Oh, I never visited Korea. The adventure was right inside “Namma” Chennai. My globe-trotting brother in law suddenly landed after nearly 2 decades— with a Korean wife! Anu suggested we take them out for a Korean dinner. I detest gastronomic experimentation of any kind, but agreed — on the intelligent working assumption that Korean food would be “somewhat” like Chinese food. Like most assumptions, it was neither intelligent nor working. For the record: Korean food is nothing like Chinese .
Chennai has the largest Korean population in India; and In Seoul is Chennai’s most popular Korean restaurant. That was the place to go, provided we could navigate there. It is in the heart of Chennai, but is so unobtrusively positioned that it took us 2 sorties on Mowbrays Road to locate. At first sight, it didn’t look Korean at all, it resembled a highway Dhaba. As our eyes got adjusted to the light, we noticed the more secluded section: mats and low tables for sitting on the floor and sliding screens for privacy. If you had seen the Korean blockbuster My wife is a gangster, you would have instantly known that this was the place to anticipate a gang war between rival Jopok (Korean mafia) clans. We sat in the “dhaba” section, close to the exit. (I am a “safety-first” guy!)
The main dish arrived. It was an angry looking octopus served in full on a large plate. I am not being judgmental: you would look angry too if you are boiled and served on a plate ! Anu and I would have nothing to do with the grumpy aquatic wonder. Next came the chicken dish. Anu’s brother picked up a piece served me. Surprise, surprise ! It tasted like aloo! “ Korean food is soooo like Indian food”, I said. Silly me, I should have known better: Koreans have no concept of vegetarian — they use vegetables only to garnish their all-meat cuisine! What I tasted was indeed potato – it was one of the few vegetable pieces in the dish. By now, hopes of my surviving were waning.
Lo and behold, they served the only vegetarian dish in the house — probably customized for the Tambrahm client — The Vegetable Bibimbap. This is basically steamed rice served hot in a stone bowl with vegetables and special paste made of (as far as I could sense)ginger, chilies and sesame oil. One is supposed to knead it together and eat it. I did, and felt like an Iyengar eating Puliyodarai prasadam in a Balaji temple— Absolutely blessed !