Saturday, August 04, 2007

Beyond Bulgogi

Hansang Korean Family Restaurant
#03-32-35 Square 2
Novena Square
Being at the crossroads of different cuisine, Singaporeans are spoilt for choice when it comes to food as we get bombarded with one food fads after another. Whole most and them come and go, eventually a few of them gets absorbed as part of the mainstream selections for the locals. One such cuisine that has taken root in the dinning scene here is Korean food which in the last few years have expanded beyond bulgoggi (Korean BBQ). Thanks to two waves of Korean mania, the first being K Pop or Korean contemporary music and the other being last year’s telecast of the highly popular Korean drama series “Jewel in the Palace”. Both sparked off a riot for all things Korean especially its cuisine and this included foods that varies from snacks to street nibbles and restaurant fare. Almost every channel in our food industry began to have a Korean element in taste. Korean grocery shops sprang up in Bencoolen Street’s Burlington Square, along North Canal Road, basement of Orchard Cineplex and most recently on the 3rd floor of the newly opened Square 2 (Novena MRT), which is entirely dedicated to all things Korean, even ice cream. I must admit that N and I were also infected by the wave especially so after watching “Jewel in the Palace”. It was valuable insights on Korean cuisine and food preparation which made many of us look beyond just barbeque.
Eating around, so far some of the better Korean Places we have been to includes Hyang To Gol @ Amara Hotel, Chang @ Pasir Panjang and Auntie Kim’s @ Thomson Road. The latest and newest kid on the block Hangsan Korean Family Restaurant was another great discovery over the weekend when we popped over to Square 2. The restaurant is divided into two sections where u can choose to have the BBQ together with other dishes or if u are simply happy with a bibimbap and soup or other fully prepared dishes from the kitchen, u can opt for the “non smoking” area.
There is a nice selection of dishes to compliment the main BBQ items.

We started with a cold Jap Chae or chilled sweet potato flour noodles with a sesame soy dressing. The smooth slippery noodles are slightly thicker than your regular mung bean noodles. Toss with julienne of vegetables like carrots and bell peppers, the lovely noodles were garnished with sliced omelet and a sprinkling of sesame seeds gave it a fragrant toasty note.
We also ordered a combination appetizer platter with various deep fried egg batter dipped pieces of meat patties, zucchini slices, fresh shrimps and mushrooms served with a ponzu like dipping sauce. A refreshing change from regular starch based batters, an egg batter may not be as crispy as another one based with flour, it did however had a unique fragrance that one would associate with aromas of the crispy brown edges of a wok fried omelet. Korean dishes are perfect examples of wherby the appreciation of the taste of nature is one of its main culinary virtues. Most ingredients are seldom tampered with too many pungent spices or heavy complex seasoning sauces. Rather there is a big emphasis on the freshness of ingredients and to bring out the best natural flavours of the ingredients, seasoning and spices are often used with a subtle touch.
One the excitements of eating a Korean meal is the wide variety of small side dishes, often vegetarian by nature that accompanies the main item. From marinated beansprouts to lotus roots and pickles like kimchi, cold mashed potatoes and simple lettuce based salads, they are ideal when eaten on their own or with steamed rice. I have also discovered recently that some of these side dishes if taken as condiments with the grilled meats on lettuce leaves can be a wonderful experience of bursting flavours on the palate interspersed with hot and cold sensations.

As bulgogi was our choice for main courses, we ordered a marinated sirloin and pork collar neck (wu hua rou). The meats were lightly marinated with soy, sesame and garlic. Grilling is done with a well designed charcoal based stove supported with a shot of gas burners in case the coals were not hot enough on their own. What I liked was the well designed exhaust that had the flexibility to be adjusted for maximum suction of vapourized grease from the grilling. This minimizes the linger aromas of cooking on customers clothes so that u do not walk out of the restaurant smelling like u have been through their kitchen.
After grilling them to our preferred doneness, I place the bite size portions of meat each on a lettuce leaf with various styles of combinations with the different small side dishes. The result is an explosion of different sensations like spiciness, pungency and comforting dimensions discovered as I play with a different permutation each time.
Service by far in this restaurant is good and the staffs are knowledgeable and attentive without being intrusive. The kitchen is helm entirely by a team of Korean Chefs that helps to reinforce the authenticity of dishes served. Halfway through our meal, the lady boss Mijin also explained to us that Hangsang is also one restaurant to establish a relationship with local agricultural farmers in Lim Chu Kang area to customize the cultivation of certain vegetables essential for her to match the authentic taste of the dishes that she remembers from her native hometown. How nice to know that! That being said, it is also the first restaurant in my memory to do so too!
Hangsang has other great dishes on the menu too besides the BBQ selections. Favorites like Bibimbap, ginseng chicken and beef rib soup as well as Korean adaptations of certain Chinese dishes make up the menu that has something for everyone. I shall update this post further when we come back with some of Mijin's specials that are produced with the harvests of her partnership with local farmers.

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