Considering how Korean culture has something of a cult following here in the Philippines, most people still haven’t really been able to enjoy Korean cuisine. For one thing, proper Hansik (the technical term for Korean food) tends to be pricey – up to the point that the average Juan dela Cruz can’t really afford it. For another, less expensive purveyors of Korean food tend to skimp on the quality of their offerings. And finally, many less expensive stalls that do pay attention to the quality and authenticity of their food tend to cater exclusively to SoKor expatriates (and, aye, there are many of them) living in the Philippines – hence, alas, menus that are strictly in Hanggul.
Fortunately, if one should be so patient and so intrepid as to actually keep a lookout for reasonable alternatives, a good proper Korean meal may be had in the heart of Makati: namely through Korean House.
Korean House is a small stall at the Galleon Food Avenue along Paseo de Roxas where it’s hemmed in between one selling garlic-infused viands served sizzling-hot on cast-iron plates and another stall selling standard-issue rice meals. Its aesthetic is totally minimalist: pure white walls and counters, its signage pretty much multi-colored line-art. Its menu is presented as a set of pictures printed in full color on tarp with their names and prices. And, speaking of the prices, it comes as a shock to many people that you can actually get an excellent meal for about P 100.00 (around US$ 2.28 at today’s rate) or even less.
One of my favorite Korean House meals is the chicken-kas with rice. Essentially a Korean version (dak kaesu) of the Japanese dish torikatsu (breaded and deep-fried chicken cutlets), the deep-fried chicken is perfectly crunchy on the outside and tenderly meaty within. Instead of the Bulldog sauce used on its Nihonjin counterpart, the cutlet gets ladled over with a moreish brown sauce – more like proper chicken gravy – made with chicken broth, a bit of tinned pineapple, mushrooms, buttery-tasting garlic cloves, and takuan (sweet-pickled daikon radish). A drizzle of mayonnaise finishes it off as it’s served with rice and a cold cucumber and corn salad. Paired with the sauce, the already-tasty fowl gets even better and carries off lashings of rice. The sweet flavors of the salad along with its crunchy texture make the meal more interesting.
Korean House also does a tonkatsu version – the donkas (donkaesu) with rice – but I don’t find it as appealing.
If your budget is a bit on the tight side, the savory pancake meals may appeal to you. Seafood pancakes (pa jeon) go for P 60.00 each; P 70.00 if you throw in a cup of rice.
As far as pa jeon are concerned, I can’t help but compare KH’s to those of Kaya, one of my regular Korean go-to points. Where Kaya’s pancakes were rather thinnish, the ones at KH were thicker. Plus, Kaya’s pa jeon has more in the way of toppings (chopped leeks and squid). But for sixty bucks, who am I to complain? Besides, KH’s dipping sauce – a tasty mix of soy, sesame oil and seeds, a bit of garlic, and a hint of chili – wins hands down.
KH also does kimchi pancakes (kimchi-jeon; P 50.00 each) for vegetarians or hard-core chili fiends out for some face-slappingly hot food.
And finally, we have Korean House’s version of bibimbap (P100.00). The thing about the bibimbap is that it’s served hot in a metal bowl – something that most food-court Korean joints don’t do as they serve theirs in plastic. For some odd reason, it seems to make even the most mediocre components of the dish taste better.
The KH bibimbap features a healthy mix of beef shreds, shredded carrot and cabbage, blanched beansprouts, sliced cucumber and zucchini, and an egg fried over-easy (the yolk was, happily enough, still good and runny) on top of hot rice. Sesame seeds are sprinkled over and a generous dollop of kochujang – the incendiary Korean red-pepper ketchup – finishes this one off – and, boy, does it make this thing hot! It’s all good, though: the veg is all fresh, the rice cooked to the right temperature and texture, the beef adding a sweet/savory counterpoint to the spicy sauce.
KH also sells mandu – Korean dumplings, rather like gyoza or siu mai – and three kinds of kimbap (maki-style rice rolls). All meals come with the soup of the day (the spicy one with leeks is worth watching out for) and the side of the day (sampled so far: kimchi, cucumber salad, and potato salad).
Korean House – Galleon Food Avenue, Ground Floor – BA Lepanto Bldg., Paseo de Roxas, Salcedo Village, Makati