Near the outer crust of the San Fernando Valley in Canoga Park—where a lone tumbleweed from nearby Box Canyon can roll across your path as you navigate Topanga Canyon Boulevard—sits one of the last outposts for real Korean food until you reach, well, Korea: Grandma Kim’s Family Diner.
I don’t know about you but when I’m at Grandma’s I usually crave something hot and wholesome like chicken soup. Grandma Kim’s lovingly brews up a version of the poultry cure-all, but this one packs peppery Korean heat. It’s called dak gae jang, a spicy chicken soup with a curious canine origin.
The latter part of the soup’s name gaejang springs from another soup called gaejang guk, which pre-dates the chicken soup. Gaejang guk is, how do I put this, spicy dog meat soup. When beef is used as a substitute for dog meat, the name becomes yuk gae jang.
But with chicken (I repeat, chicken, not dog meat), the Korean spicy chicken soup serves as a piping hot meal for Koreans in the hottest regions of the country, partly to fight the heat. The searing quality comes by way of temperature and spice. The broth is a bright lava red thanks to the potent flaming chili pepper powder and, sometimes, pepper paste.
Although the spiciness is explosive, the pure chicken broth is strong enough to still clearly taste the rich poultry flavor. The restaurant uses dark-meat chicken in place of white—like any good Korean grandma would. Slippery mung bean noodles bring a fun texture and, of course, there’s an egg on top of everything.
This spicy chicken soup—like many chicken soups around the globe—is served to those who are ailing and recovering from illnesses. I certainly wasn’t sick when I downed the comforting bowl, but I do now feel inoculated from the common cold, flu, and, oddly, even rabies. Go figure.
Grandma Kim’s Family Diner
8384 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park