by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Seventy-five days have now passed since Việt Nam reported any community transmission of COVID-19. It’s been an unusual year for students, with schools closed and classes held online. Final exams for the school year were held in June, the hottest month in the country’s northern and central regions.
After a long and difficult semester for kids, their teachers and, of course, us parents, we decided to treat ourselves to the cool air of the Lotte Center in Hà Nội and some grilled marinated meat we’d seen so often on TV.
SURE TO PLEASE: Gojumong Casual offers a wide range of grills, mixed rice, and soups. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
On the sixth floor of the Lotte Center, Gojumong Casual had been crowded every time we’ve visited before. This time we didn’t have to stand in line, unlike last time when we paid a visit during the Tết (Lunar New Year) holidays. The BBQ smell was quite pleasant, as was the cool air inside when outside it was nearly 40 degrees Celsius.
I particularly like the panchan, or appetisers, at Gojumong Casual. We’ve previously had tiny dried fish, pancakes, and salads, but they’ve changed the menu since our last visit so we went for the green onion salad, seaweed soup, and a scoop of pumpkin purée with golden fried almond flakes on top. The pumpkin was so delicious I didn’t try the others.
YOUR CHOICE: Two types of kimchi are served at Gojumong: julienned turnips and cabbage. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
Next we ordered saeng galbi, or beef ribs (VNĐ540,000). The waiter cut the meat into bite-sized pieces to wrap in fresh vegetables and dip in soya sauce. This way of making fresh rolls is similar to the Vietnamese summer rolls we eat at home, but without the rice paper.
GREEN & CLEAN: The veggie tray features fresh crispy lettuce, fragrant herbs, and boiled cabbage. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
The veggie tray at Gojumong is as long as the table and has all the fresh, boiled vegetables, aromatic herbs, and chilli you could possibly imagine. The fresh and green colours guarantee you’ll never overdo it on the meat side of things.
Next we had beoljib samgyeobsal, or grilled pork belly (VNĐ240,000). As it was pork, not beef, we had it well-done. Then came yangnyoem sogalbisal, or marinated beef (VNĐ320,000), which is also grilled and rolled with veggies.
As the waiter was about to begin with our grill, she and the other staff suddenly all said something in Korean.
“Was that a greeting?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. “But you already greeted us, so there’s no need to do it again,” I said to her.
She explained it was a courtesy in the restaurant, to express their hospitality every time guests arrived.
I understood but had a touch of concern about her raising her voice as she cooked at our table, given these lingering days of COVID-19.
The last of the grilled meat we had was woo samgyeop, (VNĐ240,000) - thin slices of beef belly in a special marinade. The thin slices were nice, but it would have tasted better if it was served earlier, as they take less time to cook than the ribs. Wrapped in lettuce and herbs and accompanied by sour and spicy kimchi, the grilled meats were a great treat for the whole family.
SOFT & SUCCULENT: The Saeng Galbi, or beef ribs, was so tasty and tender. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
We then ordered something we’ve had every time we’ve come here -- galbitang (VNĐ240,000), or clear beef soup with vegetables, julienned fried eggs, and vermicelli. “Oh, how tender the meat is,” my 12-year-old daughter exclaimed!
She then asked if I wanted to watch her eat it in the normal way or how she’d seen it done in K-dramas.
The “normal way” is to ladle some soup on top of rice. “Take a spoonful of rice,” she explained, teaching us the K-drama way, “roll it around, then dip it in your soup bowl, use your chopsticks to take a piece of tender meat, put it in your mouth, then top it off with a small bite of kimchi!”
“Wow, it’s like having phở!” I said.
The soup actually did taste a little bit like Vietnam’s traditional beef noodle soup, phở. You also pick the noodle unto the spoon, add a piece of meat, dip in the soup, then eat. The way we had this soup on rice reminded me of days long gone, when my siblings and I were growing up and were at home while our parents were at work. We used to have left-over rice from the previous meal, and we would go out to buy a bowl of phở and bring it home. We all poured some phở over the cool rice as a before-school treat. The taste was so delicious I still remember it today.
“Mummy, you can enjoy this dish without telling that story every time,” my daughter said, bringing me back from cold winter days in Hà Nội to the cool Korean restaurant in the summer.
The soup was so good she ended up nearly having two bowls of rice with it, which made us roll our eyes as one portion seemed enough for an adult, let alone a child.
All of the names of the dishes were rather long and difficult to remember, so I had to call the restaurant as I started to write this. The person on the other end told me the beef soup is among its best-sellers and loved by all, especially children and the elderly.
They then suggested we try some spicy stir-fried squid next time we visit. We plan to do exactly that, as based on its selection of grilled meats it’s sure to be incredible. VNS
POPULAR PICK: Galbitang, or beef ribs in a clear soup with vermicelli and vegetables, is one of the best-selling dishes at Gojumong Casual. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà