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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Restaurant Review: Koreana International, Jakarta

July 09 (Jakarta Globe) My colleague Brian and I have both lived in South Korea and often find ourselves craving the country’s spicy food. We’ve already tried one of two Korean restaurants behind Grand Indonesia, but Brian wanted bool-dahk (fire chicken), this past week so we decided to venture further afield. Jalan Melawai in Kebayoran Baru, near Blok M, is renowned for its Korean and Japanese restaurants, so it seemed a good place to start.

So our plans were made — off to Kebayoran Baru for a good, inexpensive Korean meal. But the best-laid plans of mice and copy editors often go astray.

Joined by another workmate, we declined the many restaurant suggestions from local touts and instead asked directions to a rumah makan Korea. We followed them to find ourselves in what seemed the center of the Japanese enclave — close but no cigar. We then wandered for an hour, with each local adamant that he knew the direction we wanted, but sending us round in circles. By that point, with three stomachs and one Brian growling, we headed back to the restaurants we knew of.

On arrival, we considered Istana Korea, where we’d dined before, but decided to try its neighbor, The Koreana International Restaurant. I must admit to being wary of any restaurant with the word international in its name, having found for the most part that they are homogenized yet highly priced versions of the authentic cuisine. But we were hungry and thirsty, and the chorus of anyong haseyo, a Korean greeting, from staff members to welcome us was a good sign.

Menus quickly arrived, followed by our requested sodas, beer and the usual Korean tipple — soju. A clear alcoholic drink traditionally made from rice or potato, no gathering in Korea is complete without it and there is a host of customs that accompany its enjoyment. The prices reinforced my mild suspicion of “international” restaurants, but we proceeded to order yangnyum galbi, which are marinated beef short ribs, and dolpan jjukumisamgyupsal, an octopus and pork dish with hot sauce served in a stone pot.

A good selection of side dishes first arrived, including kimchi — the pickled vegetable dish Koreans rely on to get them through the barren winter months — salad, greens and patties. Our charming waitress then proceeded to grill the galbi over a dish of glowing charcoal. The usual way to eat such meats is to wrap a piece in a lettuce or sesame leaf with whatever accompaniments one prefers, but almost always including garlic and the ubiquitous gochujjang (chilli paste). Gochujjang is to Koreans what sambal is to Indonesians or ketchup to Americans, so we were surprised to not find any on our table. We did have a tasty barbecue style sauce but Korean food doesn’t taste quite right without gochujjang, so we asked for some. Instead, we got what tasted like ketchup mixed with a little chilli sauce — definitely not the real deal.

Having polished off our galbi, the grill was taken away and replaced by the hot stone pot containing our second choice and we could see we had not ordered enough food, so we added bulgogi , a dish of marinated beef with vegetables, to our burgeoning bill. (Rice was charged as an extra, another unusual move as in Korea, a meal is considered incomplete without rice and soup.) The octopus and pork dish was tasty, as was the bulgogi, but neither had as much meat as we expected for the price.

Our final verdict: disappointing. A reasonable, though pricey, introduction to Korean food for the novice, this is not the place an aficionado should frequent.

The Koreana International Restaurant
Jl. Teluk Betung No. 34,
Central Jakarta
Tel. 021 390 4085

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