Believe it or not, the first time I tried Korean food, other than the odd bite of kimchi, was actually while on a holiday in Tokyo, Japan.
My wife and I scuttled in from the cold into a tiny four-floored Korean restaurant in downtown Shinjuku and had the most spectacular meal.
We cooked a selection of marinated meats over a charcoal grill armed with nothing but tongs, scissors and chopsticks. It’s a memory that still makes me smile today.
Since then I’ve been hooked and have eaten more than my fair share of bibimbap, my favourite, but I’m keen to expand my horizons and try new dishes, too.
With that in mind I grab my food buddy Ferdinand and take a trip to Hankook Restaurant to see what new things we can tingle our taste buds with.
The venue is hidden away in the streets of Al Wahda, a stone’s throw from Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station.
It’s humble and quaint: blink and you’ll miss it. But inside, it’s the food that does the talking rather than the low-key décor.
After asking the chef to bring a selection of dishes, we take our seats on cushions on the floor in one of the private rooms at a low-set table, excited to see what is about to arrive.
Spoiler alert: there’s a lot of food.
Arriving first are the accompaniments: steaming sticky rice, refreshing pickled vegetables and kimchi, of course, which is fragrant and much better than the prepackaged version of the fermented vegetable dish.
Then, the server arrives with a large grill for us to cook our main course, la gal bi – that’s beef short ribs to you and me.
While the meat sizzles, we tuck into kim bab, Korean sushi, that is packed with grilled beef, punchy yellow radish, cool cucumber and carrot.
On a roll, we turn our attention to the duk boki, a noodle dish in a tangy, spicy sauce filled with doughy rice cakes, soft fish cakes and crunchy vegetables. It’s filling, satisfying and incredibly moreish.
When the meat is ready, we remove it from the grill and cut it into small morsels. Soaked in a sweet soy sauce, the soft, succulent beef is tender and delicious, with the sticky rice helping to soak up the juices and marinade.
The addition of fermented bean paste takes it to another level. To finish, we help ourselves to a bowl of kimchi zige, a palate cleansing soup that’s filled with fermented cabbage, tofu and beef rice cake.
The refreshing broth and light ingredients make it a joy to eat although we have little room left for more food in our bulging bellies.
If you’re looking for authentic Asian food off the beaten track then Hankook is well worth it.
Need to know:
Location: Hankook Restaurant, corner of Hazza Bin Zayed Street and Muroor Road, opposite Central Bus Station
We say: Authentic, affordable and delicious
Cost: AED 200 for two people
Opening times: Daily 11am-11pm
Contact: 02 642 3399, bit.ly/2FuYRhm
WORDS Colin Armstrong