Once regarded as the epicentre of ‘cool’, Japan has been seemingly unable to keep up with Korea’s surge as a pop culture juggernaut. If you think the 2012 hit Gangnam Style was the precursor, you’re wrong.
Korea’s steady rise into global mainstream consciousness has been in effect since the early 2000s thanks to pop culture from TV dramas like the current Netflix hit Kingdom, zombie apocalypse flicks like Train to Busan and those catchy K-pop tunes.
In similar fashion, Korean cuisine has been gaining a foothold in various corners of the world, including South Asia, America, Europe and the Middle East. Here in Abu Dhabi, one of the places to go for genuine Korean fare is The Taste of Korea. Finding a new home in Cristal Hotel, the restaurant, with its minimalist wooden interiors, suspended lamps and miniature traditional Korean villages, wears its patriotism clearly on its sleeve. The menu is what you’d expect from a Korean restaurant: an abundance of meat, rice, vegetables and seafood options.
The sundubo jjigae, or spicy soft tofu soup, is a great start. Swimming in an abundance of chilli broth, the tender tofu absorbs the hot flavour to form a delightful combination of bitter and spicy flavours. The soup can be consumed as is or mixed with rice, depending on your preference – it’s delicious both ways.
The wangseokalbi are marinated beef ribs that we have to grill at the table. The beef is lean and only needs a few minutes to be cooked before we cut it into bite-sized pieces and wrap crispy lettuce around it. The meat’s smoky flavour stands out and it vanishes from our plates in no time.
Providing a welcome break from the meat, the dolsot bibimbap is served in a hot pot. The colourful rice dish is livened up with an assortment of vegetables topped with egg and soy sauce. Even non-vegetarians will love how tasty this dish is when mixed together.
For the finale, the restaurant’s version of orange sorbet is a soft frozen dessert made from a natural blend of orange juice and pulp. It’s a pleasant way to refresh the palate after a rich meal.
There’s a karaoke room adjacent to the restaurant for those who are in the mood to unleash those hidden K-pop pipes – but that’s for another time. Whether you’re already familiar with the culture or not, The Taste of Korea offers an appetising introduction to the Land of the Morning Calm. What’s more, the restaurant proves what we already know: Korean culture is alive and well in the UAE.
Location: The Taste of Korea, Cristal Hotel, Zayed the First Street
We say: A genuine Korean experience
Cost: AED 288 for two
Opening times: Daily 11.20am-3pm and 5pm-midnight
Contact: 02 652 0195
WORDS Ferdinand Godinez