No longer will Korean food play second fiddle to its Far Eastern cousins, Chinese and Japanese. In recent conversation with Time Out Dubai, Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia tipped Korean food to be the next big thing. Spawning multiple Latin-Asian fusions on the way (Korean taco, anyone?) now Korean food is slowly squaring up to be the world’s cuisine du jour. The trend is just starting to find its feet in Dubai, but you can still sample the signatures dishes of this nation here. Here’s our guide to what to order, and how to get ‘jjigae’ with it, in Dubai.
1 Bibimbap (bee-bim-bap) It might sound a bit like jazz vocalisation, but bibimbap is a dish of rice with other bits and bobs such as beef, eggs, vegetables and fermented chilli paste (gochujang). Dolsot bibimbap, served in a hot stone bowl to crisp up the grains of rice at the bottom, is a crowd pleaser. It often comes with minced raw beef and a raw egg, which cook as you mix it all together.
2 Bulgogi (bul-goh-gee) Any barbecue restaurant worth its salt serves this sweet and savoury beef dish. Using sirloin, or other prime cuts, the meat is thinly sliced and marinated in a slew of ingredients including soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil and puréed Asian pear before then getting a good grilling.
3 Kalbi (kal-bee) South Korea is a country that knows how to grill a piece of meat. It also knows how to make diners do it themselves on tabletop barbecues. Kalbi is the king of the coals. Meaning ‘rib’ in Korean, it’s usually made with beef, cut into long, thin strips before being marinated in soy sauce, garlic and sugar. Decent restaurants leave the bone attached at one end. Often cooked at the table, the strips are then chopped into bite-sized pieces with a giant pair of scissors. Wrap them in lettuce with fermented bean and chilli paste (ssamjang, 9) or hot pepper paste (Gochujang, 8) for the full-on experience.
4 Pa jeon (pah-jon) On a rainy day there’s nothing Seoulites like more than a slice of savoury pancake. There are all sorts of theories about why it’s more popular in the rain – some say the sound is reminiscent of sizzling batter – but whatever the reason, even if rainy days are rare, you’ll have no trouble finding pa jeon on Korean menus in Dubai. Generally filled with spring onions and seafood, the thick rice-and wheat-flour wheels are cut into bite-sized pieces and served with a vinegar and soy sauce dip. Another popular version is made with kimchi (kimchijeon, 10).
5 Jjigae (ji-geh) From tang to jang, jjigae to jeongol, there are all sorts of soups and stews in Korean cuisine, and most set meals will include one. Traditionally served in a hot, glazed earthenware pot, jjigae is a thick soup made with strong seasonings like fermented soya bean paste (doengjang), or hot and sour kimchi. Some of the most popular include sundubu jjigae with soft tofu, seafood slivers and a hefty dose of chilli powder; kimchi jjigae filled with fermented cabbage, meat and plenty of garlic; and doengjang jjigae, packed with anything from veg to firm tofu and beef. Doengjang is a little saltier than Japanese miso paste.
6 Korean burritos Korrito, burrean… whatever you want to call it, this Korean-Mexican mash-up is currently causing a storm on the street-food scene on both sides of the Atlantic. Though it may not be one for the purists, Korexican food has now spread from a truck in Los Angeles to New York, London and Seoul – where it’s available in any number of fast-food restaurants.
7 Yangneom tongdak (yang-nom-ton-dak) Forget Kentucky, this KFC is Korean fried chicken, and it’s turbo-charged with a finger-licking coating of chilli sauce or soy and ginger. Double fried for extra crunch, then coated in hot, sweet and sticky sauce, it’s impossible to eat without getting a little messy. Literally meaning ‘seasoned whole chicken’ in Korean, it’s more likely to consist of fried wings and breast than whole birds.
The nibbles 11 Banchan Kimchi (see below), seasoned veggies (namul) and stir-fries (bokkeum) are typical side dishes that accompany any Korean meal. In Seoul you can expect gratis extras with every meal, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch in Dubai… not often, anyway.
12 Kimchi (Kim-chee) Love it or hate it, no Korean spread would be complete without a few mouthfuls of kimchi. A bit like spicy sauerkraut, the classic version is made from Chinese cabbage fermented with plenty of chilli and garlic. There’s a vast array of varieties out there.
13 Jap chae (jap-cheh) This springy sweet potato noodle stir-fry with beef, vegetables, soy sauce and sesame oil is sometimes served in small portions as part of the ‘banchan’.
14 Bap Steamed, sticky, short-grain rice is the staple of choice in Korea, and few meals end without it. No need to fiddle around with your chopsticks: it’s normal to scoop it up with your spoon.
15 Borich’a This popular Korean tea is made from roasted barley. It’s served cold in summer and hot in winter.