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Reader Fare: Sul Lung Tang & Its Formidable Sides

“I don’t think you’ll like this,” the waiter said, “It’s very traditional.”

I’d just ordered Sul Lung Tang, a soup made with bone broth, tripe, scallions, noodles and beef that is Korea’s preferred way to tame a hangover.

“Have you had it before?”

I hadn’t.

But after Taxi Gourmet reader Paul raved about Sul Lung Tang and its curative powers, I knew I had to try it. Saturday afternoon, I hauled my head cold over to Han Bat, beyond ready to check out his favorite place for this Korean countryside specialty.

Like so many restaurants in New York City that cater to recent immigrants, Han Bat has parallel menus and different ways of dealing with customers, depending on their perceived origins.

At Han Bat, combination fried rice, Bul Go Ki (marinated sliced beef) and chicken teriyaki serve as universal crowd pleasers. Meanwhile, U Jok Sara Moo Chim (ox leg jello with mixed vegetables in spicy sauce) and Sul Lung Tang are prepared for a different set of expectations, reminding Koreans what home tastes like (and introducing the uninitiated to something authentic).

That Han Bat embraces this menu duality is totally understandable. After all, New York is one of the fiercest restaurant markets in the world. You can stay true to tradition, but most surviving eateries make some effort to bow to the popular palate. How hard to hold on? How much to let go? For every restaurant, the answer is different.

Even as I defied the waiter’s resistance to my Sul Lung Tang order, I knew where it was coming from. My tastes weren’t calibrated for The Soup. I wasn’t going to be a happy customer.

Naturally, when he set the bowl of bone broth before me, I wanted to adore The Soup in spite of him, to show him just how enlightened my palate was.

He disappeared before I took my first bite.

Left alone to decode the flavors in the milky broth, I couldn’t dispute their soothing qualities. Thin slices of beef had been pulverized into tenderness by hours and hours of simmering. Scallions thrown in at the last minute added some crunch and brightness. Still, I felt as if I was eating the equivalent of an abstract painting. I knew I should like it – its technique was solid, its execution flawless – but I wasn’t sure why.

The side dishes that came with The Soup didn’t create any confusion. Green beans seasoned with sesame oil, cucumbers marinated in red chili, kimchee, and fried tofu with red and green peppers were pungent and garlicky in all the right places.

But in the end it was the Sul Lung Tang that made me fall more deeply in love with New York.

For me, The Soup was a portal into unknown food territory. For Han Bat, it’s a celebration of roots and slow cooking and comfort food, thousands of miles removed and true as ever.

Han Bat
53 West 35th St. between 5th/6th Aves. – Garment District
Tel. 212-629-5588/5603
Appetizers/Mains: $8.95-$40.95
Open: 24 hours (!)
Credit Cards Accepted

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