using the right term about small contents would be the first step to fully understand Korea. According to MIFAFF (Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) and NIKL (National Institute of Korean Language), ‘Gimbap’ is the only right one. Therefore if you change the word from ‘Kimbap or Kimbab’ to Gimbap, it would be better for the meaning of report by using “Gimbap.” The use of right terms about Korea would be better for the future development of your media. (Based on the following:)

1) International Korean Menu Guide : http://www.hansik.org/en/board.do?cmd=list&bbs_id=050&menu=PEN4040000&lang=en

2) Korean Menu Guide (PDF File) : http://www.hansik.org/kr/board.do?cmd=list&bbs_id=237&menu=PKR4030200&lang=kr

3) English (Romanization of Korea) : http://www.korean.go.kr/front_eng/roman/roman_01.do

4) SmartPhone App (Translation of Korean Food in Your Language) : http://www.hansik.org/en/article.do?cmd=html&menu=PEN4050100&lang=en

5) SmartPhone App (HalalKorea for Muslim) : http://www.hansik.org/en/article.do?cmd=html&menu=PEN4050300&lang=en

Best Regards,

Gwang-chul Chang

May 28, 2016

This is good to know. Thank you Gwang-chul Chang!

From now on, every Korean restaurant I visit I will let them know that Gimbap is the correct spelling stated by the Global Error Monitoring Staff under the KOCIS (Korean Culture and Information Service) of Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism of Korean Government.

It should be noted that the wikipedia page for Gimbap has both Gimbap and Kimbap as an acceptable denomination. A great start would be fixing the wikipedia page for it's right nomenclature.

Also noted that the restaurant spelled it as "kimbab." Next time I visit I will let Moo Jung know that it should be gimbap.

Thanks again, Matthew Suárez

May 28, 2016

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