Korea Town in Penang

I thought the Korean craze had already died down but I was wrong. (Cue: Winter Sonata, LG, Samsung….)
A lot of people watch Korean dramas on TV and like K-pop (ummmm, I was introduced to the cute, preppy Wondergirls girl group by my cousin one day). And Korean food is set to soar too.
That’s how we ended up at Daorae, a Korean BBQ restaurant last Saturday night. You cannot miss the signboard – it winks, ok, blinks at you when you are at the Krystal Point roundabout (actually the restaurant is located along Ideal Avenue, near Bukit Jambul).
I don’t mind Korean food though my first love is Japanese/sashimi. I love the way they’ve marketed themselves so successfully over the years. A great blue ocean strategy. Whoever is behind this Korean craze deserves accolades. Everyone wants to travel to Korea now.
I particularly like kimchi and I always have a box of this spicy condiment in my fridge for those moments when I crave something other than Vietnamese chili padi.
The four of us ordered 2 dishes (3 slabs of pork belly and thinly sliced beef – a minimum of 2 dishes are a must if you want to try the Korean BBQ) and a kimchi noodle steamboat set. The waiters were all authentically Korean, yelling “ann yeong haseyo” each time someone walks through the door and saying “kamsahamnida” when you leave.
Korean food is about plentiful vegetable side dishes
As with all Korean food, you get a multitude of side dishes of vegetables in fantastic colours. A thin pancake made of scallions and an egg custard (reminiscent of Japanese chawan mushi) were provided to us, on the house.
We started with tasty kimchi broth each and then the BBQ started. The waiter loaded the ‘hole’ in the table with a pot of charcoal briquets before putting a stainless steel top on it where he expertly barbecued the beef and pork for us. A small steel cup of thickly sliced garlic was also put into the BBQ.
Beef slices being barbecued together with some onion and garlic
The fun part was eating the BBQ meats. The correct way is take a fresh lettuce leaf, dip the BBQ meat into a salt-pepper-oil condiment, take a slice of the garlic, dip garlic into another red condiment resembling sambal belacan but tastes more like cincaluk, put garlic on the meat, wrap up the whole thing and pop into your mouth. Very satisfying and a fantastic way of eating greens with meat. Also a vampire’s nightmare because the garlic smells like well…garlic!
Then it was pork...apparently marinated with korean ginseng. Not that I tasted any!
Korean food really is quite healthy with so many varieties of vegetables as sides (the waiters will refill your side dishes once you’ve finished them).
The kimchi noodle steamboat was nothing spectacular – just imagine eating instant kimchi noodles in a soup full of mushroom, meat and kimchi.
Kimchi steamboat - nothing spectacular. Like instant korean kimchi noodle.
Daorae serves a free flow of genmai-cha (a kind of rice-roasted tea – sorry but I only know my Japanese teas) besides the refillable side dishes. Apparently it has about 6 outlets in the Klang Valley. The charges are for the mains that you order. In our case, it was the 2 meat dishes and the steamboat. The tea and sides were not charged.
The robust and loud Korean waiters were rather comical as they aren’t very good in English and they’ll tell you cucumber is pumpkin and konjac (of which konnyaku jelly is made from) is squid when you request for more side dishes.
It must be feng shui or the food’s really captivating because when we left at 8.30pm, a queue had formed and were waiting for their seats!
Or maybe it is Sparkling Korea like their tourism posters proclaim!