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Korea beyond Kimchi

If you are in the mood for some exotic spicy food, then Gurgaon’s Hahn’s kitchen – an authentic Korean restaurant – is something you can’t afford to miss

Most of us unknowingly have had their first taste of Korean food through what can be called the ‘Punjabi version’ of kimchi, which is essentially chopped cabbage tossed with tomato sauce, accompanied by our chicken tikka.

Kimchi, called Kimchi Salad here, is already cropping up as an appetiser in many non-Korean restaurants, though in an unfermented form. Korean food, having a base of rice mixed with strong flavours, is quite similar to Indian food. Add to it grilled meats and strong vegetarian starters, and Indians who try Korean food end up going back again and again. But what is surprising is how long it took for Korean food to capture the Indian palate.

Banking on Indian diners’ love for exotic spicy food — Lite Bite foods — the company behind Punjab Grill, Fresco and Asia7, has partnered with a Korean chef Patrick Hahn to start ‘Hahn’s Kitchen’— an authentic Korean restaurant with Indian prices. Hahn, who has lived in India as a child, understands both Indian and Korean cuisines. He has stayed away from localising the menu to suit Indian tastes, which seems to be working well with Gurgaon’s desi foodies as well as expats.

We land up here to treat ourselves to a spicy Korean meal. The restaurant has table seating as well as the more traditional Korean one. We seat ourselves in the Korean sunken seating in one of their private dining areas.

Before getting into what we ate, a bit of a primer on the food – Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, vegetables, and meats. Traditional Korean meals have a number of side dishes that accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice. Kimchi is served with nearly every meal. Main course is rice accompanied by Bulgogi (“fire” meat), Bibimbap (rice with mixed vegies topped with a fried egg) and stews among others. There are no desserts, and normally the meal ends with fruits.

Back to our food experience. We start with some delicious side dishes, typically mostly fermented leafy vegetables. The first main dish to arrive is Deopbap Bulgogi (`695). Deopbap literally means “covered rice” and is a bowl of rice topped with bulgogi. Bulgogi deopbap is one of the most popular dishes in Korea, and I can understand why. This dish is both comforting and exciting. The broth accompanying it is a bit too subtle for me.

Gochujang Samgyupsal (` 1045) or spicy grilled pork belly with gochujang sauce is an elaborate dish, accompanied with salad leaves to wrap it in a moreish soup, and of course rice. This dish is delicious. The belly is cooked to perfection, crisp on the outside and soft inside. Haemultang (Assorted Seafood Hotpot; `795) is equally delicious with the deliciousness of the sea cooked in an addictively spicy stew. It is very difficult to stop eating this stew. Highly recommended.

Spicy, savoury, sweet, sour, salty, bitter — Korean food is always rich with intriguing flavors. Along with meats, every meal also includes plenty of vegetables, most importantly kimchi, which is robustly flavoured with fermented vegetables. Besides providing phytonutrients and fiber, kimchi also supplies lactobacillus and other good bacteria that some experts think can help boost immune defences. But as important is the fact that Korean food is delicious. So if you have not tried it, you must do so now!

Ratings (Out of 5)
Food: 4.0 | Ambience: 4.0 | Service: 3.5 | Value: 4.0 | Overall: 4.0
Meal for two: `1800 | Alcohol: Yes | Credit Card: Yes | Wheel chair friendly: Yes
Address: T1-101, Plaza Level Tower 1, One Horizon Center, DLF Phase 5, Golf Course Road, Gurgaon -122002. Tel: 0124 257 5600