We Indians have a love for Asian food, be it Thai, Chinese or the growing love for Japanese. Gradually, cuisines like Malay and Korean are also making their way to the restaurants in metros.
Korean cuisine has a strong influence from both Chinese and Japanese cuisines, due to its nearness to the country and colonization history.
Korean cuisine comprises of mainly three types of ingredients- rice, meat and vegetables. Korean food is generally served as a whole meal, together with various side dishes, and not course by course. This also helps us to customise the taste of the meal as per our taste.
Korean food is more heavily seasoned than Chinese or Japanese dishes- with ginger, garlic, green onions, sesame, soy sauce, red and black pepper. This makes it more favorable to the tastebuds of Indians.
Major Korean dishes
The names at Korean restaurants might confuse us as what to order. Following are the few signature dishes of this cuisine, easily available in all Korean restaurants in India:
A national favourite in Korea, kimchi is now a common name in most Asian restaurants and the salad counters in marriage functions.
Korean kimchi is made with a special type of cabbage, known as Napa cabbage, or Korean radish or even cucumber, fermented in a brine of garlic, ginger, green scallions and chilli pepper. Being fermented, kimchi can be preserved to last a whole season.
Kimchi is considered to be a dish with many health benefits. In fact, during the SARS epidemic of 2003, while south east Asia reported thousands of infections and deaths, South Korea had only two non-fatal cases. This was reported to be an effect of high consumption of Kimchi in the country, which in turn boosted the immune systems. You would be suprised to know, a Korean national, on an average, consumes about 40 pounds of kimchi in a year!
This falls among the main dishes, consisting of rice topped with egg yolk and surrounded by colourful veggies and meat. You have to mix all of these along with sesame oil and red chilli paste, to get the balanced taste. ‘Bap’ is the Korean for rice, so it would be easier to identify a rice dish.
Traditionally, rice is cooked in a clay pot called ‘sot’, and you can find dolsot bibimbap in many restaurants. The rice is sticky rice, commonly found in Japanese dishes too.
Bulgogi literally means fire beef, which is basically grilled beef in a hot, sweet and salty marinade. It is generally eaten by wrapping the meat and accompanying condiments in lettuce leaves, folding it like a big “paan” or betel leaf.
This is one of the most famous dishes. This is basically pork belly meat grilled on your table, with a spicy paste, garlic and chillies. You can also opt for the chicken (‘dak’) version, as per your taste.
Simply put, Kimbap is Korean sushi. However, it differs from its Japanese version in terms of rice and filling. The rice is bit sweeter and the filling is mostly cooked, like canned tuna, kimchi, grilled bulgogi, etc., unlike sushi, which has raw fillings.
It’s a snack in Korea, which people prefer for ‘grab and go’. If you love sushi, go for it. Dip it in the soy sauce, and eat it whole at once, topping with Korean ginger, if you like. In fact, spicy kimchi Kimbap is known to cure hangovers!
As mentioned earlier, every Korean dish is served with a lot of sides, collectively known as Banchan. These may include pickled cucumber or mangoes, asparagus, Korean rolled omlette called Gyeranmari, and also dried fish or octopus. The spread is colourful and every side tastes starkly different from the others.
Soju is a distilled alcoholic beverage and a Korean favourite. It is now so famous across the world that Jinro Soju brand has been the highest selling spirit across the world! It is consumed neat, along with food, and is available in almost all Korean restaurants.
Apart from these, you can also try soups, stews and desserts (which are rarely available).
Some Korean restaurants in India offer the traditional way of eating Korean food, that is, on the floor with low height tables. Unlike Japanese food, Korean food is not entirely eaten with chopsticks, and rice and soup are meant to be consumed with a spoon provided on the table.
Korean food in India
Korean restaurants followed where Korean nationals including officials and students were settled, and restaurants opened in metros like Delhi, Gurgaon, Bengaluru and Pune. Lacking Korean corporate offices in the city, Mumbai has been slow in catching up.
Our top favourite in Delhi is Busan restaurant, tucked into a small lane inside the maze of Majnu ka Tilla. It is located inside the Tashi Delek house. It is a very reasonably priced restaurant with equally amazing food and beverages. They also have options for live barbecue if you want to cook a Korean dish by yourself. They also serve you complimentary tea, which makes all your stress go away.
Gung, the Palace, has multiple outlets across Delhi NCR, and is famous among the more expensive restaurants. If you are in the mood for light snacks, head to Kori’s in Safdarjung.
For tourists staying in Paharganj area, it would be convenient to visit Shim Tur, which is an inexpensive Korean restaurant. However, summers can be difficult here as it is not air conditioned, and it is best visited in the winters.
If you prefer private booths, sitting on the floor, and rice paper decorated doors, head to Di Miso restaurant in Global Foyer mall, Gurgaon.
Bengaluru also has few Korean restaurants, the most famous being the Hae Kum Gang on Brigade road. If you are searching for a lower budget restaurant, head to The Himalayan in Koramangala, 5th block. The chatty owner surely makes you feel at home along with great food.
Sadly, the city which loves eating, Kolkata does not have a Korean restaurant yet. Though you get few Korean dishes in some Asian restaurants, it is wise to taste a Korean dish from an exclusively Korean restaurant. However, a new Korean bakery called King’s Bakery has opened up in New Town, Kolkata by a Korean barista.
So go ahead, fall in love with Korean food (which one would, we think!) and let us know about your experience.