Around the World in Houston: Discovering Korea

around-the-world-in-houston-korea
Photo courtesy of Korean Festival Houston

With a labyrinth of cultures represented in every nook and cranny of town, Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. To celebrate this world-class melting pot, we’ll be exploring a new region of the globe through a Houston lens each week, from annual festivals and museums to restaurants and cultural experiences. Join the journey with our Around the World in Houston series.

This week, we’re kicking the voyage off by discovering Korea. And as luck would have it, Houston hosts both a large Korean community and an area known as Koreatown (or K-town) over in Spring Branch, in addition to a mosaic of Seoul food restaurants, Korean organizations, and notable spots dotting the city.

Annual Festivals & Cultural Events

  • The Korean Festival (K-Fest) – Created with the idea of showcasing Korean culture to the Greater Houston area while uniting its Korean community, this annual festival offers a fair-like atmosphere featuring traditional Korean dancers, folk musicians, TaeKwonDo masters, Korean American musicians and traditional food and drink. The 2017 festival will be held on Saturday, October 21 at Discovery Green.
  • AsiaFest – Held in the spring, AsiaFest celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage through community performances, fusion cuisine, creative activities, art and vendors, and cultural exhibitions. The 2017 festival, held in May, featured Korean folk dance and a Tae Kwon Do demonstration from the Korean Art Company.

Museums & Cultural Organizations

  • Arts of Korea at MFAH The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston hosts an Arts of Asia collection spanning nearly five millennia and encompassing cultures across the continent, including a gallery for the arts of Korea. Over 5,000 years of Korean art and culture are showcased through Neolithic vessels; 7th-century gold jewelry and bronze Buddhist sculptures of the Silla dynasty; 12th-century celadon ceramics of the Goryeo dynasty; 17th-century Buddhist sculpture of the Joseon dynasty; and 16th to 17th-century stoneware and porcelain ceramics. Contemporary sculptures, works on paper, and videos are also exhibited.
  • Korean American Society of Houston – Dubbed KASH for short, the Korean American Society of Houston is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting Korean culture to encourage deeper interactions between the Korean-American community and the greater public. Look out for events, including professional networking opportunities, menu tastings, crawfish fundraisers, and KASH’s annual flagship event – the Houston Korean Festival.
  • Korean Community Center of Houston – This Korean cultural center invites the public to experience the rich traditions and history of Korea through specialized programs, cultural events, and learning opportunities. The Korean Heritage Center offers experiences including teen and young adults education, fitness programs, cooking classes, financial education and business networking, and Korean language seminars.
  • Houston Korean American Chamber of Commerce – Founded in 1974, the Korean American Chamber of Commerce of Houston strives to foster economic development, facilitate trade between Houston and Korea, and serve as the voice of the Korean-American business community.
  • Korean Student Association at Rice University – KSA is a group of Rice students interested in the Korean culture, language, and customs. The group promotes the building of friendships and improving communication among students, faculty, and staff.
  • Korean Student Association at the University of Houston – The mission of Korean Student Association is to promote awareness of Korean culture, coordinate and promote activities leading to the betterment of Korean students at the University of Houston, and to build a network among KSA alumni.
  • Hallyu Wave Club (HWC) at the University of Houston – This student club at the University of Houston aims to promote the culture of Korea through popular entertainment including, but not limited to music, dance, cinema, and media productions.

Korean Food & Drink

Restaurants

  • Bon Ga Korean Restaurant – This Koreatown fan favorite tops critic lists and warms local hearts through reliably tasty and authentic Korean barbecue, grilled right at the table.
  • Dak & Bop – Wings, drumsticks, and strips are hot and juicy, crunchy, and twice-fried at this Korean fusion joint in the Museum District. Get them alongside kimchi-loaded fries, spicy mayo-smothered tots, and bulgogi cheesesteak bao.
  • Hoodadak – Over in Katy, this Korean-style fried chicken joint rocks ultra crisp chicken doused in sauces like soy garlic, honey, and sweet & spicy. Tack on dumplings and kimchi fries for good measure.
  • Jang Guem Tofu and BBQ House – Get vegetarian-friendly tofu dishes, home-style soups, and Korean classics at this quaint Chinatown spot.
  • Korea Garden – Keeping locals well fed for over 30 years, this o.g. Korean restaurant offers everything from pan-fried gool pajeon (oyster and scallion pancake) and grill-it-yourself galbi (marinated boneless short rib) to kimchi jjigae (spicy stew) and bibimbap (Korean fried rice).
  • Korea House – All-you-can-eat Korean barbecue is the way to go at this popular Long Point haunt. Just make sure you bring an appetite.
  • Kot Dae Ji – Flower Piggy Korean BBQ – In addition to galbi and bulgogi, Kot Dae Ji offers Korean seafood pancakes, hot stone rice bowls, and tofu soup. The portions are generous, but if you’re looking to save some cash, check out its barbecue lunch specials.
  • Ohn Korean Eatery – This cool kid spot from the guy behind popular Asiatown haunts Tiger Den, Mein, and Night Market offers a fresh take on Korean eats. Hit the club like atmosphere to sip soju and nosh on shareable plates, from flat dumplings and crispy pork rinds to bokkeum (stir fry noodles).
  • Republic Diner and Soju Bar – This unassuming Heights haunt packs the house thanks to its addicting Korean pub grub, including but not limited to sweet and spicy “other KFC” wings, kimchi burgers, and marinated galbi with assorted banchan.
  • Seoul Garden – With bold spices, mouth-watering barbecued meats, and scratch-made ingredients from gochijang to kimchi, this restaurant has been dishing out the flavors of Korea since 1994. Dishes include Korean tartare (yook hwe), grilled seafood and meats, mung bean flour pancakes (pintaeduk, the Korean version of fritters), traditional dumplings, cold noodle soups (naeng myun), and Korean hotpot soups (junggol).

Grocery Stores

  • Super H-Mart – Rocking a massive collection of kimchi (from homemade to pre-packaged), chili pastes and barbecue, this Korean/Asian wonderland gets bonus points for hosting the cult favorite, twice-fried Korean fried chicken spot ToreOre, which sits in the food court. Stock up on authentic ingredients and grab a few food court goodies while you’re at it.
  • Hong Kong Food Market – This colossal market in Chinatown’s Hong Kong City Mall spans the continent of Asia, offering tastes of China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Korea, of course. Don’t miss the vast selection of fresh, frozen, and live seafood and imported snacks, beers, wines, and teas.
  • 99 Ranch Market – Hit any of the three Houston-area locations of this Asian to shop for gochujang, bulgogi sauce, and Korean snacks; and if you’re at the Blalock location, grab some kimchi pancakes and bibimbap at food court favorite Yori Yori Korean Soft Tofu & Grill.

Food Trucks

  • Coreanos – Mexico and Korea unite at this fusion food truck, which slings out kim-cheese fries, Korean barbecue burritos and tacos, and kimchi quesadillas.
  • Koagie Hots – Korean-inspired cheesesteaks and dogs are the name of the game at this cult favorite truck. Taste global mash-ups like grilled ribeye sandwiches loaded with wiz and kimchi, korn dogs smothered in spicy may and sweet chili sauce, and kimchi-topped fries.
  • Oh My Gogi! – It’s another Korean and Mexican affair at Oh My Gogi!, where you’ll find Korean beef tacos and burgers, bulgogi quesadillas, and pork fried dumplings.

Sweets & Desserts 

  • Cocohodo – This Korean chain offers sweet walnut and red bean mousse pastries alongside green tea lattes, black bean smoothies, and iced coffees.
  • Koryo Bakery and Cafe – Sweets fans should check out this unassuming Korean bakery, set next to the Super H-Mart on Blalock.

Nightlife

  • Yes KTV – Open daily and located on the second floor of the Dun Huang Plaza shopping strip in Chinatown, this upscale karaoke bar boasts private rooms, and a laundry list of songs in everything from English and Chinese to Vietnamese and Korean (there is a library of around 6,000 songs in Korean alone). If that weren’t enough already, Yes KTV is also the only BYOB karaoke club in Houston.
  • Ziller Karaoke – This Spring Branch karaoke joint rocks private rooms, a soju selection, and an arsenal of Korean music.

Language Classes, Education Centers, Groups & Meet-Ups

  • Houston Korean School – The Houston Korean School is a private education center focused on teaching children Korean language, culture, and heritage in ways that are fun and exciting.
  • Korean Education Centre – Established in 1988, the Houston Korean Education Centre offers Korean language classes, cooking classes for adults, children’s educational opportunities, contests and activities and more.
  • The Konglish Club – Founded in 2013 and with over 400 members, this meetup was created for anyone interested in learning and/or improving upon their Korean language skills and cultural exploration.
  • Houston Youth Korus – This children’s chorus strives to enrich the lives of Korean children in the Greater Houston area through musical training in the chorus, all while making joyful noise.
  • Kpop Houston – Fans of K-pop, a subculture of pop music that originated in South Korea, can follow local activities, concerts and more on the Kpop Houston Facebook page.

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