Chasing Kogi Truck

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I could never live in LA…  What can I say?  I’m a city person.  LA is NOT a city.  It’s a glorified suburb if anything, run by GYM-hugging, yogurt-dipping and smoothie-drinking fitness-zombies who cares more for over-sized sunglasses than foods.  And I’m afraid we can’t be friend if you told me you want to give up culture in exchange for a place with no seasons…  Yeah that’s snow.  It’s called winter.  But let’s just say in an alternate universe where I fell in love with a cellulite-free buttocks over butter, and a car engine over my vintage bikes, and decided that I COULD actually live in LA… what would I be doing there everyday on my carbon-emitting vehicle?

I would be gladly chasing the Kogi truck.

(Jason: “dude… you live in Beijing…”)

What is the Kogi truck, and what wicked spell does it have on me?  Legend has it that there runs an elusive, ever-moving vehicle only seen by the most faithful of followers around its holy habitat that is LA, said to carry the most explosive and satisfying one-bite-wonder come to known as – Korean BBQ tacos.  And how does an East-coaster who’s been wrongly displaced to an even-further continent come to know of such legend?  Well, let’s just say I’ve been on a spiritual communication with the Kogi truck via my satellite dish for quite some time now… digitally.  I believe “grok” is the word… that is… never physically… which is… I’ve never had it.  Yes… again!  I really want to avoid looking like a fraud who post recipes based her own imaginations on how OTHER THINGS would taste.  But believe me, I WISH I have been on the back of the Kogi truck like a dog on legs, exhausted a shameful effort of “human-relations”in exchange for its secret recipe and FINALLY, publish it for the greater good of all mankind.  I WISH.

But please be so kind to remember that I am the victim of a brutal relocation, and the next-best-thing is my own most vigorously crafted replica based on the bits-and-pieces of information gathered and intels leaked by informants within its cult followers.  Of course I am not the only blogger who has beat this drum.  There are many sites out there claiming a Kogi taco recipe and I’ve read a good number of them which leads me to say: I thank you for all the references, but I believe none of them actually did it for me.  First for some, it’s a stretch to name something a replica if the product doesn’t even look remotely like its original.  Second, many over-simplified and didn’t seemed to have listened closely and carefully to the gospel from the cult leader himself, Roy Choi.  Listen… I heard… “thirty-something ingredients in the marinate”… “pear and kiwi”… “sweet and savory”… the online scripture reads “cilantro-lime relish”, “soy-chili vinaigrette”, “salsa roja”… plus the temple itself takes on the form of flat griddle where meat sizzles and caramelizes in its own fat.

Of course I have MORE respect for the legend to insultingly say that my replica is the same.  It is only my imagination after all.  I streamlined the recipe to “only” 17 ingredients in the marinate because I can’t figure the rest out to make it easier for you guys. I have also tweaked the condiments to adapt to my liking.  For one, I CANNOT stand cilantro ESPECIALLY raw, so I scrapped the cilantro and moved the lime in “cilantro-lime relish” to the salad.  I’ve also moved the Korean chili paste – gochujang – from the salad dressing to the marinate because the slight sweetness in the paste can caramelize nicely and deepen in flavor, plus it also gives the meat a beautiful red sheen.  And it would save you some time to substitute the chili salsa roja with an Asian garlic-based, bottled chili sauce which I think is plenty.  I believe this is an adequate home-made version without compromising too much on flavors.

Did I over-promise on something I’ve NEVER tasted…?  Now I’ve made myself nervous…  Try it and let me know if all you LA-dwellers agree.

Servings: 6 tacos

Beef Short Ribs and Marinate: 

  • 580 g of beef short ribs
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 piece of ginger about the size of 1 tbsp
  • 1/4 medium-size onion
  • 1/2 small Asian pear
  • 1/2 kiwi, or a small tangerine
  •  4 tbsp of soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp of toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp of Korean chili paste gochujang
  • 2 1/2 tbsp of honey
  • 1 tbsp of palm sugar (or substitute with dark brown sugar if unavailable)
  • 1 tbsp of sake, or rice wine
  • 1/2 tsp of toasted sesame
  • 1/2 tsp of Korean chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp of sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp of rice vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp of ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp of ground black pepper
  • To finish:

Salad and Dressing:

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce
  • 4 baby radishes
  • 2 shallots
  • 1/2 tomato
  • (you could also add thinly sliced cabbage)
  • 1/2 tsp of chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp of toasted sesame
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely grated
  • 1/2 tsp of lime zest
  • 2 tsp of sushi rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of toasted sesame oil
  • Pinch of sea salt

To Finish:

  • 12 flour tortillas
  • Sambal oelek (Asian garlic chili sauce)
  • Lime for squeezing

Cut the short ribs into bite-size pieces but in VERY IRREGULAR shapes, meaning pieces bigger or smaller than the others with pointy edges and deep scores.  What this does is it will create different degrees of textures and points of deep caramelization during cooking.  Place in a large zip-lock bag and set aside.

Combine all the rest of the ingredients in marinate in a blender, EXCEPT FOR the siracha sauce.  Blend until very smooth.  Pour everything into the zip-lock bag and rub thoroughly to make sure every pieces of beef is in contact with the marinate.  Leave it in the fridge to marinate for at least overnight.

Before cooking the meat, prepare the salad and steam the tortilla.

Cut the romaine lettuce in thin slices.  Shave the baby radishes and shallots through a fine shaver (a truffle shaver is very handy for this job).  Cut the tomato in half and use your fingers to squeeze out the liquid and seeds, then dice finely.  Combine all of the above with chili flakes and toasted sesame in a big bowl.  Grate the garlic (microplane grater works well here) and combine it with lime zest, vinegar, sesame oil and a pinch of sea salt.  Set aside.  ONLY add the vinaigrette to the greens RIGHT BEFORE serving.

Put tortillas on a plate and cover with foil.  Steam in a steamer for 3 min to heat up.  Turn off the heat and keep them warm in the steamer.

Heat up a NON-STICK, flat and shallow pan over high heat.  The reason why it’s important that it’s non-stick is because we want the caramelization on the meat to STAY ON the meat, NOT sticking to the bottom of the pan which is great for pan sauce but… that’s not today.  Add 1 tbsp of oil and start pan-frying the meats, try NOT to include too much liquid from the marinate otherwise it would be hard to brown.  Cook the meat in 2~3 batches and do not over-crowd the pan.  Each pieces of meat should have at least 1/2″ (2cm) of space between each other.  Don’t move them too much because we want a good amount of browning on each pieces.  Cook until each and every piece of beef is nicely browned with dark caramelization on the tips.  Move them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and repeat with the 2nd batch.

Once all the meat is nicely browned and cooked, put all of it in a large bowl.  Use a scissor to roughly cut them up, then add 1 1/2 tbsp of siracha sauce and toss to combine.

Add the vinaigrette to the greens and toss evenly.  Lay 1 tortilla (or 2 as how the Kogi truck does it) on a plate, then top it with the short ribs and lots of salad.  Squeeze a bit of lime over the top and serve.  You could add the garlic chili sauce for more heat.

I’m pretty happy with it.  Hope they make you, too.

27 Comments

  • Oh kogi!!! I love kogi! I think anyone who have tried kogi would love to make that at home! Thank you for the amazing recipe! I would love it make it soon! But you should try the tacos with corn tortilla. That brings another level of flavors.

  • How many times have you been to Los Angeles? It doesn’t seem like you can speak with authority about the Kogi truck OR LA! I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York, and the two cities are vastly different; this kind of comparison is silly and necessarily relies on outdated stereotypes and cliches. I JUST rode my vintage bike to a lineup of food trucks in my neighborhood–the same one that’s overrun with pedestrians. Also, “suburb” implies that there’s a city nearby; if LA isn’t a city, then what exactly are you trying to say? Also, I like to run, but I don’t go to a gym. Also, what does “yogurt-dipping” mean? Does one dip something in yogurt? Also, “fitness zombie” is an oxymoron. Are you also implying that people in New York aren’t vain and don’t go to the gym? I went to the gym a lot more when I lived in New York.

    Also, Los Angeles has more museums per capita than any city on the East Coast, including New York. In other words, there’s culture to spare.

    As far as your recipe is concerned, it looks way too gloppy. Kogi tacos aren’t smothered in sauce like this, but instead are lightly coated.

    Perhaps you should visit our gorgeous city that’s filled with natural beauty, world-class museums, and one of the most vibrant food cultures in the world, TRY a Kogi taco, and THEN write a post like this. Otherwise, there are about a thousand other food blogs out there that are superior to yours. Heck, there might even be a few that are written by Angelenos…

    • AP, sorry to have offended your city. This is surprisingly my first angry comment considering how I’ve been talking politically incorrect throughout this blog :) This recipe BY ALL MEANS will not be the same because obviously as I said I’ve never had it, so it’s more like my best, desperate attempt (again as I said). It’s wonderful and extremely lucky to live in a place that you feel so connected and passionate about, and for that I wish I were in your shoes. So lucky you who has all the beautiful natures, and museums, and bike AND cars with all the awesome food trucks, could maybe spare a little angry talk by a less fortunate me who lives all the way out here in BJ..? Enjoy your city!!

    • I couldn’t agree more with AP’s statement. Your blog, Mandy, regarding LA is very offensive. I suggest you spend a little more time in LA to see what LA has to offer before you write such ignorant comments about our city and people. While you are here try a Kogi taco. They are amazing!

  • So I didn’t have *all* of the ingredients and therefore, kind of made some of it up, but it smells good and I’m excited to try it! For a more diet-friendly version, I am using hydroponic butterhead lettuce leaves as a taco shell =] wish me luck – I’ve never cooked short ribs before.

    • Beka, that actually sounds like how Koreans eat their bbq, wrapped up in lettuce! It should be delicious as well :)

  • I just made these, and: wow. I’ve never had Kogi before, but I’ve had a number of the copycats that are around Dallas. These were outstanding. Thanks!

  • Hahaha, finally someone who also can not stand the taste of raw cilantro! It’s just like soap ;-)

  • Hi! I recently fell in love with your blog, OK – I fell in love after reading the first paragraph of this post. I was only in like until then. I couldn’t agree more with your opinions about LA & thanks for sharing.

    PS – I also love how totally indignant LA people can be when they hear criticism of their “city.” ugh.

    PPS – I made your vanilla bean pear squares last weekend & LOVED them. I made a gluten free version, don’t laugh. Even my 5 year old loved them. THX!!

  • Another delicious recipe. Thanks so much for sharing! I really appreciated the flavors of the caramelized meat mixed with the lightly dressed salad on top. I made with corn tortillas and added some cilantro to the salad mix.

  • Wow, on behalf of all people from Los Angeles I am so sorry those 12 year olds are so simple minded. This is the first post I’ve found of yours and I will be following more. What do you do for a living in Beijing? Are you a cook? How is it that your English is so good?

    • Timothy, hahaaa thanks!! I see that you read the bio so yeah, born in Taiwan, grew up in Vancouver, then New York. And what I do in hell-hole-compared-to-LA, you’re pretty much looking at it. Hope you have fun with the blog!!

  • Hi doesn’t kiwi on the meat over night disintergrate the meat? I want to make this for my party but I was concerned about the kiwi in the marinade over night.

    • Connie: Hmm… it didn’t disintegrate my beef though. I don’t think the portion of kiki, or the acidity in kiwi, all together was enough in this marinate to affect the meat that much. I hope yours turns out right!

  • Hi,

    Your short ribs looks more like a pork shoulder. Where are the bones? I must be missing something. I imagine either cut would work for this recipe. Just curious.

    Thanks,

    Sarah

  • Mandy: Obviously, way late to the party here, but HAD to post up on this recipe, and your site in general …

    Just stumbled on L&P for the first time yesterday, and having chuckled my way through many of your posts (I think we might just be sisters in cynicism, separated at birth, and by a few decades …), I climbed further down the proverbial rabbit-hole, and found myself absolutely in tears over the loss of your little Dumpling. Probably does not hurt that I’m facing the same thing sometime soon myself, but whatever. Pretty nutty, considering I don’t know you OR Dumpling from Adam, as they say, but the point is: You most definitely ARE having an impact on MANY people (just in case you weren’t sure), and you may now add me to that list.

    Made a variation on this Kogi last night, which was purty darned tasty, if I do say so myself, and have a big ‘ol duck swimming around in your brine in the fridge as we speak. Will let you know if I manage to come up with something that looks half as good as yours does!

    Meanwhile, letting you know you have a new fan in California. Thanks for an excellent blog – Looking forward to whatever you might come up with next!

    • Catherine, first of all, thank you :). And it worries me to hear about your impending heartbreak… Please give many kisses, treats and hugs to your pet-child for me, as much as you can for as long as it lasts. I’m glad you enjoyed the tacos :) and hopefully the ducks as well!

  • Looks delicious, can’t wait to try this tomorrow. Definitely using cilantro though!

    Lol at the Angelenos getting so sensitive about your post. I’ve lived in LA my entire life, born and raised, and have traveled quite a bit outside too. Definitely think your description of LA is as stereotypical as saying everyone from the Midwest is a hillbilly. Of the hundreds of different neighborhoods of LA, there’s really only a handful that really fits that description, you know, the ones that reality shows like to depict. Hopefully on your next visit you’ll have an opportunity to explore the other 90% :) “Vintage bikes” (including the culture that surrounds it) are more than common, and I would know, I work in the industry!

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