Embrace unfamiliar flavours at this authentic Korean eatery in Joburg
Growing up on Chinese egg-fried rice (in the 1980s), Vietnamese spring rolls (in the 1990s) and Pad Thai (in the 2000s), many of our palates are unaccustomed to Korean cuisine: fierce chilli, ice-cold soups and peculiar pickles and ferments.
Set to become an ''it" foodie trend, Korean cuisine is a complex, unfamiliar, often very healthy, and super-social way to eat.
Tucked at the back of Early Dawn Mall in Rivonia's ''Chinatown", Dae Jang Kum is an authentic Korean restaurant catering mainly to expats. The menu is cryptic, very little English is spoken, and the rhythm of a Korean meal is quite difficult to work out, so a little bit of study before dinner can be useful.
All the food served is meant to be shared, so order as a group. At the start of a meal a collection of small plates, like Asian tapas, called banchan will arrive. These free sides can be eaten at any stage and with any of the main dishes.
The most famous is kimchi, a delicious red mess of fermented cabbage, radish, and chilli peppers, which has become international shorthand for Korean food. Many other banchan are hard to identify, of unusual colour and/or texture, but are all delicious.
For your mains, order a range of different dishes. Try cold noodle soup like naengmyun (you may not like it but that's no reason not to expand your culinary horizon). What you will like, however, are the hot soups. Their pungent spiciness comes from the red gochujang chilli sauce that you'll come to crave. Order a vegetarian soup (kimchi jjigae) and a hearty seafood hotpot (haemul jeongol).
Definitely include an order of bibimbap, a rice dish with meat and egg which is scrambled at the table. And give your braai-master skills a go with a Korean barbecue (galbi) of ribs, bacon or pork belly, cooked on a grill at your table.
The tastes and originality of a Korean dinner will make sweet and sour pork seem like a kiddie's meal in comparison.
sub_head_start NEED TO KNOW sub_head_end
WHEN TO GO For a long, relaxed Friday dinner.
WHO TO TAKE A group of adventurous eaters and/or friends who taught English in Korea.
WHAT NOT TO DO Don't be intimidated. Do a little research, know what to order and what to expect.
WHAT TO DRINK Iced tea, Korean beer or rice wine.
WHO YOU'LL SEE Solitary Chinese and Japanese businessmen, Korean families with surly teenagers, and almost never any other South Africans.
HOW MUCH YOU NEED R300 per head.
ADDRESS Dae Jang Kum, No 20 9th Ave, Rivonia, Sandton, Shop 22-24, Early Dawn Mall, 011-234-7292.