Seoul, Seoul, what are you going to get? Smalls? Minis? Who cares. Seoul has gone quite big; hey, I suppose I could call it just a Tokyo offshoot but that would probably not go over well with some Koreans…let’s face it, most Koreans would rather be somewhere in America. And that’s ok too, given the excellent food, the mild snow and summer in Japan, Seoul can more than hold its own.
Diners love Seoul but there are also several options other than fancy hotel restaurants. Restaurant by TopKT opened its doors just recently, you read that right. They were targeting upmarket professionals and businessmen from the corporate world, Seoul-ites and foreigners alike – and after nearly two years of successful operations, they have built up a loyal following. It’s basic, if not old-fashioned, Korean-style food with a twist.
The communal approach creates interesting and appealing cuisine that one could find in almost any other northern, eastern or southern city, while at the same time giving you the chance to sample highly creative dishes with no language barrier. Don’t underestimate their dedication, they go all out with a produce and seafood-driven menu, with local ingredients such as gooey sweet potato cake, lemongrass chicken with fresh basil, or charred mushrooms with pea shoots and a sweet soy sauce.
Okura has been compared to one of the most famous Korean restaurants in Europe, Karakorum, and that isn’t a huge stretch as Okura is named after a mountain in Eastern Korea. Quite simply, it is light, flavorful and showcases fresh local seasonal produce. This is a great restaurant to introduce a loved and novice to the culture of Korean food. While everyone knows “jeewju kampung”, or local foods, there is so much more to the cuisine, and this is just one small taste of it. I have already visited four different Okuras throughout the country but have yet to visit any others with authentic Korean food.
Owner Aniharu Kemakama recently had the opportunity to share more about Okura with one of our guest bloggers:
1. Why did you decide to open an Asian restaurant in Seoul?
Korean cuisine should be accessible to everyone, not just the elite and those who travel.
2. What would you say is the most popular dish?
Gulaebecang (steamed noodles with pork belly, bamboo shoots, shitake mushrooms, small pieces of fresh avocado and kimchi) is definitely the most popular dish.
3. Does any particular dish have special significance?
Personally, I could never let pork off the menu, because I will always love pork.
4. What’s your favorite combination of food to serve a guest?
Several kimchi dishes usually come from the ajiya or forest. For the vegetarians, there is “palymoto be”, rice that has been cooked to make it more tender and flavorful; and yakbo-gombjang that is made from sprouts that are wrapped in lettuce leaves, and then served with a leaf of peanut or wheat grass.
5. Where do you like to take customers from the capital of Seoul?
I take my guests all over the city and in the afternoon often meet at a restaurant like Moonoo Goom Jeol Eu-gu and take them to a café, hot spring or soba or bean curd shop for refreshment.
6. If you had unlimited funds, where would you take your guests to?
I would take them to the southern regions, they are the best for eating local vegetables or mushrooms that are not available in the capital.
While taking in the new Seoul, be sure to try something Korean: Yamaksaang is mixed with egg yolk and stewed until thick and creamy. Some places serve it at lunch, as well as during a cold season when the other ingredients are in the low season.
Where else would you like to take a guest?
I would like to visit various eastern Korean areas and quite possibly bring some of my guests with me.