I so love how Korean food has been getting more attention from Filipinos recently. Perhaps because a lot of Korean food is spicy, many have formed this erroneous assumption that practically all Korean food tastes the same – unbearably spicy. So I was really glad that Chef Gene Gonzalez, another distinguished Filipino chef and restaurateur, wrote about Korean food in his Manila Bulletin column.
As the founder and president of the Center for Asian Culinary Studies, Chef Gene definitely knows his Asian food. And with his multiple awards, it’s quite interesting to read about his take on a Korean restaurant which is quite near where I live and work. Read on and wet you palate with the descriptions from this top chef.
A taste of Top Dish
from Pleasures of the Table
by Gene Gonzalez
I was taken to this restaurant owned by this wonderful couple who belong to the Korean Catholic Church in Taguig. This restaurant on Durban St., in P. Burgos, Makati is an eating haunt of our Korean Chef Shim Kun Huh and her friend Hana Jo who happens to be a beauty products magnate.
The food is all supervised by Mrs. Agatha Gu a very cheery lady who started us with an array of deliciously homey and well thought of side dishes called Banchan. Besides the dried glazed sweet potato, chive pancake, Kimchi, radish pickles and sprouts, I loved Mrs. Gu’s assortment of seaweeds. At one visit she had fresh laver or nori, that tasted so redolent of the sea with the texture of squeezed spinach.
Another time it was what the Japanese call Tashima cut into small square sheets and dipped in Korean JinJu fish sauce. Most outstanding was Kompi or some waxed leafy seaweed that was also dipped in the Jinju fish sauce that displayed a complexity of textures and flavors from the ocean.
Mrs. Gu makes her own Dongdong Ju or glutinous rice wine, a farmer’s cloudy brew that she has every now and then to go with her food. When it is not available on can have Makkoli, which is also a cloudy brew of rice but using regular rice and is a commercially bottled Korean product.
Top Dish is a restaurant that needs a few visits because Madam Gu’s featured dishes have not disappointed us so far. My chef friend, Ernest Gala praises the Kalbi or beef dishes which cannot be argued about. Some piping hot steamed dumplings or Mandu, which have a more Korean character than their Chinese cuisines, are deliciously bursting with cloves of garlic and very fresh.
For soup, I would definitely recommend Hae mul Gerantang, a thickened clear seafood soup made orange by the addition of shrimp eggs enriched with waves of egg threads and some chewy textures of glutinous rice dumplings that absorb lots of flavor.
I asked Chef ShimKun for a dish that comes from her city of Busan and we ordered Busan Jobang Nakji which was a table-side stew of spicy octopus, vegetables and clear chapchae or bean thread noodles that went down well with the cold heady rice wine.
Most outstanding is the Kul Kamjajang or Oyster Potato cake. This is an excellent and delicate interplay of textures. The front is crispy like pa jeon or Korean pan cake while the back is moist and sticky like its Chinese counterpart.
For chicken dishes, the two choice ones would be the barbecue chicken served glazed with sesame seeds and a sizzling plate and Takbal or spicy roasted chicken feet. Now the spicy chicken feet came with a few plastic gloves so one can chomp on these while using one’s fingers.
The Korean style of chicken feet does not cook it that tender but is appreciated for a little bite or chewiness as it is mainly cartilage and gelatin that is spiced.
With all these dried and fresh peppers and chilies interacting with these hearty dishes, I ordered more makkoli and mischievously poured more into their bowls… What’s a good Korean meal if you don’t get a good buzz…?
Thanks to Chef Gene Gonzalez for the photo.