When eating in foodcourts and hawker centres, I try to avoid ordering Korean food.
The meats on hotplates are often overcooked, the stews diluted and the food not usually cooked by Koreans.
So I am surprised to discover a floppy-haired South Korean lad sweating it out in a hawker stall, serving Korean rice sets, kimchi stews, ramyun (Korean instant noodles) and tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes).
Meet Mr Bob Lee Sangbum, 29, owner of the three-month-old Top Bob Korean Food in Golden Mile Food Centre. The former sales engineer was so disappointed by the quality of Korean food in foodcourts here that he quit his job last year to start the stall.
He says: "There are strange additions such as tang hoon (glass noodles) to stews that are watered down. It is not a taste I am familiar with".
TOP BOB KOREAN FOOD
505 Beach Road, Golden Mile Food Centre, B1-45, open: noon to 8pm or until sold out (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
Info: Call 9845-9592 or go to www.facebook.com/ KoreanTopBob
Rating: 4 stars
He adds that Korean restaurants here charge more than double for the same dishes back home. So he flew back to Seoul to develop recipes with help from his mentor, South Korean celebrity chef and food stylist Park Suhran. Mr Lee had worked as her kitchen assistant during his undergraduate days.
Mr Lee's humble menu comprises seven dishes priced from $3.50 to $6. While the dishes look pretty ordinary, they pack a punch with their full-bodied, fiery flavours. He sells up to 60 servings of these dishes daily.
One of the more popular dishes is the Samgyopsal Topbob ($6), which has a generous serving of pan-fried pork belly, seaweed, kimchi, vegetables and a raw egg yolk on a bed of rice. It is served like bibimbap, a Korean mixed-rice dish.
The highlight is Mr Lee's use of gochujang (Korean chilli paste), which is copious enough to dye the rice a dark red hue when tossed with the other ingredients. He ups the spiciness by stirring in Korean chilli powder and makes it more savoury with soya sauce, garlic and vegetable stock. I enjoy chewing the gelatinous-like strips of marinated meat and waiting for its subtle sweetness to emerge from the eruption in my mouth.
I work up a sweat tucking into the strangely addictive dish. To douse the flames, there is an accompanying bowl of Korean miso (deonjang) soup, which is flecked with bits of fermented soya bean paste. My only gripe is that the rice in the claypot is too wet and mushy.
The Kimchi Soondubu Stew ($5.50) has a spicy and sour tang. I like how the bubbling orange-red gravy is thickened with a mishmash of softened ingredients, such as radish, kimchi, strips of pork belly and egg. The custard-like tofu slices cut through the acidity of the broth, which is cooked with spring onions, onions, minced meat and chilli powder.
For noodles, there is Cheese Egg Ramyun ($4), Korean instant noodles in a red broth that is a blend of vegetable stock and instantnoodle seasoning.
Mixing a half slice of cheese into the broth with an oozing egg yolk makes the dish more creamy.