With the conclusion of Michigan State University’s spring semester, it’s once again safe to visit East Lansing’s eateries. I took advantage of this opportunity and visited Kimchi Box, in the former location of Espresso Royale, where I spent countless hours overcaffeinated and attempting to study, instead using Google to obsessively complete every crossword puzzle I could get my hands on. I think it was briefly a Middle Eastern restaurant before Kimchi Box took over this year. Korean fried chicken being a mild obsession of mine, I’ve had my sights set on eating there for a while now.
I treated a friend to lunch for her birthday, so, naturally, we had to order a feast. We shared a small order of wings — half Korean Sassy, half Garlic Soy — two fish tacos and Duk-bok-ki, which we upgraded to the supreme version. The wings were great — crispy and drenched in both the wonderful sauces — and the fish tacos were fine, if a bit bland. Dipping the tacos in the Duk-bok-ki is really what saved them, and that’s one reason the stew deserves the most attention.
A featured player of Korean cuisine, dukbokki (or tteokbokki) is a stew seasoned with gochujang, a spicy red chili paste. Kimchi Box’s version is filled with dense, chewy, cylindrical rice cakes and ribbons of fish cake, which have a texture similar to fried tofu skin. There’s also cabbage, green onion, a boiled egg and, if you order the supreme version, a layer of mozzarella cheese on top as well as two varieties of dumplings to submerge. One is a bundle of cellophane noodles that are wrapped in seaweed and lightly battered and fried, and the other is a mandu dumpling filled with pork, tofu, garlic and ginger.
Classified, to my understanding, as comfort food in Korea, this dish is heavy and heady, and if you like kimchi, you’re bound to enjoy the flavors in dukbokki. My favorite part is the texture of the rice cakes, which are like the thickest, silkiest noodles I’ve ever had. The fish cake and seaweed dumplings imbue the stew with seafood flavors and excellent texture. That, along with the green onion, offers a bright counterpoint to the rich noodles, but the cheese brings it back to decadent in all the right ways.
Kimchi Box also offers two versions of the very trendy Korean corn dog: potato or mozzarella on a stick, breaded and fried and dusted with sugar. Personally, I’m intrigued by the Honey Butter Powder wings and fries. I also feel like all these options would be even better dipped in dukbokki.
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