Monday, July 23 2018


Hearty Korean dishes spice up gloomy winter

Update: December, 19/2012 - 16:01


Warm ambience: The rooms are tiny but comfortable – perfect for a cold day with friends. — Photos Truong Vi
Popular dish: Whet your appetite with Gim Bab's signature dish.­ ­
Tempting: Black noodles (mi den tron nong) come in a sizzling cast iron bowl.

Gim Bab

Address: 50A Ngoc Khanh St., Ha Noi

Tel.: 04-3771-2984

Price Range: VND45,000-150,000

Comment: Hearty Korean comfort food. Dishes to try: Gim bab, tak buk ky, com tron thap cam, mi den tron nong

With sizzling bowls of noodles, generous portions and a convivial atmosphere, Gim Bab makes an ideal destination for chilly days. Elisabeth Rosen reportsWrapped in nori, stuffed with rice and morsels of vegetable, gimbap bears more than a passing resemblance to the Japanese hand roll that inspired it. But don't call this dish Korean sushi.

Where sushi is all about subtlety, the Korean version that lends its name to this restaurant in the heart of Ba Dinh's Koreatown creates excitement through sharp contrast. Mouthfuls of steamed rice play off a filling of crunchy carrots and daikon in the classic version (VND25,000); more substantial rolls envelop fiery kimchi or are deep-fried in a crisp layer of panko. Skip the pasty dipping sauce and go straight for the excellent house-made pickles: sweet golden rounds of daikon, cucumber softened into pale half-moons and spiked with chili.

You won't find elegant plates at Gim Bab. Rice piles into vast bowls and vegetables are pickled or torn into scraps, rather than playing a starring role, in a testament to the cuisine's rural origins. Fermented chili paste, or gochujang, pervades many of the dishes, but this is not the searing agony of Sichuan cuisine, nor is it the dry fire of Indian curry. Rather, the food here offers a milder, sweeter heat that lingers on the palate.

The narrow space gives a new meaning to the term "hole-in-the-wall". Stairs twist and turn, revealing a warren of tiny rooms that seems to never end. It's the kind of place where you fear your order will take a wrong turn and never show up.

Thanks to the capable waitstaff, that never happens. The service is quick and efficient; we never had to wait more than a few minutes for our first dish. The servers don't usually speak English, but the menu includes large (though slightly discoloured) pictures.

The food is far heartier than the faded images suggest. Ddeokbokki (tak buk ky, VND45,000) is an ideal winter comfort food: plump sticks of glutinous rice immersed in a creamy gochujang-infused sauce, along with compressed fish cut into broad strips. Although fish cakes are a staple protein in Korean cooking, many restaurants serve them unpleasantly chewy. But at Gim Bab, they are delicate ribbons that almost melt in the creamy sauce.

While ddeokbokki is an appetizer that could easily be a main course, a dish that trades the substantial rice cakes for stir-fried noodles (mi xao oteng, VND60,000) is a main course that feels light on substance. Coated in a rich, garlicky sauce flecked with carrot and chili, the thin noodles taste thicker than they are, but without a denser counterpart than the airy fish cakes -meat, tofu, even large pieces of vegetable-they won't satisfy as an entree.

But those noodles are a rarity. More often, the restaurant offers filling fare that warms and soothes. In Gim Bab's standout dolsot bibimbap (com tron thap cam, VND70,000), a generous mound of rice sizzles in a cast iron bowl, topped with earthy mushroom fragments and threads of spinach and carrot. A fried egg sits precariously on top: admire the presentation before the server adds a healthy spoonful of chili paste, throwing everything together into a glorious mix with an addictively crisp crust.

The same cast iron bowl heats up black noodles (mi den tron nong, VND60,000), where thick curls of wheat dough sizzle in a dark soy sauce that isn't actually black, but close to it. Sprinkled with scallions and flaky ribbons of omelet, the noodles strike an ideal balance between ramen simmered in broth and the drier char of a stir-fry.

This isn't polished fare. But for a reasonable price, it offers a taste of excitement. — VNS

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