Hankuk Korea Restaurant, located next to Atlas Hotel on Mickey Leland Street, opened its doors about a month ago. Located in a refurbished house, there is parking space in the compound, and the lot was filled during lunch time on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.
Almost obscured from view, some of the orange chequered tablecloths were drying on a washing line next to the wall separating the restaurant from the street, lending a homey feeling to the restaurant, an atmosphere supplemented by the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen, situated across from the front door.
There is only one other table on the small terrace, occupied by a Chinese couple, and the friendly, prompt waiters serve warm potato and pea soup while patrons decide on their orders. This is no easy task, as the menu is extensive.
However, once the order is placed, side dishes, consisting of a variety of vegetables served in small communal bowls and shared by the whole table, appear. Kimchi forms an integral part of these. Along with rice and soup, kimchi is the staple of every Korean meal.
There are different kinds of the nutritious dishes, which have a long shelf life; the kind served at Hankuk, named for the Korean word for South Korea, consists of fiery Chinese cabbage fermented in a mixture of salt, chilli pepper flakes, garlic, onions, ginger, soy sauce, and fermented fish. It is not for nothing that Koreans are considered the world’s foremost per capita garlic consumers.
Im Cheong-nam, co-owner and executive chef, makes the kimchi herself, a common practice in Korea, for each household to make their own.
Each person at the table shares these side dishes by using their chopsticks that rest alongside the spoon, an unusual addition to an Asian meal table, on pretty chopstick holders on the table, laid to the right, where a knife would go. There are no knives on the table, but forks are available upon request for those new to the use of chopsticks.
Cheong-nam’s sister, Ha Ok-sun, an acupuncturist and manager of the restaurant, used to have a Korean restaurant in Addis Abeba 15 years ago, before she returned to Korea to qualify as an acupuncturist. She has now returned, once more, to run her sister’s eatery.
“Almost all the ingredients are imported, except the meat and vegetables, which are procured locally,” Ok-sun told Fortune.
In the back of the restaurant are flower beds where the restaurant grows its own herbs for use in the food. Past these, one arrives at a large room where picnic tables offer patrons the opportunity to have Korean barbequed meat.
The barbequed meat, cooked by the eaters themselves, if they so please, on coal fires contained in metal boxes in the middle of the long wooden tables, are eaten with soy bean paste and sesame oil, wrapped in a salad leaf and eaten by hand.
The different meat can set one back between 80 Br for chicken and sheep (all menu prices are exclusive of 15pc VAT), to 100 Br for beef, or 130 Br for pork bacon or ribs.
These sliced short ribs, a.k.a. galbi, are also available in beef (120 Br), meat further utilised for seobulgogi (100 Br), thin, roasted slices of meat marinated in soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, ginger, onions, and peppers. Sambulgogi (300 Br) consists of roast pork with squid and vegetables.
Seeing that three-quarters of South Korea’s border is a coastline, seafood is a key ingredient to the cuisine. Since Ethiopia is landlocked, the menu has been suitably adapted to exclude such delicacies as squid sushi – fresh, raw squid, freshly cut up to remove the head, an act that does not stop the dying muscles in the tentacles from continuing to spontaneously squirm until thoroughly chewed up and swallowed.
Yet, apart from the fish in kimchi, the variety of seafood on offer at Hankuk is numerous. Heamultang (450 Br) is shellfish in a seafood soup or pancakes, made by frying onions with peppers in dough and ingredients ranging from vegetables (20 Br), kimchi (30 Br), green beans (50 Br), potatoes (50 Br), or seafood (120 Br) to resemble a pancake.
The grilled fish (200 Br), served with salad leaves and lemon, is tricky to eat with chopsticks as it has not been deboned, but using the sticks to cut it in half, head to tail, to completely separate the top and bottom sides, make the intact backbone easy to remove.
To enjoy rice with the fish, one has to order a bowl separately. The rice is of the sticky variety and comes in different guises: steamed (20 Br) or with vegetables, kimchi, or egg (each 40 Br), or beef or chicken (45 Br each). Rice meals, such as rice with curry or stir-fried bean paste, are 80 Br each.
Like kimchi, other fermented ingredients, such as soy bean paste, are fundamental to the national cuisine, just like rice.
The dongkaseu (100 Br), breaded pork cutlet, is served with rice as well as coleslaw with carrots and mayonnaise. Originating from Japan, the pork cutlet has become so common in Korea that it is widely accepted as part of the national food.
Another dish, that may be considered to originate from its Japanese neighbour across the Yellow Sea, is gimbap (80 Br): filled rice rolled in seaweed, very much resembling maki, a type of (typical Japanese) sushi. However, instead of fish, gimbab (literally meaning seaweed and rice) contains egg, cucumber, carrots, and green leaves; the contrasting textures are often off-putting to those more used to the Japanese version of the food, which is also eaten by dipping each piece in soy sauce.
Another borrowed dish is shabushabu (300 Br), a.k.a. vegetable hotpot, traditionally a Chinese soup in which a variety of vegetables and meat are cooked in a communal pot.
Hankuk buys produce from a Korean farmer, located in Kaliti, on the outskirts of the city, according to Biruk Negussie, chef, who used to work in Ok-sun’s restaurant 15 years before.
While vegetables feature strongly in the dishes, few do not contain animal products. As the Easter fasting period had started shortly before, on February 28, the waiters are considerate to confirm that upon ordering the pork cutlet, Ethiopian patrons are not fasting.
Pork, not very widely eaten in Ethiopia, is another strong feature on the menu, and cheyic pocugum (100 Br), roast pork with sauce, alongside kamjatang (300 Br), potato and pork bone soup, round off the long list of pork dishes available. Another soup (both “tang” and “jige” means soup, or watery broth) pudeajige (300 Br), consisting of meat and vegetables are meant for two people.
Soup is almost as integral to a meal as rice and kimchi. Brown seaweed, miso, kimchi, and egg soup are all 25 Br, while more specialised soups, such as tangdoritang (300 Br) is pricier as it is a meal and not a mere side order.
Samgetang (180 Br), boiled chicken soup with ginseng, made by boiling a stuffed chicken for hours, is only available on Tuesdays, as chogbal (250 Br) can only be found on Fridays.
“Some dishes take the whole day to cook,” Ok-sun told Fortune. “To include them on the menu, we can only make them available on certain days.”
Noodles are faster to prepare, like jabchea (100 Br), stir-fried noodles with meat and vegetables, and ramen (70 Br).
Neungmeyun (80 Br), a.k.a. ice noodles, served in cold chicken broth, is refreshing on a hot day, and often comes with ice cubes. However, it is an acquired taste and can be off-putting as an introduction to the country’s cuisine. Another very traditional, but much more enjoyable dish, is the traditional meal set (1,000 Br), consisting of rice and soup, and nine different side dishes, which takes five hours to prepare and must be ordered in advance. For faster service, gucholpan (700 Br) likewise consists of nine different side dishes.
In keeping with tradition and culture is the anju, or side dishes meant for consumption while drinking. Koreans generally believe it unhealthy to drink on an empty stomach, and bars serve snacks, of varying quality that depends on the kind of bar, with all drinks. At Hankuk, these include fried chicken (120 Br), pan-fried potato (50 Br) and dried snacks (300 Br), which include salty dried fish that, for some, goes well with beer, which is 6.10 Br for a local bottle, VAT excluded.
The restaurant is open seven days a week, from 8:00am until around 11:00pm, and offers karaoke.