A visit to New York Koreatown

On the rare occasions when I have to travel to New York to see my US co-workers I always try to pay a visit to 32nd Street. The two places I make sure to visit are Koryo Books and AM Records — and I also scout round to see if I like the look of a different restaurant.

Koryo Books

Since I last visited about 18 months ago, Koryo Books has started up a largish VHS and DVD rental operation. And it’s also expanded its collection of Korean literature in translation. The rest of its English-language collection (right) remains focused on language tuition, while the top shelf is has a racy assortment of tomes on shamanism and a Who’s Who of Korean Americans. Still disappointing is the absence of general history books or of foreign literature with a Korean angle.

I asked yesterday at the Cultural Centre where is the best place in New York to buy English language books on Korea, but they were unable to help (to be fair, I think some of the key people were out of the office yesterday). So until someone tells me of a wonderful bookshop in Manhattan I’m afraid it’s 1-0 to London. The combination of Daunt, SOAS and the Bloomsbury second-hand bookshops beats Koryo Books hollow.

AM RecordsCD shopping more than evens the score. You can always be sure of a good welcome from Jay Kim at AM Records. He might not have everything on my shopping list, but I never leave empty-handed. I arrived yesterday with a wishlist provided by Anna (in a comment at the bottom of my Music page) at Helikoppter. Mr Kim was stumped by quite a bit of it (apparently, Anna, you’re on the Underground side of Indie). He found me some 해바라기, but all the other stuff I’m going to have to source from Mr Kwang or Annyoung. But I picked up a couple of other things which had been on my radar for a bit. Uhm Jung-hwa’s raunchy marketing style brought her singing career to my attention, so I am now the proud owner of her 9th, while Fly To the Sky’s Transition came with a recommendation from another visitor to this site.

And as usual, Mr Kim put a range of CDs into the shop’s sound system in an effort to broaden my musical experience. Over time, he’s got to know the sort of stuff I like (in fact he keeps recommending stuff he sold me last time or the time before). After a slow start (he should have known better than to put on a mediocre collection of ballads) he persuaded me to listen again to Humming Urban Stereo and also introduced me to Casker. Reviews will be forthcoming in due course.

Mr Kim at AM Records

So I left with a good haul, including a couple of compilation CDs he always throws in to whet my appetite for more. Koryo Books also sells CDs (and DVDs, as does Mr Kim), but their display is very un-foreigner-friendly, and they expect you to know what you want. In all though, because as far as I know London has no store which sells Korean CDs, I think the aggregate score has got to be 2-1 to Manhattan.
Restaurants? My New York correspondent tells me that if you want good Korean food in the Tri-state area you’ve got to go to Queens or New Jersey. That coincides with my own view that no Korean restaurant in Manhattan matches what you can get in central London; but Manhattan is definitely cheaper and you get the kimchis thrown in for free. The typical Manhattan kimchi-chigae is $8, as opposed to around £8 in London. So New York is half price. But I like quality so the score is now 2-2.

3rd floor bar

Bars? I don’t know of any in central London. But I’m very comfortable knocking back the lychee sojutail at the 3rd Floor bar at 315 5th Avenue at 32nd Street. Wander into an entrance which looks like a clothes shop, press button 3 on the lift and you get taken to a bar known only to the cognoscenti. Soju cocktails with dried squid is a great way to start the evening. I am grateful to my New York correspondent for taking me there. Repay the compliment: buy his CDs and listen to his music.

3rd floor bar

And Manhattan wins 3-2

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3 thoughts on “A visit to New York Koreatown

  1. I was hoping that the above post would bring out some proud New Yorkers with some recommendations. Tarik and Suki duly obliged by email:

    Gam Mee Ok (감미옥 43 W 32nd St) has excellent kimchi – *really* excellent. They have the ability to make it super-crispy, while still heavily marinated (it’s not the nasty soggy kimchi).

    But it’s not a barbecue place. It’s a soup and meat place – it’s famous for its kimchi, so do give it a go. But the most famous thing its famous for is its ‘hangover’ soup, described in the following website as follows:
    “oxtail-and-bone-marrow soup — a subtle, satisfying milky-white bowl of soup with rice noodles and beef that you season at your table with Korean sea salt and chopped scallions”. It’s DAMN good.

    http://www.fodors.com/miniguides/mgresults.cfm?destination=new_york_city@111&cur_section=din&property_id=267358

    One other thing you might be interested in knowing is that almost all the places on 32nd street are actually branches of larger versions in New Jersey – Gam Mee Ok (or Gam Me Oak, or Gahm Mee Oak etc) is one such place.

    Here’s a Times review of the same place – it’s one of the places that non-Koreans never go in, which is why it’s actually good:

    http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guides/north-america/united-states/new-york/new-york-city/restaurant-detail.html?vid=1002207987386

    Go there next time and try the Korean haggis!

    Hope this is of interest …

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