As a I child, I struggled with my weight. What doting mother wouldn't feed her child a second or third helping of dinner; how could she refuse those chubby cheeks and beseeching requests for more food? But when she tired of punching extra holes in my belt and fielding subtle nudges from my baseball coach who thought I'd find a bit more success in Little League if I trimmed down a bit, I was put on a diet.
But it wasn't really a diet, per se. It wasn't salads or a sad heaps of steamed vegetables. It was back-to-the-roots Korean food. It was vibrant bowls of bibimbap and low-fat and inexpensive kettles of tang, or soups. Bin dae duk (mung bean pancakes), rich in dietary fiber, replaced the sometimes starchy and overly refined pajeon (scallion pancakes). The Korean diet, at its core, is essentially health food. It's seldom the luscious strips of samgyeopsal (pork belly) or velvety slabs of galbi (short rib), which seep opulence and fat (although both are meant to be eaten with plenty of raw veggies). The everyday meal speaks in vegetables, seasonal and fresh. It demands dietary fiber and it sparingly utilizes economy cuts of animal protein. And it would be unforgivable if it were ever bland or boring. Mediterranean diet be damned, we're on to something here.
I was first introduced to Gahwa by friends who raved about their seolleongtang ($8.99), a startlingly milky soup that achieves its color and viscosity from laboriously boiling ox bones for several days. At Gahwa, the broth is fortified by a bit a few slices of beef, a handful of rice, and wisps of wheat noodles. But the star of the show here is that gorgeous bone broth, which diners coddle at the table with an augmentation of salt and chopped scallions.
Friends also spoke dreamily of Gahwa's excellent preparation of dolsot bibimbap ($13.95), a beautifully arranged package of fresh namul, or seasoned vegetables, and a bit of crumbled beef on a bed of rice in an ultra hot stone bowl. The mixture is meant to be cut with a dollop of sweet and spicy gochujang, and topped with an over-easy egg, and then energetically mixed amid a sizzle and pop.
The hot stone bowl achieves serious carmelization, or nurungji, and the diner gets the satisfaction of executing the final stage of cooking. After all, one is always more affectionate towards their dinner if they've cooked it themselves. If slaving over a hot stone bowl isn't your thing, Gahwa also serves a commendable cold version ($12.95), no less vibrant or satisfying.
If you're dining here, the bin dae duk ($8.95) is not to be missed. This pancake prominently features egg to bind the ground mung beans and finely chopped scallion, bean sprouts and pork. In fact, it was so wonderfully eggy that I was immediately reminded of a tortilla, the Spanish omelette that rounds out many a great tapas menu. And while you're at it, share a bottle of soju ($6) or two, or three. They're a steal here, compared to Gahwa's peers along Northern Boulevard or in Manhattan's K-Town.
My physique has since come to terms with what is an outwardly acceptable body type for your average on-the-go New Yorker. But that doesn't mean the diet of my youth has been discounted. I'm grateful to my mother for nudging me towards a healthier lifestyle, and I'm grateful for a restaurant like Gahwa to act as her surrogate.
2932 Union St, Flushing NY 11354 (map)