When I first heard a Korean street food truck was coming to Columbus, I had a lot of preconceived notions of what this truck might entail—some good, some bad. While I was extremely excited about the arrival of (mobile) Korean food in my city, I also had some apprehension. Armed with absolutely no information but my own cynical imagination, I visualized rice and some sort of ersatz Korean barbecue meat, topped with pickled vegetables, stuffed into a tortilla or some other starchy, non-Korean medium. I imagined an Anglicized, half-assed attempt at something authentic—a portable, hand-held food item contrived by a well-meaning vendor capitalizing on the current popularity of both mobile and Korean foods.
I was wrong… on all accounts.
The Ajumama truck launched onto the streets of Columbus in late April of this year to much anticipation. The opening marked the culmination of over three years’ planning and preparation by owner Laura Lee. A trained chef and Central Ohio native, Laura has paid her dues in restaurant kitchens in Columbus and San Diego for 12 years. Her culinary background gives her a solid foundation on which to build her menu. Using memories of dishes from her youth, Laura has gone to great lengths to research and learn the intricacies and nuance of Korean cuisine, including a stint at the O’ngo Culinary School in Seoul. (You can follow Laura’s odyssey in bringing Ajumama to Columbus on the Seoul Eats blog.) The result is a well-crafted menu that is authentic and quite delicious.
Ajumama’s core repertoire includes pajeon and hodduk. Pajeon is a savory Korean pancake filled with soy bean sprouts, garlic chives, and zucchini. Specific choices include the Dak (sesame grilled chicken and mushrooms), the Twe (spicy pork and kimchi), and the Hae (shrimp, surimi, and green chili). There’s also the option to customize your own pajeon using any of the available ingredients. Hodduk, by contrast, is sweet and has a brown sugar, walnut, and cinnamon filling that melts into a sticky syrup-like texture—think of it as the cinnamon bun’s Korean cousin.
Laura also features daily specials, which on my most recent visit (much to my delight) was a sampler of four kimchis. (For those unfamiliar with kimchi, it’s a Korean staple consisting of fermented vegetables, flavored with garlic, ginger, and red pepper. More information can be found on my kimchi post.) The quartet of kimchi consisted of napa cabbage, radish (mu), perilla leaf, and cucumber. The napa cabbage and radish kimchi both had the classic spicy/briny kimchi taste, while the cucumber brought a bright note and more sweetness to the spicy mixture. The big surprise was the perilla leaf kimchi, which I had never had. It had a distinctly sweet pungency, reminiscent of mint, and was a nice contrast to the other kimchi.
I used to lament the lack of a Korean option in the ever-growing Columbus food truck scene; I pined for our very own version of the Kogi truck (the Los Angeles vendor offering a fusion of Korean, American, and Mexican fare). With the arrival of Ajumama, my wait has finally ended. Offering a traditional approach to Korean street food, Chef Laura Lee has brought a unique and tasty new alternative to the streets of Columbus.
Ajumama is currently at Dinin’ Hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays this month, while they plan to be there on Wednesdays in June. To keep up with their most current schedule and location, follow them on Twitter or Facebook.