Lunch’er “Chris” Reports: Arirang’s Chicken Tastes Like Chicken

A few weeks ago Lunch’er “Chris6Sigma” was kind enough to check out the Korean Noodle Soup cart on 49th btw. 6+7th and report back.  This week he has turned his attention to Arirang in Koreatown, and sent in this report:

Arirang Entrance on 32nd St

Being ‘a chicken’ is a multilateral term, but is usually used in negative connotations. e.g. “The French were a bunch of surrender monkey chickens during WWII” or “What are you McFly… a chicken?” Similarly, ‘tasting like chicken’ is a phrase reserved for bland and unimaginative cuts of protein.

At Arirang (on 32nd btw. B’way+5th) the chicken… tastes like chicken. Americans have gotten so used to battering and deep frying their birds, smothering them with sauces, gravy and a heavy hand of spice, we’ve forgotten what chicken actually tastes like. In the process of commoditization and modernization, the once noble fowl has become so bland that it’s an unspoken requirement that a chicken be heavily seasoned or sauced to make it palatable.

However, the chicken soups at Arirang taste cleanly and boldly of chicken. Sheer poultry flavor, savory, fragrant, familiar, and yet exotic for those who grew up eating skinless boneless chicken breasts deep fried or smothered in mushroom gravy or some other Midwestern concoction.

Chicken Kal-Jaebi @ Arirang

The heavy broth is thickened with the starchy run-off from the kalguksu (knife-cut noodles) or the sujaebi (hand torn dough flakes). Sliced potatoes and a heap of curly scallions complete this rustic and hearty dish. At $9.50 for a giant bowl, it’s a hell of a bargain. In fact, I would recommend that you split a bowl amongst two diners and get an order of pajeon (savory pancakes) or dumplings to supplement. I guarantee that you won’t be able to finish it all.

Seafood pajeon @ Arirang

Speaking of pajeon, their seafood pajeon is beautifully crisp on the outside and sports a matrix of tender fresh vegetables, scallions, and seafood strata on the inside. You’re encouraged to mix your own dipping sauce and can augment your flavors with a squirt of soy sauce, vinegar, and red chili powder.

Kimchi @ Arirang

Service is relaxed and friendly, as is the atmosphere. Unlike the boisterous and cacophonous environment (which certainly has its time and place) of most Korean restaurants, Arirang is a relative nirvana. And like other ‘specialty’ Korean restaurants such as Gahm Mi Oak, panchan (side dishes) is minimal and consists of an excellently fermented napa cabbage kimchi and a daikon radish kimchi.

Finding this place can be a bit intimidating at first. It’s located on the 3rd floor of a cluttered commercial space, cloistered amongst salons and a karaoke joint (hint: look for the sign with the singing frog). Diners must travel up a cramped little elevator or up a dodgy looking staircase to reach the restaurant. Your every instinct is to turn around and go to one of the nicer looking spots, such as BCD or Shilla. But your perseverance will be rewarded with some amazing food. I mean what are you? Chicken?

The + (What someone who likes this place would say)

  • This chicken noodle soup is a gazillion times better than Mom ever made (sorry Mom!).
  • Arirang is a fairly quiet, secluded, and peaceful place to lunch in K-town.
  • The soup is relatively healthy, and kimchi is supposedly *really* good for your digestive system.
  • This is the only place in Manhattan where you can find kalguksu and sujaebi.

The – (What someone who dislikes this place would say)

  • Only soup and pancakes? Where’s the BBQ’d meat?
  • The panchan (side dishes) are skimpy.
  • $9.50 + tax & tip will break the $10 lunch threshold.
  • I can’t find the damn entrance!

Arirang, 32 West 32nd St (btw. B’way+5th), 212-967-5088


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