By Thúy Hằng
The incredible international rise of Korean culture (Hallyu or Korean Wave) has entered all areas of pop culture and entertainment over the last few decades. It is not difficult to see the influence of Korean culture in the daily life in Việt Nam. Korean BBQ restaurants and Korean-style grocery stores packed with young customers are visible evidence of that influence.
Despite more and more Vietnamese people being fond of Korean food, I myself am not among them.
I have had the chance to sample traditional Korean food served by an experienced Korean chef flown in from Seoul; I have been to several Korean BBQ restaurants in Hà Nội; and I have even accompanied my teenage niece -- a crazy Hallyu fan -- to Korea Town in Toronto, Canada, for a lunch of all her favourite dishes, but truth be told, I am not a big fan of this cuisine.
However, my affection for Korean food was enhanced unexpectedly when I was recently invited to attend the launch of Korean Gastronomy Week at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi.
Unlike other Korean food events where I was presented with popular traditional dishes, this event celebrated modern Korean gastronomy with food created by chef Joseph Lidgerwood, an Australian-native living in Seoul, whose love of Korean food serves as the inspiration behind his Michelin-starred Evett restaurant.
The winner of the Michelin Young Chef Award 2021, Lidgerwood has been hailed by the Michelin Guide as someone who “constantly pushes boundaries of how local ingredients can be transformed”.
For the culinary event in Hà Nội, he created a special menu inspired by popular Korean folktales. With such an introduction, how could I remain apathetic? I was curious about his food and the way he combines traditional Asian ingredients with Western techniques.
Stuffed Persimmon with Creamy Halibut Tartar and Citrus.VNS Photos Thúy Hằng
Sadly, due to ongoing travel restrictions, Lidgerwood was unable to personally join the event. Instead, Metropole Executive Sous Chef Thiện Nguyễn took responsibility to present the food according to Lidgerwood's design.
The private lunch at the Le Club overlooking the beautiful hotel garden courtyard started with ‘Liver Parfait with Assorted Namul Muchim’ (VNĐ660,000) – a foie gras parfait inspired by the tale of a clever rabbit, which makes use of a variety of Korean mountain herbs.
This delightful appetiser consisted of four components: foie gras parfait, namul (mountain herbs) from Korea, rabbit confit and Makgeolli rice cake made from rice-wine flour dough.
The creamy foie gras parfait was complemented by the delicateness and variety of namul, similar to the vegetable side dishes served in many Korean restaurants. The rabbit confit was tender but the flavours quite plain, presumably so as to not dominate the other flavours. I liked the Sul-bbang rice cake as it left a slight flavour of rice wine after the first bite.
The second appetiser -- ‘Stuffed Persimmon with Creamy Halibut Tartar and Citrus’ (VNĐ660,000) -- pleased the eyes, with burnt orange-coloured persimmon placed on green leaves and adorned by sprigs of rice straw.
The dish, inspired by the humorous folktale the ‘Tiger and Persimmon’, was beyond my imagination. I have tried dried persimmon as a sweet snack but never in a savoury dish.
The cold appetiser featured the natural sweetness of the fruit with fresh halibut tartar, bearing a flavour of onion, citrus, and sesame oil. Keeping an open-minded spirit to anything new, I loved the creativity and freshness of this dish.
The main course -- ‘Velvety Lobster on Gondre Jook and Paprika Leathers’ (VNĐ1,500,000) -- was a congee dish upscaled with luxurious seafood. Before serving, a waitress poured a red wine-coloured sauce over the bed of plain congee.
A waitress pours a red wine-coloured sauce over the ‘Velvety Lobster on Gondre Jook and Paprika Leathers’.
The grilled lobster brushed with seaweed butter was melt-in-the-mouth, and cooked from the lobster shell, bearing a bisque-liked smell but less creamy. Seaweed threads and bell paprika were added to enhance the presence of the Korean ingredients. The dish was pleasant and enjoyable, certainly suitable for Vietnamese tastes.
Following was ‘Gochujang Glazed Wagyu Beef and Paprika Crisps’ (VNĐ1,500,000), inspired by Korean folktale ‘The Fairy and the Woodsman’.
The nice-looking and tempting dish featured Wagyu sirloin on a bed of sweet potato mash, covered in fallen “autumn leaves” of sweet potato and paprika crisps. I must applaud chef Lidgerwood for this creative and romantic idea.
Dessert was inspired by the Netflix global hit 'Squid Game'.
The Seoul-based chef also found himself on trend with his dessert ‘Dalgona & Chestnut Ice Cream’ (VNĐ300,000), inspired by the Netflix global hit Squid Game in which debt-laden contestants are forced to compete in survival games for a high cash prize. Contestants have to carve shapes from Dalgona candy – a Korean honeycomb cookie.
In his ornamental dessert, the Dalgona candy is atop a white cocoon of marshmallow whip containing chestnut ice cream with date compote and raspberry to adorn the plate.
The joyful feeling of tasting this sweet that has become a global sensation seemed to enhance my appetite. However, my suggestion is not to eat each part individually but rather to combine all the components – a little of each – in one bite. This final course was a most cheerful note on my journey to discover modern Korean gastronomy. — VNS
Korean Gastronomy Week
The ongoing event takes place at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi's Le Club Bar (à la carte dishes and set menu), and Angelina (bar bites and cocktails) until November 30. Available for lunch and dinner.
Price: VNĐ2,700,000 per person for a 5-course set menu. Dishes may be purchased individually.
Comment: The delectable menu offers a new and fresh look at Korean food.