Quite some time ago, during a conversation with my friends, we spoke about the vast variety of Asian themed restaurants here in Jeddah. There are mainly Chinese with a few good Japanese, some Thai, Indonesian, Filipino but no Korean Restaurant. What? No Korean Restaurant? But there is a Korean Consulate, a School and hence there should be such. But no directory would list a Korean Restaurant; even the always so reliable Google couldn’t produce any matches. Some time later I got a hint that there is one Korean Restaurant existing in Jeddah, where? In a compound or some sort of private place. Ever since I tried to get more information and last week it looked pretty promising. Jeddahfood provided a significant clue on their facebook page, a telephone number and a rough location “yes there is a Korean Restaurant, Tel : 02 6604769 Behind Haala Eesa bin Ladin Hospital or near Hamad Super Market..”
That’s when I went to Hamada Supermarket and started searching. After circling Hamada and Binladen Hospital and its surroundings, I noticed a small shop, in a side alley of Hamada – “Koreana Supermarket” ! I went in, a very small place. Two rows of steel shelves displaying a few Korean groceries such as canned fish, oil and rice etc. The man behind the counter was happily eating a Shawerma when I approached him and asked if he knows the Korean restaurant. To my surprise he told me that he actually owns both, the Supermarket and the restaurant. I had him describe me the way and he also handed me his business card. “Thank you Mr Kim, I shall see you again soon” I said and left the Supermarket to search the restaurant.
The description was quite easy, cross Aramco street, go straight towards the Hospital, count the roads on the left… first, second, third, fourth and turn. There it’s supposed to be, but? to my dismay, no sign of any restaurant or anything what would come close to it. I went back, counted the roads again and turned, just as it was mentioned on his business card, just like Mr Kim told me few minutes ago. Again nothing… I was about to return to the supermarket when I saw a Harris (guard) of a building. I asked him, surely he should know! He told me to follow him and he would show me. Right at this point I saw a couple of Asian workers, obviously Koreans, walking down and getting in a Hilux. It has to be here somewhere. Now the Harris pointed to a white gate, “Henna” (‘here’) he said and walked back to his chair. I walked up the slope, leading to a white Villa. I opened the heavy, white doors and at first I could not believe what I saw. A simple decorated, Korean looking restaurant.
A quick look around and I walked over to the cashier to inquire about the menu. He showed me their menu; it had one page of Korean dishes, another for Japanese and the last page a selection of Chinese. After a few more questions I also got to know that the restaurant existed for more than 30 years and that the chef is Korean, so is the owner and most of their guests. The Korean community counts about 500 people in Jeddah, so now I found their second dining room! On the way out he told me that they offer Buffet on Thursdays and that this would be a good day to try their food. Done deal I thought, I shall come back on a Thursday to please my taste buds.
Today it’s Thursday and I managed to get off a little earlier from work than usual. I already called earlier today to reserve a table for my friend and me.
Shortly after eight I turned in to the fourth street and same like me before, my friend didn’t figure that the gate we just passed would lead to a well kept secret, Koreana, Jeddah’s one and only Korean Restaurant.
Upon entering we were greeted by the same waiter who already explained everything to me the other day, he even recognized me and called me by my name. Pretty good memory, huh! The place was almost full! Mainly Koreans and Chinese families were sitting on big tables, having dinner and enjoying their time. The place definitely reassembles a kind of local neighborhood Asian restaurant one would imagine in one of Asia’s mega cities. No fancy stuff here, no menu, no crystal glasses and no designer cutleries. A flask with soy sauce and one with vinegar was the decoration of our table, plus two glasses. The waiter did not explain how the buffet works, how much it cost or asked what kind of drinks we wanted. It occurred to me that all those guests must be regulars and that there was no need for him to explain anything to us because anyone coming here would know how it works.
So we made our way to the buffet section and found that all those dishes looked pretty appealing and mouthwatering. The Korean Lady Boss was checking the buffet and she was nice enough to give me a brief introduction to the different dishes. A selection of cold appetizers, salads, sashimi, sushi, a soup, some fried wantons and spring rolls, noodles, tempura and the popular and must have in any Korean Restaurant, Kimchi. The hot section boosted two kinds of rice, braised oxtail, fried chicken in tomato sauce, “Galbi” veal cutlets, sweet ‘n sour fish, mussels, “Bulgogi” shredded beef, Mushrooms with vegetables, spicy mixed vegetables stew and a few other dishes.
Since it was my first time here I decided to give everything a try and loaded my plate with a bite size serving of each appetizer. Returning to the table we also ordered a mineral water and a coke, which arrived quickly at our table.
A taste of all dishes showed why this place is a secret to the Asian community. It’s real good and not adjusted to the local taste. I enjoyed every bite from my appetizer sampler and so did my friend. We both agreed that a more authentic Korean (East Asian) food is not available in Jeddah. The Cabbage Kimchi was especially good, soft and soggy cabbage leaves rolled up with the hot pickled sauce.
We returned for our second helping to the buffet. This time I decided to try their sushi and sashimi. A few pieces of vegetable Maki, prawn Nigiri, they even had Inarisushi which is a fried Tofu pocket stuffed with rice, and the Sashimi. A small bowl with Wasbi was available at the Buffet. All the Sushi’s were good in taste, not as exciting as the appetizers or from other popular Sushi joints in Jeddah, but one could see that they were made by skilled hands. So that would be something to order fresh from the menu on another day. The Inarisushi was the best of all, with the fried Tofu they were soft to bite and developed a sweet taste in my mouth.
Time to give it a third go and back I went to sample the main dishes. Same as with the appetizers, I loaded my plates with bite size portions of all dishes, except the Mussels where I have to say that they should only be served very fresh and also it is not one of my favorites either. By the time I returned to the table my friend already surrendered and was leaning back in his chair, obviously happy about the food he just had. The flavors of all, and I mean all dishes were great. Each dish had its very special taste. One very spicy, another one mild, one sweet another one fruity. The oxtail tender and juicy, falling off the bone with a smooth slightly sweet gravy. The Chicken with tomato actually turned out to be chicken with tomato and chili, but definitely not too spicy. Fried fish with sweet and sour sauce also had hints of lemon and chunks of pineapples. The rice could have been a little warmer; maybe if they would have placed the rice in a rice cooker it would have not lost its fragrance. By now I was full and close to end this extensive food sampling and took a break.
It was just after 9pm and most guests had left by now. We were the last remaining in the dining hall. This is definitely not the kind of place what would appeal to the majority of people from Jeddah or the Middle East in general. A restaurant which offers a great buffet on a Thursday night, almost empty just after 9pm. Asians, similar to Europeans, Americans and other Western cultures tend to eat dinner early in the evening and usually not later than 8pm as the daily TV news broadcast is at 8pm and after Prime Time shows start. This restaurant caters to those, the others!
We made our final approach to the Buffet and looked at what was left for us from the dessert section. There was a big Chocolate Cream Cake, slices of water melon and fried chunks of potatoes (that’s what we guessed) in syrup. The cake was ok, nothing Korean though. The fried potato was definitely better, kind of a different approach to use a fried vegetable as a dessert.
Now that we had sampled the various Korean and other Asian dishes we were stuffed like two Turkeys for thanksgiving! After a few quiet moments and watching the waiters preparing and setting up the tables, we went to the cashier and asked for the bill. A manual written invoice and to my surprise… no service charge! The buffet was SR 70.00 per person and drinks were free. Since the service was good and we had no complaints during our dinner I left a tip for the staff. Upon asking if the variety of food served during the buffet is the same as in the menu, we were told that there are more special dishes, only available from the a la carte, as they had to be prepared fresh. We thanked the staff and the Lady Boss for the great food and left happily.
On our way out I took some pictures as evidence of the place, now I can proof that it exists and that the myth about a Korean restaurant in Jeddah is not a myth anymore. One gentle advice to all jeddahfood.com followers. This is not the usual kind of restaurant you would go to hang out with friends for a fun dinner. Its about the food and probably a place for Asian expats to meet with their families, friends and colleagues. Except us there was only another three guys who were not of Asian origin and those were regulars, so they said.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this review the same like I enjoyed the dinner we had.
You read it first at jeddahfood.com where exciting restaurants are discovered by toonsla.Koreana,
This post was submitted by toonsla.
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