Korean food has risen in popularity in recent years, entering into the mainstream with the help of chefs like David Chang and Roy Choi, among a number of others. They’ve helped to introduce Korean food to the general public, as well as incorporating Korean flavours and ingredients into their dishes, whether as a modern take on a traditional dish or as an element in a fusion dish such as kimchi mayo.
If you're new to Korean food and would like to see what all the fuss is about, here’s a list of five popular Korean dishes and five restaurants to try them at to get yourself up to speed and to whet your appetite.
Korean Fried Chicken (KFC)
Korean fried chicken is the gateway drug for many to Korean cuisine. Known as yangnyeum tongduk in Korean, Korean fried chicken is a batter coated, double fried crunchy chicken that's served slathered with a sticky sweet soy or chili sauce. However, there are other variations including one popular version that serves the chicken unsauced with a mound of shredded spring onions and a spicy mustard and soy dipping sauce.
Korean fried chicken is so good that, among food enthusiasts, it has usurped the acronym of KFC from the Colonel's chicken.
There are a number restaurants that do a great job at making KFC but one of my favourites would be The Sparrow's Mill in the city, a sister branch to Red Pepper which is located within a bowling club in Strathfield.
The Sparrows Mill – 116-120 Liverpool St, Sydney +61 2 9264 7109
Pajeon is an amalgam of two Korean words pa, meaning spring onions or shallots, and jeon, which is essentially a pancake. Pajeon is a thick and hearty spring onion pancake with crispy edges, which is usually served with a soy and vinegar based dipping sauce. It’s often served as one large pancake, unsliced, with a pair of scissors offered to cut at the table into portions as large or as small as one desires.
Another popular version of pajeon incorporates a medley of seafood including baby prawns, octopus and mussels, known as haemul pajeon (seafood spring onion pancake).
One place to find a good pajeon, the seafood one in particular, is Sydney Madang (Madang for short). It’s one of the venerable and hallmark Korean restaurants in Sydney, particularly for Korean barbecue.
Sydney Madang – 371A Pitt St, Sydney +61 2 9264 7010
Speaking of Korean barbecue...
Korean barbecue encapsulates the spirit and ethos of Korean dining at its finest. It's casual, it's social and it is as much about sharing and generosity as it is about sustenance.
A hotplate embedded into the dining table is used to cook a variety of meats. Usually one or two designated people cook the food for the rest of the table, either serving them onto communal plates from which to share or served directly to the individual while it's still sizzling. If you're not comfortable with cooking your own meat, some restaurants will cook the meat for you, sometimes at the table and at other times in the kitchen before serving it to the table precooked.
Meats available for Korean barbecue come in many forms, marinated or unseasoned, including beef, chicken, pork, some offal (particularly ox tongue and pork intestines) and seafood. Popular meats for Korean barbecue include kalbi, a soy and garlic marinated ribbon of beef rib with bone attached and samgyeopsal, unmarinated strips of pork belly. There are also a few dipping sauces that are served that usually go with different meats. For instance, a smoky sesame oil with salt and pepper dipping sauce for unmarinated meats such as the pork belly, and a light, sweet soy based dipping sauce for marinated meats such as the beef ribs.
Aside from the aforementioned Madang, if you're looking to get away from the city and dine in the suburbs, Jonga Jip is a popular Korean barbecue restaurant among the locals of Eastwood, one of the major Korean food hubs in Sydney.
Jonga Jip – 87 Rowe St, Eastwood +61 2 9858 5160
Bibimbap (Korean for mixed rice) is a popular staple among Koreans. This healthy and hearty rice dish consists of a variety of vegetative elements, including spinach with garlic, blanched bean sprouts and fried shiitake mushrooms for example, along with a little chopped meat on a bowl of steamed rice along with a dollop of chili paste, a dash of sesame oil and topped with either a fried egg or a raw egg yolk. All the ingredients are mixed into the rice, giving it a reddish hue from the chili paste, richness from the molten yolk and sesame oil and a variety of flavours and textures from the other ingredients.
A popular variation of this dish is dolsot bibimbap, which is the same dish served in a heated stone bowl. The residual heat from the stone bowl scorches the rice that comes into contact with it, giving some of the rice a crunchy texture and a delightful nutty aroma to it.
There are a number of places that have bibimbap on the menu but one place I liked was Seoulria in the city. Make sure to try the dolsot bibimbap with the stone bowl. You won’t regret it.
Seoulria – Level 2, 605-609 George St, Sydney +61 2 9269 0222
A dish make famous to the western world by chef David Chang of Momofuku, bossam consists of steamed or braised pork belly (the bo) wrapped in a lettuce leaf (ssam means to wrap), along with a number of other ingredients and condiments.
Components of this dish typically include some spicy shredded radish kimchi, oysters (either fresh or pickled in a chili sauce), blanched chinese cabbage, as well as raw slices of garlic and green chili. Each of these ingredients are stacked onto a lettuce leaf along with a smear of mild chili paste, wrapped up into a small parcel and eaten in one whole mouthful.
One place for some good bossam is Danjee, which is owned by the same people that operate Madang. However, there are a number of other good places for bossam including the previously mentioned Madang, Jonga Jip and The Sparrows Mill.
Danjee – 1/7 Albion Place, Sydney +61 2 8084 9041
I hope that this serves as a helpful and delicious primer to Korean cuisine. If you love Korean food as much as I do, please share this post and spread the word.
Words and photography by Simon Park
Simon Park is a much loved and respected Sydney Food Blogger. You can see read more of his recommendations on his Sydney Restaurant, Lifestyle and Recipe Blog: the heart of food