"God created you in different colors, languages and cultures to get to know each other and to exchange benefits between you," said the popular Egyptian TV preacher Amr Khaled. It's a beautiful notion, and true when it comes to the Houston dining scene. You can find a dish you've never heard of before, every day of the year, if you ask the right person.
My family asked the talented teacher-turned-actor John Yi, and without hesitation he recommended the #18 at Bibijo Express in the Super H Mart. More precisely, it's called Hot Stone-Grilled Bulgogi, and when you enter H Mart, turn right toward the food court, past the popular five-spice-tinged ToreOre Chicken, to the busiest stall in the court, you'll hear numbers being called out, and most often it's "Number Eighteen."
What you'll get quickly after you order is a wooden box containing a hot stone bowl, with marinated beef, onions, bean sprouts, sesame seeds and a few green beans. It's steaming hot and cooking before your eyes. Quickly stir in the spicy (but not too hot) red sauce, and then let it all sizzle as you continue to stir. There's also a small bowl of white rice.
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Meanwhile, return to the counter to help yourself to the included sides, which are a simple but rich miso soup, crispy kimchi, subtly fermented bean sprouts and a seaweed dish, which is pretty tasty as far as seaweed goes.
You know when a server tells you, "Watch out, the plate is hot," and you touch it anyway, to feel exactly how hot it is? Well, don't do it with this stone bowl. The temperature is so high that the food remains hot throughout the meal. The proper eating technique seems to be to put some of the bulgogi on top of the bowl of rice to let it cool, then eat it with chopsticks. Near the end you'll want to put some rice into the bowl to soak up the intense sauce, and enjoy it with the spoon.
There's dozens of other options available at Bibijo Express. Someday I want the Hot Stone bowl with baby octopus (#4) and a fried egg on top, but the #18 still has a complete hold over me.
On weekends, you may have to wait a few minutes to find a table here. It's not just H Mart shoppers -- the hipster density is one of the highest of any dining spot outside the Loop. On the other hand, the customer in front of us this past weekend asked the proprietor if she had pho. "We don't serve Vietnamese food here, this is Korean," the woman politely answered. The customer adjusted, and ordered a stone-bowl soup -- getting to know Korean food and exchanging benefits.