Singapore has been busy embracing all-things Korean, from dramas to K-pop to fashion. Korean food is no exception. Diners' love of Korean fare spans Korean barbecue and spicy jjigae, to noodles and tteokbokki rice cake.
The Straits Times puts together 12 places to head to for your Korean food fix, listed in no order of preference.
1. Wong Ah Yoke recommends
E!GHT KOREAN BBQ
If you like your food to come with a twist and do not care much for authenticity, you will like E!ght Korean BBQ, with outlets at The Central and Shaw Centre.
The restaurant serves an interesting 8 Colours Set ($98) which comprises eight flavours - from wine and ginseng, to herbal and curry - of Berkshire pork for barbecuing. The set, which comes with a selection of side dishes such as kimchi and potato salad as well as a seafood bean paste stew, is enough for three to four people.
If you are in a smaller group, you can order the 4 Colours Set ($58) instead and choose four of the eight flavours.
Go for the herbal marinade, which is made with aromatic basil, rosemary and other herbs used more for Western cooking, as well as the garlic flavour.
The restaurant also serves US Prime beef, Argentinian beef and Ohmi wagyu in a la carte orders from $58 to $110.
For lunch, it offers chul pan, with a choice of sliced chicken ($15), pork belly ($16) or beef brisket ($18) stir fried on a hot grill with assorted vegetables and red pepper paste.
WHERE: E!ght Korean BBQ - two outlets: The Central, 6 Eu Tong Sen Street, 02-79/90, tel: 6222-2159; and Shaw Centre, 1 Scotts Road, 04-20/21, tel: 9018-9212
MRT: Clarke Quay and Orchard
OPEN: The Central - 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 11pm, daily; Shaw Centre - 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10.30pm (weekdays); 11.30am to 10.30pm (weekends and public holidays)
INFO: Go to 8koreanbbq.com or www.facebook.com/8koreanbbqshaw
2. Tan Hsueh Yun recommends
You might feel a little crammed at the busy Seorae eatery at Plaza Singapura. And it doesn't help that the small tables here are arranged very close to one another.
But it is popular for good reason.
The eatery specialises in a cut of meat called galmaegisal in Korean, a premium cut of pork skirt that is gaining popularity in Seoul. There are a couple of marinades - Korean spices ($21.90), and garlic and soya sauce ($22.90). The latter has a stronger and more aromatic flavour.
Also order the pork belly, which is available in three styles as Three Musketeers ($31.90) - original, marinated with Seorae's soya sauce, and marinated with spicy sauce. The spicy one is especially good eaten wrapped in a leaf of raw lettuce.
Seorae's grill pan is encircled by metal pans that are variously filled with kimchi and mixtures of cheese and egg - different from what you'd find at most other Korean restaurants.
The heat from the stove cooks the mixes gradually until they form a cake with crispy edges. And heated kimchi tastes good.
WHERE: Plaza Singapura, 02-01, 68 Orchard Road
MRT: Dhoby Ghaut
OPEN: 11.30am to 10pm (Sunday to Thursday), 11.30am to 11pm (Friday and Saturday)
INFO: Call 6238-8429 or go to www.seorae.com.sg
3. Rebecca Lynne Tan recommends
THREE MEALS A DAY
Three Meals A Day, a 40-seat Korean family restaurant in Chun Tin Road, is a stone's throw from Beauty World MRT station.
And yes, this restaurant bears the same name as a popular South Korean reality television cooking show.
You will notice native Koreans dining here, from office workers to families to Korean mums and their babies, which is always a good indication of authenticity.
Prices are also very affordable, considering its clean air-conditioned premises. Noodles start at $8, while a jjigae or stew - which has the consistency of thick and hearty soup - starts at $10. Bibimbap starts at $12 a serving.
Dishes to order include the kimchi jjigae with pork ($12) and the seafood sundubu jjigae ($10). Both emerge from the kitchen piping hot. The robust soup is just the right amount of spicy, sour and sweet. It is flavourful and yet has a clean finish on the palate. It isn't too cloying either.
The seafood pancake with chives ($16) is another must. The pancake, which has plenty of filling, is not too chewy. I also like that the batter is light and the edges are crisp.
Japchae ($15) or stir-fried glass noodles with beef has a beautiful sesame oil aroma and is very tasty.
If the weather is hot, beat the heat with a bowl of mul naengmyeon ($16) or noodles with beef and vegetables in an icy cold broth, or bibim naengmyeon ($16), cold noodles in a spicy sauce.
WHERE: 12 Chun Tin Road
MRT: Beauty World
OPEN: noon to 3.30pm, 6 to 11pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday. Last order for dinner at 10pm
INFO: Call 6463-2346
4. Eunice Quek recommends
Korean bibimbap bowls are a good way to tuck into meat, vegetables and carbs all at once.
At Paik's Bibim, the bibimbap does not come with an egg, nor is not served in a hot stone bowl. Instead, it has a variety of vegetables and a choice of meat (from $7.90) or seafood ($8.90).
The pork bibimbap comes with minced pork, bean sprouts, mushrooms and julienned radish, carrot and cucumber. Mix everything with the spicy gochujang and it makes a filling meal.
Noodle options ($7.90 each) are also available, such as warm noodles with soya sauce and spicy bibim noodles.
This South Korean fast-food concept is by Korean celebrity chef Baek Jong Won, who started the Korean barbecue chain Bornga in 2012.
WHERE: Paik's Bibim - seven outlets including Jem, 50 Jurong Gateway Road, B1-K2; VivoCity, 1 Harbourfront Walk, 02-125; and CityLink Mall, 1 Raffles Link, B1-19
MRT: Jurong East, HarbourFront, City Hall
OPEN: Various opening hours
INFO: Go to https://www.facebook.com/paiks.bibimsg/
5. Wong Ah Yoke recommends
INSADONG KOREA TOWN
Insadong Korea Town, located near the Trick Eye Museum at Resorts World Sentosa, offers more than 200 types of dishes that range from traditional Korean and hybrid dishes to street food and desserts.
It is a self-service eatery where you pay for the food at self-ordering kiosks. You then pick up your food from various stalls in the 6,000 sq ft eatery that seats more than 300.
Try the Bossam or Korean Boiled Pork Wrap ($15 for small). Slices of pork belly are simmered in mild herbs till soft and eaten wrapped in cabbage with sliced garlic, green chilli and chilli paste. The pork also tastes good on its own with a dab of the paste and does not feel greasy at all.
Other good dishes include the Ginseng Chicken ($28), which comes with a small serving of evaporated milk to add to the soup if you wish.
Desserts include the trendy J-cone ($6), a J-shaped tube made from corn flour that is filled with ice cream. There is also the Churro With Soft Serve And Fruits ($9), an odd Korean twist to the Spanish snack that is rather addictive.
WHERE: Insadong Korea Town, Resorts World Sentosa, 26 Sentosa Gateway, 01-30/33, tel: 6238-8221 (no reservations)
OPEN: 11am to 10pm, daily
INFO: Go to www.rwsentosa.com
6. Wong Ah Yoke recommends
Joo is one of a handful of modern Korean bar-restaurants here.
While ostensibly a makgeolli bar - makgeolli is a popular alcoholic beverage in Korea made from fermented grain - it also offers a full menu of food that is a mix of Korean and Western cooking.
Try the Warm Kimchi With Tofu And Spam ($16). It consists of a spicy stir-fry of kimchi, onion, scallion and pork belly served with slices of firm tofu and luncheon meat. You sandwich the kimchi between a slice each of tofu and Spam. Eaten together, the bland tofu smoothens out the strong flavours of the fermented cabbage without robbing it of its character. The Spam, on the other hand, adds a savoury goodness that enriches the flavours.
The most Korean dish here is the Joo Bossam ($28). It stays very close to the traditional recipe, where slices of boiled pork belly are served with a variety of condiments, such as kimchi, pickled radish and spicy sauces, and eaten together wrapped in a Napa cabbage leaf.
It is delicious, especially the Hungarian Mangalitsa pork, which has so much more flavour than the meat usually sold here. It is rather fat, so the kimchi and cabbage provide a strong dose of acidity to cut the heaviness.
Pork lovers can also try the Grilled Mangalitsa Belly ($25), where slices of the marinated grilled meat are served with a spicy chive salad.
7. Wong Ah Yoke recommends
Well-known South Korean chain Bornga, which was started by Jong Won Paik, a celebrity chef from Seoul, now has three outlets in Singapore.
The ribs here are good and the marinade very tasty, but the dish to order is the restaurant's speciality, woo samgyup ($22).
The streaks of fat are what make this so delicious. They shrivel up on the sizzling barbecue grill, releasing the oils to flavour the meat. You can eat the cooked meat as it is or roll it up with some thin strips of leek and dip it in an accompanying thick, spicy sauce.
Another meat to order for the grill is the ggot sal ($38), a thicker cut of unmarinated beef. This is evenly marbled and goes well with a dip of sesame oil flavoured with salt and pepper.
The chadol duenjang jigae ($16) is a good filler, too. The stew of sliced beef, vegetables and beancurd flavoured with soybean paste, is very satisfying. You spoon it over an accompanying bowl of rice and greens and mix everything up to create a sort of bibimbap. For some spice, add a dash of red pepper paste as well.
Another satisfying dish is kimchi jigae ($15), a stew made with the popular Korean preserved cabbage, beancurd and a piece of meaty pork rib. It is spicy, sour and salty and perfect for rainy weather.
On a hot day, however, order the bom-ga naeng mun ($15). The buckwheat noodles are served in an icy broth with shredded vegetables and pear, as well as a hard-boiled egg.
It may sound strange but tastes refreshingly good once you wrap your mind around the idea of cold noodles.
You might want to skip the jap chae ($23), a stir-fried dish of pork and glass noodles, which lacks the aroma of sesame oil, and the haemul pajeon ($22), a pancake made with scallions and seafood, which is disappointingly bland other than the seafood bits.
Expect to spend about $30 a person.
WHERE: Bornga - three outlets: The Star Vista, 1 Vista Exchange Green, 02-24, tel: 6694-4696; VivoCity, 1 Harbourfront Walk, 02-123/124,tel: 6376-8268; Suntec City Mall, 3 Temasek Boulevard, 01-641/642, tel: 6836 3291
MRT: Buona Vista, HarbourFront and Esplanade
OPEN: 11.30am to 10pm, daily. The restaurants close for a break between 4 and 5pm.
8. Tan Hsueh Yun recommends
Ramen shops are everywhere in Singapore, but restaurants that sell just Korean noodles are harder to find. Then, along came Guksu, a 96-seat restaurant at Suntec City which focuses on Korean noodles with small eats on the side.
First, pick from three types of noodles, made daily at the restaurant using head chef Kahng HeunSung's grandmother's recipes. So Meon is the thinnest, while Kal Guksu are flat, wide noodles. Somewhere in between is Jung Meon.
Then, pick a broth: anchovy, prawn, clam or beef.
The Doenjang Beef Guksu ($13.90), cloudy with bean paste, is rib-sticking and the broth so flavourful that you'll want to drink every drop. The sprinkling of slightly bitter, powdered mulberry deepens the flavour of the soup.
Digging into the bowl, you will find sliced wagyu beef, boiled egg and vegetables.
The Kal Guksu is thin and springy. Make haste. Left sitting in the hot broth, it turns soggy quickly.
For $4 more, you get a side dish and tea.
WHERE: 02-385 Suntec City Convention Centre, 3 Temasek Boulevard
OPEN: 11am to 10pm, daily
INFO: Call 6334-7950 or go to www.facebook.com/guksu1945
9. Wong Ah Yoke recommends
The restaurant, which opened in Amoy Street in January 2018, offers the same style of contemporary Asian cooking as Meta, the one-Michelin-starred restaurant in Keong Saik Road. But it has an a la carte menu.
The open kitchen is on the ground floor, with a long communal table that seats 18 people in front. The second floor is shared between a bar and small dining tables that seat a total of 22 people, while the third floor is reserved for private dining.
Kimme offers small and big plates for sharing and some of the dishes are similar to those at Meta. But for the same number of courses, prices work out to be slightly cheaper here, and you can control how many and what dishes you want to eat.
You would find a strong Korean stamp on many of the dishes, which is not surprising since the chef, Sun Kim, is South Korean. But there are also hints of Singapore influences – no doubt gleaned from his time spent here. Before starting Meta two years ago, he cooked in Waku Ghin at the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort.
The Korean-centric dishes are my favourite. Among them is the Korean Style Wagyu Tartare ($23), which is better than a similar dish I had at Meta two years ago.
The minced raw beef is dressed like yukhoe, a Korean-style tartare – with a mix of sauces, spices and sesame that provides an immediate punch on the palate. With a raw quail egg stirred in and eaten on a piece of crispy sago chip, it makes for an excellent appetiser.
There is also Kampachi Sashimi ($22) that comes with ginger and gochujang sauce – a red chilli paste used in many Korean dishes – and it is another wow on the palate. The sauce is robust, but not fiery. So although the thickly sliced raw kampachi is enveloped in it, the flavour of the fish still comes through.
Of the big plates, the most unmistakably Korean dish is Bossam ($35). That is also the name of the traditional dish of boiled slices of pork belly eaten wrapped in cabbage or lettuce leaves with condiments such as raw garlic, green chilli and kimchi.
Here, the dish comes with just two items – ssamjang sauce and white kimchi – which you place with the pork belly on an endive leaf. I miss the more complex flavours of the traditional bossam, but the compensation comes in how crisp the endive is.
For some local flavour, try the Spanish Prawn ($30), which comes with housemade XO sauce that is not very hot, but is tasty with the flavour of dried scallops. There are also mussels in the dish, fried till dry to get a chewy texture and a more intense flavour that I like, as well as pieces of artichoke.
For dessert, I’d recommend the Banana Cream Puff ($10 for two). The puffs are soft and filled with a light cream. Pop one in the mouth and feel the pleasure.
WHERE: 47 Amoy Street
MRT: Telok Ayer
OPEN: noon to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 11pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
INFO: Call 6514-1588 or go to https://kimmerestaurant.com/
10. Wong Ah Yoke recommends
K- Tower opened in Amoy Street in December 2016 with the promise of better quality in the form of live seafood.
A seafood tower now comes in tiers of three to nine steamers. Each steamer holds different items and at the bottom is a pot of broth. With the broth kept on a simmer, the steam wafting up ensures the food stays warm, while the juices from the seafood drip down into the pot.
At the end of the meal, you can order more ingredients to add to the soup, turning it into a steamboat.
K-Tower offers four types of broth: seafood, which is complimentary, kimchi (add $10), army stew (add $10) and ginseng chicken (add $20).
Couples can start with a three-tier tower ($58), containing the soup base, prawn, scallop, oyster and shellfish (clams and mussels). And those in groups of three to five can get the $128, five-tier set, while bigger groups can go for the $198 one with seven tiers . Vegetables such as broccoli, corn and sweet potato are included in all the sets.
The tallest is nine tiers ($298) and it comes with lobster, mud crab, oyster, fish, sea cucumber, prawn, scallop, squid and shellfish. For an additional $90, you get abalone as well. This can feed seven or eight people, or more if you pad it up with a la carte orders.
Quality is ensured because the restaurant uses live seafood such as prawns, lobster, crab, abalone and shellfish, which are kept in tanks at the back. That makes a big difference – most evident in the prawns, which are much sweeter than the chilled variety.
The worst thing you can do with steamed seafood is to overcook it and that hardly happens here. Live abalone can easily turn rubbery if the cooking is not timed correctly, but here it is springy and easy to bite through. And the fish, which is red snapper at my dinner, is tender and moist, cooked just right.
Only the shellfish is overcooked. The clams still taste sweet even with the juices dried up, but the mussels are dry and bland. So I have to resort to dipping them in the sauces provided, which was not necessary with the other seafood. There are four sauces available: a soya sauce-vinegar blend, Korean wasabi, sambal and gochujang. The vinegary blend works best, while those who like their food with a bit of spice will enjoy the sambal. The other two sauces tend to mask the sweetness of the steamed food.
For diners who are not interested in the tower, there are dishes such as Bulgogi Chicken, Pork or Beef ($11.90) and Army Stew ($26.90 for two persons), which are popular with the lunch crowd.
Side orders of Fried Chicken Wings ($7.90) and Fried Oysters ($7.90) are also available. The Seafood Pancake ($14.90) is especially good. Fried to an even golden colour, it boasts crisp edges and is not oily.
WHERE: 74 Amoy Street
MRT: Telok Ayer / Tanjong Pagar
OPEN: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10pm, daily
INFO: Call 6221-9928 or go to https://www.chope.co/singapore-restaurants/restaurant/K-Tower
11. Wong Ah Yoke recommends
The seafood tower concept is very simple. Different types of shellfish are cooked in steamers that are stacked in tiers over a pot or wok of stock.
At Captain K, the highest you can go is nine tiers ($288.90), which is recommended for eight people. And the lowest is three tiers ($52.90), recommended for two people.
This is a clever concept for labour-deprived restaurateurs because it is easy to implement and run. The seafood is steamed without sauce or seasoning, so no cooking skill is required other than knowing not to overcook the food.
The only items that require some sort of preparation are the scallops, which come with tunghoon (bean vermicelli) and minced garlic, and the squid, which is stuffed with flavoured rice.
Each steamer tier is filled with one or two items, so it does not mean that fewer tiers will have correspondingly fewer items. For example, the only food missing from my five tiers are crab and lobster. The squid is not included in any of the tiers. But you can get a la carte orders of these.
You eat the food tier by tier, starting from the top. The restaurant offers different sauces, such as Korean ssamjang, sambal belacan, Thai green chilli and ponzu, to go with it. And diagrams on the wall and menu helpfully suggest which sauce to pair each food with.
The restaurant suggests a tangy yuzu sauce, but I dip a prawn in ponzu and find that I much prefer it without the sauce.
It is the same with the live crab, especially if you want to savour its rich golden roe. With such sweet seafood, a sauce will just be a distraction.
The clams, too, are best on their own with a bit of their juices collected in the shells.
But other kinds of seafood get a lift from some of the sauces. The scallops, for example, taste wonderful with a little spoonful of Thai green chilli sauce stirred into the tunghoon and minced garlic, which are otherwise rather bland. The live crawfish are not as sweet as the prawns and so need to be spiced up with a bit of sambal belacan.
As does the stuffed squid, which benefits from any sauce. The rice stuffing has an indistinguishable flavour and is packed densely, making it rather stodgy. And it comes to the table a bit cold, making this my least favourite item.
The mussels are a disappointment as well, as the juices have run dry and the meat is chewy and bland. So in goes a spoonful of Thai chilli sauce. The oysters, too, are a tad overcooked and get their flavours awakened with a bit of ponzu.
When you’re done with all the tiers of seafood, you’re left with a wok of stock at the bottom. There is a choice of kombu dashi, Korean kimchi and premium Korean ginseng chicken (extra $15) and you select one when you make your order.
I pick the kimchi stock, which the server recommends, and it turns out to be excellent. Juices from the seafood drip down into it and give it a distinctive shellfish flavour that reminds me of a seafood stew.
You can pick plates of vegetables ($2 each), dumplings ($3) and instant noodles ($2) to add to the stock and turn it into a hotpot. I do that and the steaming pot provides a comforting end to the meal.
WHERE: 30 Prinsep Street, 01-02
MRT: Dhoby Ghaut / Bras Basah
OPEN: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6 to 10pm daily
INFO: Call 6255-2270 or go to https://www.chope.co/singapore-restaurants/restaurant/captain-k-seafood-...
12. Tan Hsueh Yun recommends
SBCD Korean Tofu House
There are many food temptations at Tanjong Pagar Centre. Hattendo cream buns from Japan call out to me and so does the Penang food at The Little Island. But on my first visit there, it is SBCD Korean Tofu House that catches my eye. The attraction: organic tofu made in-house daily.
The tofu is served with beef or pork ($18.90) in a hearty soup. Diners pick the level of spiciness and I am happy with mild. Wobbly, custardy and oh-so-soft, the tofu is a real treat to tuck into, especially together with the spicy soup.
Other versions include Assorted ($19.90) with beef and seafood; Seafood ($19.90), with clams, prawns, squid and mussels; Intestines ($19.90), with beef and offal; and the curious Ham & Cheese ($19.90).
All of these come with Hot Stone Rice and the fun is digging up the crisp grains from the bottom and the sides of the pot. Some stellar side dishes that are part of the set include sweet fried yellow croaker fish.
Other dishes worth ordering include JabChae ($19.90), sweet potato noodles with shredded vegetables and beef; and Prawn Tofu Pancake ($19.90), patties made with that excellent tofu.
WHERE: B1-01 Tanjong Pagar Centre, 7 Wallich Street
MRT: Tanjong Pagar
OPEN: 11.30am to 10pm daily
INFO: Call 6386-6441 or go to www. facebook.com/SBCDSingapore