Despite its growing popularity, in tandem with the K-Pop & K-Drama craze that’s subsumed popular culture in Penang, like they did in many other Asia-Pacific countries since the mid-2000s, good Korean food is still rather hard to find here. There was a good Korean restaurant in George Town: Bee Won, located at the then-Sheraton Hotel Penang, but it’s closed over decade ago, when the hotel was re-branded.
Nowadays, there is a proliferation of nifty pseudo-Korean eateries, all cashing in on the Hallyu wave and targeting the young hipsters, but never the serious foodies.
The number of “proper” Korean restaurants on Penang island, at the last glance, could be counted on one hand.
Yesterday, we opted to lunch at Kim’s Korean restaurant on Tavoy Road, perhaps the best-known one located in George Town (Daorae, the other much-recommended choice, is in Bayan Lepas - 20 km away, near the city’s airport).
The proprietress of Kim’s, Seoul-born Kim Hyu-Nok, runs this 6-year-old eatery located inside a small re-purposed colonial-era bungalow on Tavoy Road, near the junction with Burmah Road.
What we had today:
Japchae - Korean-style glass noodle stir-fry. Incorporating those transparent sweet potato starch noodles, also common in our Chinese cuisine, except that the Korean version is a bit chewier, the stir-fry with pork, carrots, onions, spinach and shitake mushrooms was pretty tasty. Main flavors were from soy, sugar, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds.
Haemul pajeon - seafood scallion pancake. I’d always found this Korean pancake to be too toothsome and stodgy for my liking. But the version here was surprisingly light, though I still needed to dunk the morsels vigorously into the tangy-sweet soy-vinegar-sugar dip.
P.S. - this same dip is also indispensable for the mandu dumplings.
Bulgogi - Korean-style BBQ beef. In Korean, 불고기 literally translate as “fire meat”, and is perhaps the best-known Korean dish to the rest of the world.
The version here was, surprisingly, pretty mild rather than fiery. Being skillet-cooked, it had none of the seared effect I’d wanted, but was the “wetter” rendition, with gravy for spooning over rice.
Dolsot bibimbap - mixed rice with meat and assorted vegetables in a stone hotpot. The version here was very tasty, with the right combination of flavors and textures. My fave item at lunch yesterday.
Add the sweet-savory-spicy gochujang-inflected bibimbap sauce to the rice mix
Stir thoroughly to make sure everything’s well-mixed
Gyeranjjim - Korean-style steamed eggs, which is actually my fave Korean every day food item. I had this for almost every lunch-time meal when I was in Korea. It’s always served hot & moist, soufflé-like, fresh-from-the-stove.
The version here was rather heavy and dense, more “omelette” than “soufflé”. I was rather disappointed, because I’d actually planned this Korean lunch specifically to have the gyeranjjim.
Gun mandu - pan-fried Korean dumplings. There are essentially 4 ways to serve the Korean mandu dumplings: jjin mandu (찐만두/steamed), tuigin mandu (튀긴만두/deep-fried), gun mandu (군만두/pan fried), or mul mandu (물만두/boiled).
There was only a choice of either pan-fried or steamed versions on Kim’s menu. We ordered the pan-fried one, but what we got looked deep-fried instead.
Of course, there was the ever-present banchan, the collection of small side-dishes served in every meal, including the indispensable kimchi.
Overall, the experience was pretty “meh”. Looks like we’d have to pay Daorae a visit some soon, to see if Penang really has a Korean restaurant of note.
Kim’s Korean Restaurant
4, Jalan Tavoy, 10050 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +604-218 9123
Operating hours: 11.30am to 3pm, 5.30pm to 10.30pm daily, except Wed.