I’ve been eating a lot at restaurants since we moved to Bangalore, both because it’s (usually) cheap and for the experience of it. I’ve eaten at enough places to have developed some favorites, but I try to keep broadening my experience by eating at as many new places as I can.
Today, I had a lunch experience that was new on two fronts. For one thing, it was a restaurant that’s new to me, but–for another–it was my first experience with Korean food as prepared in India. I’ve eaten at several Chinese restaurants in India, and, while the places I’ve tried were all pretty good, they were all distinctively Indo-Chinese. In other words, the dishes didn’t taste like they did in other places at which I’ve had Chinese food, e.g. China. On the other hand, the Bangalorean Thai restaurant, Lan Thai, seems pretty authentic to me, except perhaps the diminished use of fish sauce (which is incredibly popular in Thailand and almost non-existent in India.) I was, therefore, uncertain what to expect from Hae Kum Gang–other than that it had a pretty high rating on Zomato and so it likely had decent food.
I can’t say what Korean food tastes like in Korea, as I’ve not yet gotten outside of Inchon airport, but Atlanta had a pretty huge Koreatown and I ate at a variety of Korean restaurants there. (A Korean man once told me that Korean food in Korea tasted very different because of the taste of the vegetables–given the spice palette of Korean food, I wasn’t sure whether to dismiss this as nostalgia–e.g. tasting the difference between American cabbage and Korean cabbage through the kim chi chili seasoning and fermentation seems a bit of a challenge.)
At any rate, what I found at Hae Kum Gang was on par with what I’ve had in Duluth, Georgia. This was a pleasant surprise because their menu states Korean, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine. While these cuisines have some overlap–particularly with Korea in the middle–they are each distinct. My concern was based on bad experience with “multi-cuisine” restaurants in India that try to do everything and end up doing everything in a mediocre fashion. (Hampi was loaded with such places.) What I ordered was pretty typically Korean, I imagine if you had a Chinese or Japanese dish off the menu you might not find it authentic, but rather like a Korean interpretation of the dish. (Although, Duluth has some fine sushi places with Japanese names and advertising themselves as Japanese food, but clearly owned, run, and staffed by Koreans.)
I ordered the Jeyuk-Chulpan, which was described as: “Stir-fried pork with vegetables, served in spicy chili sauce on a sizzler plate.” The description was spot on. The platter sizzled for about 15 minutes after it got to the table. The dish had a pleasant level of heat (spice) and was tasty. This isn’t a dish for those watching their cholesterol. The pork was quite fatty, which, of course, made it sumptuous and delicious but higher in fat content than many might desire. For lunch it suited me. It’s not something that I would eat for dinner, both because I don’t sleep well if I have red meat immediately before bedtime and because one needs some active time to burn off some of those calories before going to bed.
I was told a bowl of steamed rice came with this dish, but was pleasantly surprised to find seven other sides were brought out as well. Getting a load of side dishes along with your main is not uncommon with Korean food and I’ve had similar experiences elsewhere. The first small plate to arrive was Yukhoe,–a spicy Korean answer to steak tartare. I was a little reluctant about eating a raw beef dish in India, but I forged ahead and found it delectable. It was spicy, and warmed through–though not enough to cook the meat. While it was tasty and I’m none the worse for wear, I don’t know if I’d recommend you partake of this dish unless you know your constitution to be caste-iron and you like to live a little on the wild side. In the US, where there are all sorts of regulations and health inspections in restaurants, there is still invariably a warning to consume at your own risk. The same could be said of Japan, where 4 people died (35 hospitalized) in 2011 from eating a batch of the Japanese version of this dish that was tainted with E. Coli. The standard for raw beef dishes is less than a day between slaughter and freezing and less than a day between thawing and use. I can’t say what this restaurant’s practice is. It tasted clean and fresh, but exercise care.
There was also a soup and a salad. The soup actually tasted more like something I’ve had on occasion in India than anything I’ve had in a Korean restaurant, except the vegetables were typically Korean. I believe the salad was a seaweed. There was also braised tofu, boiled baby potatoes in a teriyaki-esque sauce, and the Korean mainstay kim chi. If you eat the Yukhoe, I’d recommend you eat your kim chi. Kim chi isn’t a personal favorite of mine, but its fermentation may offer you some assistance in digestion.
I’d recommend Hae Kum Gang. My food was 480 Rs. (plus tax, tip, and a mineral water), which is pricey by Indian standards–but, as I always say, sushi and brain surgery are two things you don’t want a great deal on.
No, I don’t know if the name is supposed to register as “Hey, Come Gang!”