Korean food is often characterized by its dishes laced with fiery chili paste, the tang of fermentation and an abundance of heavenly marbled meats. But there's a more subtle side to Korean cuisine. Today's focus is juk — traditional slow-cooked Korean rice porridge similar to Chinese congee.
The recently opened BonJuk (2645 N. Berkeley Lake Road, Unit 140, Duluth; 770-232-1944; www.bonjukatl.com), an outpost of a Korea-based chain, specializes in a porridge that purportedly bestows health benefits and promotes "well being." Like many of the newly opened Korean restaurants in our growing "Koreatown" of Duluth, the restaurant is minimally decorated in sleek, light wood. Servers are all smiles and even pack a handy Korean-English electronic translator so no question goes unanswered.
Many might call the porridge bland, but its satiny texture and the soothing effect it imparts makes it a craveable dish worth your consideration. Each massive bowl arrives on a tidy tray with smaller bowls of cabbage kimchi, jerkylike shreds of beef, a bowl of chilled water kimchi and a tiny cup of sweet plum tea. The savory chicken porridge is packed with tiny shreds of tender chicken, flecks of green onion, bits of carrot and crowned with a curl of bitter, fresh ginseng, ground sesame seeds, powdery seaweed and a single date. The dish lacks salt that, strangely, is not missed. If you're still not sold, ask for some of the spicy sauce served with the restaurant's pristine bibimbap for some kick.
The menu, which is broken into "Traditional Healthy Porridge" and "Nutritional Sweet Porridge," has plenty of other choices, ranging from abalone to oyster and mushroom to a bright orange sweet pumpkin. Each item has its own questionable health claim that, while earnest, may serve more as comic relief for you and your tablemates. A meal that helps my complexion and urination? Bottoms up!