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The Migrant Kitchen

Ep. 5, Banchan: Korean Food Beyond BBQ

For 22 years, loyal diners have been flocking to the beloved Jun Won in Koreatown for a taste of their specialty: braised marinated black cod, with flavorful juices soaking into the daikon radish slices it sits upon. Unifying the fish is the restaurant’s sought-after spread of seasonal banchan (traditional Korean side dishes) that accompany it. 

Owner Yong Won Jun says that while Korean BBQ may get all the attention, there’s so much more to his culture’s cuisine. Their menu includes items like spicy sautéed octopus, kimchi casseroles, and spicy chicken soup. The concept behind this old-school eatery that he and his mother, Jung Ye Ju, run together is to serve food that reflects how they would eat at home, and to give busy people the chance to nourish themselves with a comforting meal after a hard day’s work. 

In this episode, the Jun family describes their highs and lows of immigrating to a new country, the resilience of their people, and the sacrifices they’ve had to make in order to survive. They immigrated to the United States in 1986, and at the time, Yong Won likened Los Angeles to dreary Gotham City. Those early days were trying times when his mother would go door to door selling lunch boxes before she managed to launch her restaurant that ended up becoming a success and was heralded by countless food critics.

But in the midst of success, the family has another challenge to overcome. We see the pivotal moment when the mother and son face a new heartbreaking chapter, as a real estate deal is forcing them out of the restaurant they’ve called home since 1994. But even in the darkest of times, their strength gives them hope and the will to start over again.

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