The Korean wave has been steadily rising in Singapore these recent years, and Korean food is no exception.
From Korean barbecue to spicy jjigae (Korean stew), the love for Korean food in Singapore is evident with the amount of restaurants serving Korean dishes popping up in town.
Looking for a restaurant to head to for your Korean food fix? Scroll through the gallery for 12, all right in town.
If you like your food to come with a twist and do not care much for authenticity, you will like E!ght Korean BBQ, with outlets at The Central and Shaw Centre. The restaurant serves an interesting 8 Colours Set ($98) which comprises eight flavours – from wine and ginseng, to herbal and curry – of Berkshire pork for barbecuing. The set, which comes with a selection of side dishes such as kimchi and potato salad as well as a seafood bean paste stew, is enough for three to four people.
The restaurant also serves US Prime beef, Argentinian beef and Ohmi wagyu in a la carte orders from $58 to $110. For lunch, it offers chul pan (noodles), with a choice of sliced chicken ($15), pork belly ($16) or beef brisket ($18) stir fried on a hot grill with assorted vegetables and red pepper paste.
You might feel a little crammed at the busy Seorae eatery at Plaza Singapura. And it doesn’t help that the small tables here are arranged very close to one another. But it is popular for good reason. The eatery specialises in a cut of meat called galmaegisal in Korean, a premium cut of pork skirt that is gaining popularity in Seoul. There are a couple of marinades – Korean spices ($21.90), and garlic and soya sauce ($22.90). The latter has a stronger and more aromatic flavour.
Also order the pork belly, which is available in three styles as Three Musketeers ($31.90) – original, marinated with Seorae’s soya sauce, and marinated with spicy sauce. The spicy one is especially good eaten wrapped in a leaf of raw lettuce. Seorae’s grill pan is encircled by metal pans that are variously filled with kimchi and mixtures of cheese and egg – different from what you’d find at most other Korean restaurants. The heat from the stove cooks the mixes gradually until they form a cake with crispy edges.
Three Meals A Day, a 40-seat Korean family restaurant in Chun Tin Road, is a stone’s throw from Beauty World MRT station. And yes, this restaurant bears the same name as a popular South Korean reality television cooking show. Prices are very affordable, considering its clean air-conditioned premises. Noodles start at $8, while a jjigae or stew – which has the consistency of thick and hearty soup – starts at $10. Bibimbap starts at $12 a serving.
Dishes to order include the kimchi jjigae with pork ($12) and the seafood sundubu jjigae ($10). Both emerge from the kitchen piping hot. The robust soup is just the right amount of spicy, sour and sweet, is flavourful and isn’t too cloying either. Japchae ($15) or stir-fried glass noodles with beef has a beautiful sesame oil aroma and is very tasty. If the weather is hot, beat the heat with a bowl of mul naengmyeon ($16), noodles with beef and vegetables in an icy cold broth, or bibim naengmyeon ($16), cold noodles in a spicy sauce.
Korean bibimbap (mixed rice) bowls are a good way to tuck into meat, vegetables and carbs all at once. At Paik’s Bibim, the bibimbap does not come with an egg, nor is not served in a hot stone bowl. Instead, it has a variety of vegetables and a choice of meat (from $7.90) or seafood ($8.90). The pork bibimbap comes with minced pork, bean sprouts, mushrooms and julienned radish, carrot and cucumber. Mix everything with the spicy gochujang (chilli paste) and it makes a filling meal. Noodle options ($7.90 each) are also available, such as warm noodles with soya sauce and spicy bibim noodles. This South Korean fast-food concept is by Korean celebrity chef Baek Jong Won, who started the Korean barbecue chain Bornga in 2012.
Insadong Korea Town offers more than 200 types of dishes that range from traditional Korean and hybrid dishes to street food and desserts. It is a self-service eatery where you pay for the food at self-ordering kiosks. You then pick up your food from various stalls in the 6,000 sq ft eatery that seats more than 300. Try the Bossam or Korean Boiled Pork Wrap ($15 for small). Slices of pork belly are simmered in mild herbs till soft and eaten wrapped in cabbage with sliced garlic, green chilli and chilli paste. The pork also tastes good on its own with a dab of the paste and does not feel greasy at all.
Other good dishes include the Ginseng Chicken ($28), which comes with a small serving of evaporated milk to add to the soup if you wish. Desserts include the trendy J-cone ($6), a J-shaped tube made from corn flour that is filled with ice cream. There is also the Churro With Soft Serve And Fruits ($9), an odd Korean twist to the Spanish snack that is rather addictive.
Joo Bar is one of a handful of modern Korean bar-restaurants here. While ostensibly a makgeolli (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain) bar, it also offers a full menu of food that is a mix of Korean and Western cooking. Try the Warm Kimchi With Tofu And Spam ($16). It consists of a spicy stir-fry of kimchi, onion, scallion and pork belly served with slices of firm tofu and luncheon meat. You sandwich the kimchi between a slice each of tofu and spam. Eaten together, the bland tofu smoothens out the strong flavours of the fermented cabbage without robbing it of its character. The spam, on the other hand, adds a savoury goodness that enriches the flavours.
The most Korean dish here is the Joo Bossam ($28). It stays very close to the traditional recipe, where slices of boiled pork belly are served with a variety of condiments, such as kimchi, pickled radish and spicy sauces, and eaten together wrapped in a Napa cabbage leaf. It is delicious, especially the Hungarian Mangalitsa pork, which has so much more flavour than the meat usually sold here. It is rather fat, so the kimchi and cabbage provide a strong dose of acidity to cut the heaviness. Pork lovers can also try the Grilled Mangalitsa Belly ($25), where slices of the marinated grilled meat are served with a spicy chive salad.
The seafood tower concept is very simple: different types of shellfish are cooked in steamers that are stacked in tiers over a pot or wok of stock. At Captain K, the highest you can go is nine tiers ($288.90), which is recommended for eight people. And the lowest is three tiers ($52.90), recommended for two people.
You eat the food tier by tier, starting from the top. The restaurant offers different sauces, such as Korean ssamjang (spicy dipping paste), sambal belacan (spicy shrimp paste), Thai green chilli and ponzu, to go with it. And diagrams on the wall and menu helpfully suggest which sauce to pair each food with.
When you’re done with all the tiers of seafood, you’re left with a wok of stock at the bottom. There is a choice of kombu dashi, Korean kimchi and premium Korean ginseng chicken (extra $15) and you select one when you make your order. You can also pick plates of vegetables ($2 each), dumplings ($3) and instant noodles ($2) to add to the stock and turn it into a hotpot.
Well-known South Korean chain Bornga, which was started by Jong Won Paik, a celebrity chef from Seoul, now has three outlets in Singapore. The ribs here are good and the marinade very tasty, but the dish to order is the restaurant’s speciality, woo samgyup ($22) – thinly sliced beef dressed with a special marinade. The streaks of fat are what make this so delicious. They shrivel up on the sizzling barbecue grill, releasing the oils to flavour the meat.
You can eat the cooked meat as it is or roll it up with some thin strips of leek and dip it in an accompanying thick, spicy sauce. Another meat to order for the grill is the ggot sal ($38), a thicker cut of unmarinated beef. This is evenly marbled and goes well with a dip of sesame oil flavoured with salt and pepper.
On a hot day, however, order the bom-ga naeng mun ($15). The dish comprises buckwheat noodles, which are served in an icy broth with shredded vegetables and pear, as well as a hard-boiled egg. It may sound strange but tastes refreshingly good once you wrap your mind around the idea of cold noodles.
Ramen shops are everywhere in Singapore, but restaurants that sell just Korean noodles are harder to find. Then, along came Guksu, a 96-seat restaurant at Suntec City which focuses on Korean noodles with small eats on the side.
First, pick from three types of noodles, made daily at the restaurant using head chef Kahng HeunSung’s grandmother’s recipes. So Meon is the thinnest, while Kal Guksu are flat, wide noodles. Somewhere in between is Jung Meon. Then, pick a broth: anchovy, prawn, clam or beef.
The Doenjang Beef Guksu ($13.90), cloudy with bean paste, is rib-sticking and the broth so flavourful that you’ll want to drink every drop. The sprinkling of slightly bitter, powdered mulberry deepens the flavour of the soup. Digging into the bowl, you will find sliced wagyu beef, boiled egg and vegetables. The Kal Guksu is thin and springy. Make haste. Left sitting in the hot broth, it turns soggy quickly. For $4 more, you get a side dish and tea.
The restaurant offers small and big plates for sharing and some of the dishes are similar to those at Meta. But for the same number of courses, prices work out to be slightly cheaper here, and you can control how many and what dishes you want to eat.
You would find a strong Korean stamp on many of the dishes, which is not surprising since the chef, Sun Kim, is South Korean. But there are also hints of Singapore influences. The Korean-centric dishes are tops. Among them is the Korean Style Wagyu Tartare ($23). The minced raw beef is dressed like yukhoe, a Korean-style tartare – with a mix of sauces, spices and sesame that provides an immediate punch on the palate. With a raw quail egg stirred in and eaten on a piece of crispy sago chip, it makes for an excellent appetiser.
For some local flavour, try the Spanish Prawn ($30), which comes with housemade XO sauce that is not very hot, but is tasty with the flavour of dried scallops. There are also mussels in the dish, fried till dry to get a chewy texture and a more intense flavour that I like, as well as pieces of artichoke. For dessert, the Banana Cream Puff is a must ($10 for two). The puffs are soft and filled with a light cream. Pop one in the mouth and feel the pleasure.
A seafood tower at this restaurant comes in tiers of three to nine steamers. Each steamer holds different items and at the bottom is a pot of broth. With the broth kept on a simmer, the steam wafting up ensures the food stays warm, while the juices from the seafood drip down into the pot. At the end of the meal, you can order more ingredients to add to the soup, turning it into a steamboat.
K-Tower offers four types of broth: seafood, which is complimentary, kimchi (add $10), army stew (add $10) and ginseng chicken (add $20).
Couples can start with a three-tier tower ($58), containing the soup base, prawn, scallop, oyster and shellfish (clams and mussels). And those in groups of three to five can get the $128, five-tier set, while bigger groups can go for the $198 one with seven tiers . Vegetables such as broccoli, corn and sweet potato are included in all the sets. The tallest is nine tiers ($298) and it comes with lobster, mud crab, oyster, fish, sea cucumber, prawn, scallop, squid and shellfish. For an additional $90, you get abalone as well. This can feed seven or eight people, or more if you pad it up with a la carte orders.
For diners who are not interested in the tower, there are dishes such as Bulgogi Chicken, Pork or Beef ($11.90) and Army Stew ($26.90 for two persons), which are popular with the lunch crowd. Side orders of Fried Chicken Wings ($7.90) and Fried Oysters ($7.90) are also available. The Seafood Pancake ($14.90) is especially good. Fried to an even golden colour, it boasts crisp edges and is not oily.
The attraction at this restaurant: organic tofu made in-house daily. The tofu is served with beef or pork ($18.90) in a hearty soup. Diners pick the level of spiciness and I am happy with mild. Wobbly, custardy and oh-so-soft, the tofu is a real treat to tuck into, especially together with the spicy soup. Other versions include Assorted ($19.90) with beef and seafood; Seafood ($19.90), with clams, prawns, squid and mussels; Intestines ($19.90), with beef and offal; and the curious Ham & Cheese ($19.90).
All of these come with Hot Stone Rice and the fun is digging up the crisp grains from the bottom and the sides of the pot. Some stellar side dishes that are part of the set include sweet fried yellow croaker fish.
Other dishes worth ordering include JabChae ($19.90), sweet potato noodles with shredded vegetables and beef; and Prawn Tofu Pancake ($19.90), patties made with that excellent tofu.
This story was first published in The Straits Times, 28 April 2017.
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