Among all the cuisines of East and Southeast Asia, the one I am most unfamiliar with is Korean cuisine. Ironic, in a way, considering how many Korean groceries and restaurants have sprouted all over the country — not just in Metro Manila, believe me, but in most urban centers including Baguio City and Metro Cebu — following the influx of Korean nationals. Apart from the beef stew and japchae (and, more recently, the pajeon or scallion pancakes), my knowledge about Korean food and cooking had been down to almost zero.
Then, recently, a documentary on the Discovery Channel changed all that. I had no idea that the combination of vegetables and meat in a dish (think bibimbap) could have very strong cultural and health significance. My interest was piqued. Time to learn about Korean food. So off we went to a restaurant that, I had been told, served authentic Korean food.
It is called Jan-Gun and it is located along C-5 Road in Libis, Quezon City.
We went there for lunch on a weekday, Speedy and I. The place is spacious but that may be a visual thing because tables were not crammed together and there was ample space for the eyes to breath. Every table is equipped with an exhaust tube directly above where the hot pot is placed. In the photo, that would be the vertical rods on the right attached to a tube near the ceiling where the hot air goes to be blown off outdoors. We didn’t have hot pot though.
Before I show you what we ordered, feast your eyes (and imagination) on this wonderful array of Korean starters.
Jang-Gun is the second Korean Restaurant we have tried (the first one was at Shangri-La Plaza) and, based on both experiences, it appears that the array of starters is a standard in Korean restaurants. I’m tempted to say that they come free but, of course, as with any restaurant, the food is so priced so that the freebies are absorbed into the package.
I tried all except for the red ones which I knew would be spicy. I like spicy food but not as a starter.
I wish that I can recall the name of the soup but I can’t. I do remember that it was delicious — light broth, meat, carrot slices and glass noodles.
The fried dumplings are reminiscent of Chinese cuisine (see a related entry on Chinese dumplings). Not surprising, really, because Korea’s culinary history traces some of its roots to the Chinese and Mongolians according to the Discovery Channel documentary.
The main dishes…
Of course, we had to have bibimbap. It was the segment on bibimbap in the documentary that kicked off the Korean food trip in the first place.
Bibimbap is a dish of warm rice topped with vegetables, meat, ssamjang (chili paste) and a raw egg. Each component represents health benefits to different parts of the body.
The contents of the bowl are tossed together to mix the flavors and textures. Delicious! And very filling. But then, there was more so we didn’t stop after the bibimbap.
Korean scallion pancakes. So simple, so comforting and so totally out of this world. Most probably Chinese influenced (see Chinese scallion pancakes) but simpler to prepare as there is no need for kneading and coiling.
Finally, there was the bulgogi…
Among Korean dishes, bulgogi has to be one of the most bastardized by the fast food industry. Real bulgogi consists of very thinly sliced marinated beef cooked quickly with scallions (and, often, mushrooms) over very high heat. Lettuce and ssamjang are served on the side. To eat the bulgogi, some ssamjang is spread on the lettuce, a spoonful or so of bulgogi is placed at the center, wrapped and eaten with the hand. Wonderful! The sensation starts with the crunch of the fresh lettuce, followed by the spiciness of the ssamjang and, finally, the flavorful meat touches the mouth.
Obviously, I loved the Korean food experience which didn’t come cheap, by the way. The bill was a little over P1,800.00. But I learned a lot from the experience. Enough to muster the confidence for what I intend to do. Yes, of course, I intend to cook more Korean food at home. So, stay tuned.