Friday, December 28, 2012

Korea: ein Loch in die Wand

The internet is full of very positive reviews of Arirang, along with a handful of posts lamenting the dingyness of the restaurant. So I was a little wary heading off to lunch, but at least on the day we were there, the place seemed perfectly clean. Make no mistake, though - this is a true hole-in-the-wall - the furniture and decor is absolutely functional and half the tables are separated from the kitchen only by a counter. Service is fine, but none of the three people working their seemed to speak much German, which makes pleasantries difficult. No matter - we were there for the food. It was a cold day and we were hungry, so we settled on a set menu for two (larger menus are available for three and four diners): kimchi soup (Kimchi-Jigae), fried mandoo (Korean dumplings), and beef bulgogi for about 25 Euros. As a pickle fiend, the highlight of the meal was the banchan or relish tray (for lack of a better English expression) that came with the meal: kimchi, of course, along with pickled cucumbers, a sort of kimchi shredded radish, caramelized potatoes, and preserved bean sprouts - all housemade, I think. The kimchi soup was my favorite of the three menu items - rich, pleasantly mellow kimchi flavor with good chunks of tofu and some slices of pork. Oddly, though, we got one bowl to share - not a problem as I was dining with my husband and Arirang isn't a likely spot for a formal business lunch, but there are plenty of reasons someone would prefer to have their own small bowl. The mandoo, alas, were nowhere near as good as the soup. They were very probably the industrial frozen ones we can all buy at Asian grocery stores, but mostly they just tasted fried. I've had lots of better mandoo in my day. The bulgogi was pretty solid. Not life-changing, but it tasted good and it's easily four servings of meat. Arirang is bare bones, so you won't get a plate or anything fancy to eat your meat on. I have no idea if this is a cultural difference, but the pieces of meat are fairly large and perching them on the small bowls of rice isn't always easy. I'm perfectly happy dining without table clothes under neon lights, but plates don't seem excessive to me. Still, the food at Arirang was good (and not at all dumbed down or dressed up for the locals) and if I lived nearby, I would definitely go back. I'm not sure I would trek across town for it. I may however, check out their sister restaurant, Ho Do Ri, which is in my neighborhood. I'm already craving kimchi again... PS: I do know that North and South Korea are separate countries....but I was specifically forbidden from trying to access the North Korean embassy by my paranoid husband who may have watched too much 30 Rock. In any case, while there are no doubt regional differences, the two cuisines are supposedly quite similar, with the North having a somewhat milder cuisine...and these days, less food in general.... Arirang Seestrasse 106

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