Rebecca Seal on the hottest (literally) food trend since Peruvian hit the capital
Published: 08 May 2014
Updated: 15:53, 09 May 2014
Have you been getting into bulgogi, covering everything with gochujang and demanding extra sides of kimchi? If you haven’t, then you’re missing out on the hottest — literally — trend in food since Peruvian. A few years ago, you’d have had to make pilgrimages to restaurants such as Su La (020 8336 0121) in New Malden, London’s unofficial K-Town, to get a fix of tangy, spicy Korean flavours. Now, a new gang of chefs and street food traders is bringing Korean food and culture into the mainstream.
Unlike some recent, equally irresistible food trends (such as Southern-style barbecue and posh cheeseburgers), Korean food is relatively healthy. Kimchi, made with a base of chilli pepper and fermented cabbage, plus other cruciferous vegetables and sometimes ginger or garlic, is full of phytonutrients, good bacteria and fibre; and if you’re into making your diet less acidic, it may help with that as well. Gochujang is another fermented treat: a fiery, thick, slightly sweet red chilli pepper sauce, which is used as a condiment as well as a base for sauces, dressings and marinades. If you love wood-grilled meats and smoky flavours, then Korean barbecue will get you going.
For a first taste of Korea, try a bulgogi (grilled beef in soy sauce, sugar, sesame and garlic marinade) burrito at street food stall and pop-up Korrito (korrito.co.uk), based at the Southbank Centre but also to be found at festivals. It was started by Joo Lee, a Korean living in London: ‘For people just discovering Korean food for the first time, street food stalls are a good place to start,’ she explains. ‘You can sample the traditional elements of Korean flavours but in familiar forms, like burgers and burritos.’ She wants Londoners to understand Korean food better. ‘Eating in Korea is very communal — food is the cement that holds people together. Our flavours are colourful, bold; we cook over flames, chop the food at the dining table; and we have a wide variety of side dishes. There is so much activity and love that goes into Korean cuisine — and ultimately, it’s delicious, so you will keep coming back for more.’
A burrito at Korrito
Kimchinary is another trader dealing in Korean tacos and burritos; look out for founder Hanna Söderlund cooking at Kerb Food events in King’s Cross and the City (kerbfood.com). Alternatively, seek out Busan BBQ (busanbbq.co.uk) — its tagline is ‘The Amerikorean Dream’ — and try the bulgogi cheeseburger or fried chicken with gochujang or soy, with a side of kimchi or mooli slaw. (Find it tonight and tomorrow at Chilli Chilli Bang Bang, Thomasina Miers’ chilli festival in Dalston Yard and on 24 May at the Urban Food Fest in Shoreditch.)
Plenty of non-Korean chefs are also championing Korean ingredients. Gizzi Erskine runs pop-ups and will be showcasing Korean food at Taste of London (tastefestivals.com) this summer. ‘My Korean fried chicken wings are my signature dish — they really are one of the best things you’ll ever eat,’ she reckons. ‘Authentic Korean flavours are the basis of these fusion foods. It’s a mix of light and pure produce, pimped with a heady mix of earthy and funky chilli gochujang and spicy kimchi. It is certainly good enough to stand up against the rest of Asian cuisine.’
You can also try Korean chicken wings at Wishbone in Brixton Market (wishbonebrixton.co.uk). At Smokehouse (smokehouseislington.co.uk), chef Neil Rankin uses Korean marinades before he slow-cooks and smokes great slabs of meat; while at Dock Kitchen in Notting Hill (dockkitchen.co.uk), Stevie Parle ran a Korean menu in February, where he served sea urchin, raw beef with raw egg and sesame, and pork and oysters wrapped in leaves and seasoned with powerful fish and chilli sauces.
For a more traditional Korean experience try Bibimbap in Soho (bibimbapsoho.co.uk), where you can sample its famous eponymous one-pot comfort food in ten versions. Head east and you’ll find Old Street’s On the Bab (onthebab.co.uk), founded last year by Linda Lee, who started the higher-end Koba (020 7580 8825) and Nizuni (nizuni.com) in the West End a few years ago. On the Bab serves anju-style food — sharing plates such as yangnyeom chicken or pa jeon (spring onion pancakes with seafood) served with beer or Soju, Korea’s favourite spirit. Around the corner at Jubo (jubolondon.com) you must try the fried chicken with a side of kimchi bokkeumbap, a rice dish. Once you’ve had a taste you’ll be hooked, and planning the ultimate pilgrimage — a return ticket to New Malden!