I have never been to Korea, but I am told that the food scene is buzzing. Only in the South though, I bet the North just lives off gruel, propaganda and misery.
I do have someone on the inside though. A very close family member of mine was brought up in Korea and is a fantastic cook, so she has taught me everything I need to know when it comes to Korean cusine and I just can’t get enough of it.
It is safe to say that it is one of the world’s most underrated styles of cooking, and I think it is a total travesty that Manchester only has three dedicated Korean restaurants. Be that as it may, all I can hope for is to spread awareness and create a bit more of a demand, because there should be a place to grab hot-pot and rice bowls on every street corner as far as I am concerned. Below is the low-down of what to order and where to eat it.
(Stews and Soups)
Jeongol (pronounced Jen-Gol) is the Korean word for Hot Pot which is somewhere between a western soup and a stew. The process of cooking it is a simple one; and is made by combining meat broth with a variety of ingredients such as fish, mushrooms, meat and vegetables, and boiling together. These soups and stews are said to originate from times of war where soldiers would cook in their helmets for lack of cooking utensils. There are so many variations to choose from, but most famous would be Haemool Jungol or seafood hot pot. This usually consists of prawns, squid, octopus, crab, mussels, cod and clams with mushrooms and other vegetables. It is traditionally flavoured with red pepper powder- so it packs a punch and warms your soul from the inside out. Koreana on King Street has a fantastic selection of stews, soups and hot pot’s on their menu which are authentic. My go to is always their Kimchi stew with pork which is not for the faint hearted- it will blow your head off!
Koreana, 40A King Street West, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M3 2WY
0161 832 4330
If you haven’t had a chance to dive headfirst into a little Bulgogi (pronounced Bull-Go-Ghee), then you need to cancel all plans and bunk it up to the top of your to-do list. It directly translates to ‘fire meat’ and you will see why when you sit around the table with a hot plate/grill in the middle, and you order a few rounds of raw and marinated meat which you cook it for yourself just to your liking. Traditionally it will be served with rice, lettuce leaves, sweet and sour spring onions (which I swear to God is one of the single most delicious things I have ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth- it must be laced with crack) and a range of sauces for dipping. Typical meat choices include thinly sliced marbled beef, pork belly, marinated chicken, Ox tongue (trust me on that one) and beef ribs. If you want to try everything at once to get a real feel for it, I would suggest heading over to Ban Di Bul where you can try a varied meat selection for £38 which is ideal for sharing.
Ban Di Bul, 77 Princess Street, Manchester, M2 4EG
This dish (pronounced- as you would expect) is usually served in a piping hot stone bowl and consists in its purest form of steamed white rice topped with meat, vegetables and usually a raw egg. The primary and most important ingredient is Gochujang (fermented red chilli paste) which gives this dish its unique flavour and heat. If you want to lose your Bibimbap virginity, then look no further than Seoul Kimchi on Upper Brook Street. This tiny, unassuming little restaurant couldn’t be in the worst place – right next to the Royal Infirmary, student halls and a blood donation centre. But please don’t let that put you off. It is a fantastic little place and a favourite of the Infamous Guardian food critic Jay Rayner. Their Bibimbap is utterly perfect too. The bottom of the rice bowl starts to crisp and the bottom, and as you mix it, all the raw egg starts to cook and turns into a comforting bowl of almost-egg fried rice. Honestly, this dish is comfort food at its best.
Seoul Kimchi, 275 Upper Brook St, Manchester M13 0HR
0161 273 5556
(Starters & sides)
And now on to the best bit. Everyone loves little morsels to get tucked into, and no one does it quite like the Koreans. There is nowhere better to start than Kimchi which is spiced, fermented cabbage which is so indicative of Korean cusine. It is often used in cooking but can be eaten raw on the side of your meal. I made some for myself last year, and it lasted me a good 18 months…my fridge did smelt horrid though towards the end, but I was in heaven at least. Cold seaweed salads make decent side dishes too. They are usually served mixed with bean sprouts and dressed in a sweet rice wine vinegar dressing and go wonderfully well with some salty BBQ meat.
Another one to look out for is Mandu dumplings. They are similar to the Chinese and Japanese varieties, but the Korean type is usually a bit fatter and better stuffed. They can be steamed, boiled, pan-fried or deep fried and are typically filled with minced meat and vegetables such as cabbage.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, no guide to Korean food would be complete without mention of Jeon, or Korean pancakes. They come in many varieties and can be made with fish, meat, vegetables or just kimchi. They are one of the simplest foods ever and can be created with whatever leftovers you have lying around in the house. They are slightly fluffier than the ones we know and love, and it is essential to know that they are strictly savoury. Go and try the ones from Wookoshi in the Trafford Centre– they are my absolute favourite thing to order, and I will bet my life savings that they will be yours too.
Wookooshi, 128 The Orient, The Trafford Centre, M17 8EH Manchester
0161 747 2223