by Khieu Thanh Ha
|Traditional seating: Gimbap Shochu Restaurant offers real South Korean cuisine where gourmets have to take their shoes off and sit on cushions on the floor around a table. — VNS Photos
|Meat-free: Homemade salad is a good choice for those who want a healthy or vegetarian meal at Shochu Gimbap.
|Diners' choice: Bibimbap or mixed rice in a hot stone pot is a popular dish. It is delicious and fresh and decorated beautifully.
Add: 39 Tran Dang Ninh St, Cau Giay Dist, Ha Noi
Tel: (04) 3793 1492
Price: from VND25,000
Opening hours: 10am-10pm
Comment: Wonderful bibimbap and free unique kimchi
For many years, Viet- namese people have been crazily influenced by South Korean arts and culture introduced through movies and TV. Many of my friends have fallenl in love with Korean pop and dance music, while others love to hunt for the latest clothing designs. I am, however, much more into Korea's beautiful and delicious culinary offerings, and so, on this assignment I decided to check out some of the Hermit Nationstaple dishes.
A number of Korean restaurants have been popping up all over Ha Noi in recent years.
I have already tried Korean buffets in many hotels, but had never been won over. I really wanted to discover something intense and different about the cuisine. So, after searching for some days, I chose Gimbap Shochu Restaurant located on Tran Dang Ninh Street, Cau Giay District - the capital of the Korean community in the city.
Accompanying me were three friends, one of whom insisted that he had no particular penchant for Korea in general, but agreed to go with me because I had previously given him well-informed advice in reference to his birthday party. Later, he really regretted having refused Korean food on so many previous occasions.
Meat and veg
Through some background research on Korean food I found out that it is largely based upon rice, vegetables, and meat.
Traditional meals are noted for the number of accompanying side dishes, and kimchi - a free side dish given to all diners - is served at almost every meal. Commonly used ingredients include steam-cooked short-grain rice, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes and gochujang (fermented red chilli paste).
Many things were served at the same time as part of our set meal: gimbap with veggies and egg, fried mandu, fried tofu with kimchi, hot noodles with black bean sauce, salad, kimchi and bibimbap. Each dish was full of flavour and very, very affordable, with all nine of the dishes on the menu in the VND25,000-90,000 range.
The gimbap, steamed rice and other ingredients were rolled in sheets of dried seaweed, and served in bite-size slices. They did not inspire me very much because they were similar to Japan's sushi.
I took an extreme disliking to the fried mandu which reeked of garlic. The pork inside was however really tender and sweet.
Sunny side up
Bibimbap, a signature dish of Korean cuisine, ranked first in my choice.
It is absolutely my favourite dish. It consists of a bed of rice, marinated beef, a mixture of zucchini, carrots, oyster mushrooms, and bean sprouts cooked in sesame oil. And on the top was an egg omelette plus sesame seeds and slices of dried seaweed.
The special feature of this dish is that it was served in a stone pot and brought to the table sizzling hot. If you left the pot for some minutes before mixing all of the things together, a thin, crunchy layer of rice forms across the top. Oh my god, it was beautiful and delicious!
All ingredients worked perfectly with each other creating a uniqueness of flavours. It tasted even better when a table spoon of chilli paste was added. It was extremely yummy!
The salad was enjoyable too – it was made of thinly sliced cabbage, carrots and tomatoes, topped with a home-made sauce likely to have consisted of mayonnaise and ketchup. It was fresh, of course, like many other salad dishes, but its simple ingredients made me feel healthy and saved me from a heavy dinner feeling.
The winner's choice
Other highlights aaccording to my friends included stir-fried tofu with cabbage kimchi. The friend of mine who had never before cared for Korea's culinary offerings said he loved the richness of taste from the tofu and the sourness and spice of the kimchi all mixed up in one bite.
He also made a great comment about the kimchi: "This kimchi is so great. It must have been made by an experienced or Korean cook. I find it very different to what I have tasted before. It is well seasoned and smells good," he said, adding that he would choose to eat kimchi every day because it was reputed to aid in the digestion of carbohydrates and in the prevention of geriatric diseases and even SARS.
We decided to go non-Korean with the drinks, because of my love of Coke and my friend's preference of Heineken, but all of the usual uniquely Korean beverages were available, including the exceptionally tasting soju (native beverage similar to vodka) and ginseng tea. There was a something for everyone.
The negative aspects of the restaurant were its boring and poor decoration that were not reflective of a truly Korean environment, however this was balanced out with other plus points including enthusiastic waiters and a karaoke room upstairs for diners to enjoy after a great meal.
Ah, one thing to note for all eaters! The traditional way to eat Korean food, even at a restaurant, is with your shoes off, sitting on cushions around the table on the floor! — VNS