Does Food Gallery 32 Make Better Kimbap Than E-Mo?

food gallery 32 and e-mo

Kimbap is an ideal lunch item for me. It’s cheap, travels well, packs an even and flavorful dose of carbs, proteins, veggies, and it doesn’t suffer if I get pulled into a meeting and it sits on my desk for hours until I finally get to it.

Whenever I get the hankering for kimbap and I’m close to Koreatown, E-Mo (‘Aunt’ in Korean) has always been my go to. I get sentimental when it comes to this place as well – it’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall that’s been around forever, and the old Korean lady that assembles the kimbap to-order is as sweet as can be (at least when she’s not scolding me for my embarrassing lack of conversational Korean). It may not be the best kimbap I’ve ever had, but compared to the other options in K-town, it always held its own. That is until Food Gallery 32 opened up across the street, and started selling its own version of made-to-order kimbap at the Boon Sik Zip stall.

A comparison between the two was inevitable, so we set off to do a head-to-head assessment in our highly unscientific analysis.

kimbap top - side to side

For consistency sake, the bulgogi kimbap at both restaurants were used for this study, and both items were ordered during a fairly busy lunch service, ensuring sufficient product turnover and freshness. Food Gallery 32’s version (on the left) rang up at $5.99 + tax, and credit cards are an acceptable form of payment. E-Mo’s bulgogi kimbap (on the right) was a flat $5.50, and it should be noted that they’re cash only. Side-by-side, Food Gallery 32’s kimbap is clearly more food compared to E-Mo’s. Also, E-Mo doesn’t include a side of danmuji (pickled daikon), which gives a nice contrasting crunch and zing to the kimbap.

kimbap cross section - side to side

A glance at the cross section also reveals a clear winner in terms of fillings. Food Gallery 32’s kimbap (on the left) is nearly all fillings, with rice making up perhaps only 20% of the body. I also noted that Food Gallery 32 warmed their bulgogi in the microwave (E-Mo served theirs luke-warm), and that the resulting kimbap was juicier and more flavorful than E-Mo’s. I also picked up more distinct hints of sesame oil in Food Gallery 32’s version, and the rice had an edge in freshness and fluffiness.

soup side by side

At this point, the scales are tipped heavily in Food Gallery 32’s favor, and comparing the complimentary bowls of odeng guk (fish cake soup) won’t help E-Mo’s case either. E-Mo’s (on the right) soup was certainly refreshing, but a tad on the salty side, wan, and lacked any actual odeng. On the other hand, Food Gallery 32’s version had 4-5 generous strips of odeng, and was a decidedly richer and more flavorful.

As much as it pains me to write and publish this, E-Mo’s era of kimbap dominance may be coming to a close. Food Gallery 32’s version, while $.50 more expensive, edges out E-Mo’s kimbap in almost every category – size, flavor, freshness, and ancillary factors (soup, danmuji, method of payment, etc). The nostalgic and sentimental side of me will always prefer E-Mo, but the practical side of me must admit that Food Gallery 32, without a doubt, serves a better version.

Food Gallery 32, 11 W 32nd St (btw. B’way+5th)
E-Mo, 2 W 32nd St (btw. B’way+5th)

22 Comments

  • good idea!

    http://feistyfoodie.com/2011/03/29/tuesdays-with-tt-food-gallery-32-paris-baguette/

    i guess i only Koreans get more fishcake in their soup? :(

  • Nice comparison post!

    Does Woo Ree Jip still make kimbap? I wonder how theirs would compare to these two locations?

  • The one on the right is more aesthetically pleasing but the one on the left looks like it would taste better. Does that make sense? I think if they actually rolled the kimbap correctly at boonshikship it wouldn’t look quite as impressive.

  • E-Mo’s looks more balanced. But they need to step up their soup game, its 2011, and its not hard to make miso soup from scratch.

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    I’m a little confused. On the left side there are 9 big pieces and on the right there 12 smaller pieces. Did you reconstruct the pieces on the right side and did a size comparison of each roll before you noted which was the bigger piece?

    Just wondering…

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    I think the comparisons are a bit unjustified:

    -$5.99 plus tax is $6.52 total at FG32 vs $5.50 out the door at E-mo’s. I think that $1.02 would make a big difference to Midtownlunchers. Plus, if you don’t have at least $5.50 cash in your pocket, you’ve got money issues and you shouldn’t be eating out anyway.

    -Although there isn’t a side of danmuji at E-mo’s, it should be noted that they do include it inside of the actual kimbap. Having it on the side is nice but not completely necessary. It’s like getting a hot dog with sauerkraut and getting some more sauerkraut on the side. Kind of. Just because you get something as inconsequential as extra danmuji on the side doesn’t necessarily make one place taste better than the other. Are you really going to take that extra bite of danmuji per bite when it’s already in the kimbap? Or is this a case of “a dish is better just because I got some more of something even though I don’t necessarily need it or want it”.

    -I think that FG32′s kimbap doesn’t have nearly enough rice. After all, kim bap is literally translated to seawead laver and cooked rice. Having more rice makes the kimbap flavor better balanced, gives it a rounded bite, and structural integrity. See how the FG32′s is sagging? That results in a kimpbap that falls apart and doesn’t give that nice solid bite you should get from kimpbap or futomaki, a distant cousin.

    -Distinct hints of sesame oil? The skin of kimbap is usually coated in sesame oil which is what gives it some shine and flavor. Some of the vegetables in all kimbaps also contain sesame oil. Plus, sesame oil’s flavor is so strong, I don’t think it could ever give it a distinct hint.

    -Kimbap is traditionally served luke warm/room temperature. This should be stated.

    -Korean rice is never fluffy. It’s more starchy and pasty. Not as much sticky rice but definitely more than a fluffy Uncle Ben’s.

    -As for the soup, I don’t think E-mo’s promises fish cake soup. That’s why there isn’t any in there. It’s a bowl of beef broth that’s supposed to be cleansing and help wash down the kim-bap. It’s more traditional and common. Comparing the soups doesn’t make sense.

    I really enjoy some of these comparisons and reviews but if one is going to be writing these for the masses, one must take responsibility and post factually. I know that the author is Korean and probably knows all of this or feels like it’s a bit redundant to make certain facts clear but the facts above should be written in. Please note that I don’t care about either of these restaurants. I just feel that writing a review without being clear/factual isn’t responsible blogging and just adds to the idea that food fanatical people (like yelpers) are more fanatics as personal hobbies and their critiques should not be taken as 100% concrete. But then again, you can’t exactly trust all the professional food critics out there either. Bottom line is, go find out for yourself and help these small businesses stay in business by eating there instead of McDonald’s. This says nothing of Midtown Lunch. I love reading it.

    This is just my opinion, just as the author of this post is entitled to his.

    • All 100% fair points. But again, this was not a scientific nor a structured analysis. I was trying to present the facts in a visual manner, and make a few points here and there about what stood out to me.

      Re: Rice – I admit that ‘fluffy’ is not 100% accurate when describing Korean rice. However, I wanted to give Boonshik Jip credit for having better rice than E-Mo’s, which was on my visit, a little on the stale side.

      “I know that the author is Korean and probably knows all of this or feels like it’s a bit redundant to make certain facts clear but the facts above should be written in.”
      >> yes, you’re 100% correct on this – I thought it would be a bit long winded to write out every nuance of kimbap which is why I summarized the experience into a few points that I thought were notable.

      Thx for the feedback – again they’re all valid and accurate points. And of course everyone is entitled to their opinions, especially when it comes to food. :)

    • this could be the best critique of a blog post i’ve ever read. systematic, point-by-point, not ad hominem. thank you. usually when we have people commenting right after they’ve joined, it’s a painfully obvious shill.

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      Right on, bobbysoups. I agree that the Boon Sik Zip picture looks like it doesn’t have enough rice. And I agree that the extra danmuji is a non-factor. I’ve never eaten E-mo and thought, “Gee I wish I had some more of this yellow stuff.” (That’s what I call it because I’m not Korean.) Also, a dollar is not a lot of money, but when you’re talking about $5.50 vs $6.50, it’s a serious factor.

      Full disclosure: I’ve never had kimbap from Boon Sik Zip out of loyalty to E-mo. (That, and I sort of got tired of kimbap in general.) But I’ve had a couple other items from Boon Sik Zip (dduk-bok-ki and fried sweet potato), both of which were “meh,” and the service there seems a bit surly, in contrast to the rest of Gallery 32 which always seems very friendly.

      But keep up the good work, Chris H.

  • I haven’t had kimbap in a while. The FG version looks like it is worth pursuing.

    Steve and Chris, not really related, but where can I get the best onigiris/ rice balls in Midtown?

    • I would say Cafe Zaiya.

      One of stalls at FG has rice balls, but they are pretty small.

      • I don’t get the onigiri at Cafe Zaiya any more. They started refrigerating their onigiri (and fried chicken sandwiches), i’m guessing due to the “C” they got from the DOH. Cold onigiri = sad ESNY

      • Zaiya is a weekly lunch staple for me now. I guess I was hoping for other places to compare. All good. I have yet to eat at oms/b.

        And they can be warm if you get there at a certain time (I’ve been around 1pm and felt a few were warmish so perhaps earlier). If not, nuke that cold rice! The seaweed doesn’t need to be warm.

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    FYI – I went to order kimbap at Boon Sik Zip and it took a really long time because they had to make new rice. But that was good, because I was able to see them making the rice and dumping a massive amount of mayonnaise into the mix. When I went back to the ordering station to ask “Do you put mayo in your rice?” he answered yes as if it was the classic preparation.
    Maybe it was, but as someone who can’t eat mayonnaise because of food allergies I was pretty surprised to find this out. Maybe this is why their rice is so fluffy? Is this normal?

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