Ok Ko Mart: informal Korean dining hidden inside a market
Ok Ko Mart
Growing up on Korean food all my life, the thought of living without it, especially Kimchi, is unbearable. Luckily, we have a small community of Koreans spread throughout the area who also have the same insatiable desire for Korean food. Upon a recommendation from a Korean friend of mine who grew up here in Oklahoma City, I decided to check out his favorite Korean restaurant, Ok Ko Mart.
Ok Ko Mart’s main business is their fairly small market. From the signage outside, you would never expect to find a restaurant inside, but I think of it as a pearl hidden inside an oyster. The restaurant is towards the back of the market and it was recently expanded, doubling the seating area from about 10 seats to 18-20 now. I believe it’s run by a husband and wife team with the guy doing all the cooking and the lady operating the market and busing the tables as time permits.
There are no menus besides 8 pictures on the wall that separates the seating area from the kitchen. From left to right are: Kalbi oogoji tang (cabbage leaves with short ribs in bean curd soup), hot bowl Bibimbap, regular bibimbap, beef bulgogi, pork bulgogi, soybean noodle soup, jja-jjang myun and cham-pong. There are also a few items without pictures that I have yet to order but will definitely try to get next time. There are no prices posted (which I find a little annoying) but the prices range between $7-9 with the meat dishes being the more expensive.
The most popular dishes appear to be the cham-pong and the jja-jjang myun. Cham-pong is my favorite. It’s a spicy rice noodle soup made with onions, kimchi, baby octopus, jalapenos, shrimp, carrots, zucchini, oysters, green onions and red pepper powder. If you have no affinity for spicy food, I would suggest you pass on this and stick with the jja-jjang myun. It is also a rice noodle dish, but made with a black bean curd sauce and a mixture of beef and vegetables. Beware of eating these while wearing anything white because they have a tendency to splatter on clothes as you slurp the noodles. All of the noodles are made in-house which adds to the quality of both these dishes. These two dishes are also served with kimchi and pickled radish.
This brings me to my biggest gripe. The kimchi here is pretty bad. Ok, I know most Americans can’t even stand the smell of it, let alone eat it, but even a seasoned kimchi eater like myself prefers to avoid their kimchi. There is a Korean market in Moore (1224 N. Eastern Ave, 405. 799.1945) that has excellent Kimchi and if only Ok Ko Mart could somehow use their Kimchi to complement their food I would be in heaven. But I digress.
For a more typical Korean meal, beef bulgogi and bibimbap are excellent choices. Bulgogi (literally translated “fire beef”) is a dish made with thin slices of beef (typically ribeye) and onions in a soy-sauce marinade and served with rice. This comes with a more expanded set of side dishes than the noodle dishes. If you’re in the mood for something healthy with lots of veggies, bibimbap is the way to go. It includes rice topped with julienned carrots, cucumbers, radish, kimchi, spinach, and pieces of bulgogi. This is usually mixed around with red pepper paste and sesame oil. For a crunchier version, get it in the heated stone bowl as the bowl crisps the rice and keeps the food warm as you eat it.
Ok Ko Mart’s restaurant is pretty much self-serve. So, if you expect stellar service, don’t. Help yourself to the table settings and drinks (water or sodas from the adjacent fridge). It’s pretty much a no-frills place that just serves good food (sans the kimchi).
A couple of final notes. First, not all of the dishes will be available during the lunch hour as I had some trouble ordering the kalbi oogoji tang. Also, another quirk is that you pay up at the front cash register as if you’re buying groceries from the market. Just tell the cashier what you ordered. It’s typically cash only with the exception of orders more than $10, which is their required minimum to use your Visa or Mastercard.
Now, go forth and eat Korean food! And, of course, let us know what you think in the comments.