First off, don’t watch The Kimchi Chronicles because you’ll be tempted to book a ticket to South Korea. The next best thing is to find a good Korean restaurant to satisfy that craving and even if you’re in Manila, you’re bound to find one.
For several years now there’s been a considerable influx of Koreans in the Philippines. Most are supposedly here to study English because the country offers relatively cheap and good English classes. Eventually after the students came, their families followed. And somehow–and this is me just making a general assumption–they came bearing gifts of K-pop, Korean dramas, Korean hair salons, and delicious Korean food to our shores.
I’m mostly interested in the food.
Nowadays, in almost every big city in the country, you can find several Korean groceries and restaurants–little Korean-towns in the making, from Manila to Baguio. Case in point, just a few blocks away from our apartment, there’s a bunch of Korean restaurants lining a single street. The best among the bunch is Jang Ga Nae.
I first heard about it from my sister’s friend, who said it was one of the best Korean restos in the Ortigas area (and when there’s a whole bunch of them, you want to narrow it down to the good ones). So one evening, after a particularly long day and every bit of energy zapped out, I decided to skip the cooking and drag P to just eat somewhere nearby.
We were not even sure how the name was spelled and after passing two Korean restos and spotting Jang Ga Nae (“That sounds about right!”) we entered this ordinary looking building. The restaurant inside was even more nondescript.
While we were not impressed with the interiors, the predominantly Korean clientele that ate and chatted over slices of meat being grilled did make a great first impression. Surely, a Korean restaurant that lures in Korean expats was doing something right. (On our second visit, there was even a bus load of Korean tourists that stopped by for dinner.)
After we ordered a noodle dish and kalbi jim (Korean braised shortribs), the parade of banchan arrived. I love these small plates of appetizers typically present in Korean meals; so many little tastes to whet your appetite or complement the wonderful bold flavors to come. In Jang Ga Nae, they don’t scrimp on the banchan and what I love best are the not-so-small plates of kimchi pancake and house salad. Something greasy and a little spicy, something fresh and crisp.
Every time I take friends to this restaurant, as soon as the banchan arrives, everyone gets in a happy mood. Who needs bread sticks when you can have spicy, sweet, refreshing and happy flavors and textures even without the main meal yet? (Who am I kidding, I also love bread sticks!)
The happiness doesn’t stop with the appetizers. The kalbi jim and jap chae are consistent favorites. The meat in in the sweet kalbi jim is so tender it easily falls off the bone.
In Jang Ga Nae, you can also order plates of raw meat that you can grill on your table. On one occasion, we ordered plates of sirloin slices (P300 a plate) and a server helped us cook it. Once cooked, you can wrap it in lettuce leaves and enjoy with one bite (as the beautiful Kimchi Chronicles host Marja shows us).
Jang Ga Nae Ground floor, 8137 Plaza Saint Josemaria Escriva Drive, San Antonio, Pasig
Other Korean restaurants worth a visit are old-time favorites Woorijib along Kalayaan Avenue in Diliman, Quezon City and Korea Garden along Jupiter Street in Bel Air Village, Makati.
For upscale Korean barbecue, try Sariwon in Bonifacio High Street Central, Seventh Ave. cor. 29th Street, Fort Bonifacio.