They call it the Korean wave – no, it’s nothing like the Tsunami – though it was powerful enough to bring Full House, Boys Over Flowers and numerous other “Koreanovelas” too many to recall from the Yellow Sea to the shore of the Philippine Islands. Not to mention that while Filipinos are busy finding ways to get to other places, Koreans themselves seem to be busy finding their way to the Philippines, becoming among the largest group of visitors to the country – not a small feat considering they aren’t that big a country themselves.
Along with that wave came an awareness of Korean culture. Korea and the Philippines didn’t really have that much of a history together, but now we know we know what their traditional clothes look like, thanks to Korean TV series that came one after the other on Philippine airwaves, and many of us now know what Kimchi tastes like (though our appreciation of it varies).
Along with this wave came Korean cuisine. Nowadays it’s not difficult to spot restaurants with names written in Hanggul (the Korean alphabet) in many places in Metropolitan Manila. Just drive through the side streets of Makati near the Rockwell area, or the main street of BF Homes in Parañaque and you might wonder if you are still in the Philippines. I’m sure you’ll find these in other major destinations in the country as well.
The “mom and pop” restaurants scattered across the country may be primarily aimed at visiting Koreans and a small niche of adventurous locals, but Korean food is now slowly entering the mainstream market as well. Restaurants serving Korean cuisine is now popping up in malls, bringing Korean food closer to the masses, in the same way that the now ubiquitous Japanese-oriented restos, from the more authentic ones like Sugi to fast food like Tokyo Tokyo, turned Japanese food into mainstream fare.
One of the most approachable of the mall restaurants is Kogi Bulgogi, and we have been to their stores in Eastwood, and in Lucky Chinatown. I say approachable, because it is friendlier to regular folks who may not yet be acquainted with dishes that start with “Kalbi” or end with “bap”. The menu explains what each dish is in “layman’s terms”, and the food itself is a bit “muted” to suit the Filipino tongue, being a bit more sweet and little less hot, though they do still have some spicy items here and there. The drinks list also carries Korean liqour, such as Soju cocktails, for those who would like to complete the experience.
Overall, Korean may have a long way to go before it can become as recognized and accepted and the same way that Japanese food is now, but anything that adds to the diversity of the local food scene in the Philippines can only be a good thing. And while I’m not sure if Kogi Bulgogi is enough remind a Korean of home, I’m sure it’s a good “introduction” to their food.
Tip: Our favorite here is the Sam Gyup Sal Ssambap, and of course, Japchae.
* Photos taken with Panasonic Lumix LX5