Chennai's Seoul food

Chennai, 09/11/2015: For Metro Plus : Chef David (left) serving food at On the Rocks resturant, Crowne plaza in Chennai on Monday. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam   | Photo Credit: B_JOTHI RAMALINGAM

Chennai is no stranger to Korean cuisine: one of the first speciality restaurants, Korea House, was opened shortly after the Hyundai factory was founded on the outskirts of the city in 1996. However, the cuisine has never quite become mainstream, despite its latent popularity. There are only a handful of restaurants serving Korean food, but all of them have loyal followings.

While people may be reluctant about trying this Asian cuisine over the more familiar ones like Japanese or Thai, once they do, they are hooked, says Ramayon Keishing, owner and chef of the popular North East Kitchen in Egmore. “Korean food is available a lot more now than it was before, and diners are not averse to experimenting. And having cooked for Koreans for a long time, I would say that what I serve here is quite authentic, and people come back for more.” 

The spicy ramyun, which is a soupy instant noodle-like dish, and the jeyuk dubap (pork with sweet and spicy vegetables) are favourites, he says, adding that if he isn’t able to source a particular authentic ingredient, he doesn’t have it on the menu. Since several of the ingredients are imported, prices are set accordingly; a Korean meal for two at any restaurant can set you back from anywhere between Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 2,500.

Many of the flavours are strong, complex and unfamiliar to Indian palates — salty doenjang (soybean paste), fermented kimchi (pickled cabbage), fiery gochujang (spicy paste of red chilli and glutinous rice among other ingredients). While rice is used in a variety of ways in Korean cooking, here, the simple rice bowl, accompanied by a plethora of sides (called banchan) and a stew or curry-like sauce with vegetables or meat is how most dishes are served.

Korean food incorporates a lot of vegetables, but a majority of the dishes have meat or seafood added to it. Giving a twist to an oriental style of cooking, On the Rocks, the fine dining grill restaurant at Crowne Plaza recently introduced Hot Pots.

These also give an easy vegetarian and vegan option. While in this avatar it is more Japanese in nature, with soba noodles and mirin making it to the table, similar East Asian stews are not uncommon in Korean food. Chef Vijay David explains, “In Korea, special stoneware bowls called dolsot are kept in the oven for a long period of time; they retain the heat, so dishes like bibimbap, made using broth, rice, lean meat and vegetables, are served in this so that it keeps the food warm.”

At On the Rocks, each diner gets an individual cast iron pot filled with vegetarian or non-vegetarian broth, set on a heated volcanic rock heated to 400C. This heats the broth, bringing it to a boil, and cooks the vegetables and meat in a flash. The ingredients that can be added include broccoli, daikon, pumpkin, bok choy, spinach, garlic, lotus stems and shiitake mushrooms; soy sauce, mirin, nori, chilli flakes and caramelised onion impart flavour. Diners get a chef’s toque and apron, as they’re essentially cooking the meal themselves. But choose wisely: one can’t blame the chef if your dinner doesn’t come out well.

While In Seoul was a very popular destination for both its Korean and Chinese dishes, it is currently closed. Down the road from its location, now there’s the New Seoul Hotels which seems to have taken its place. Cheong Ki Wa in Gopalapuram and Miyabi in Poonamallee serve both Japanese and Korean food, while Young Doo in Kotturpuram sticks to Korean. 

With diverse options to sample this interesting cuisine, it might be worthwhile to set aside any apprehensions and misconceptions and go for a Korean meal one of these days. You just might surprise yourself.

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2021 10:05:23 AM |

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