In pursuit of finding decent food in Germany, my family and I tried out two of the three Korean restaurants in Leipzig during a visit to the city last week. It is a high risk undertaking to try a Korean restaurant in Germany as it can be very hit or miss, with a high probability of a miss. Over the years, I have had traumatizing experiences in Heidelberg and bearable ones in Frankfurt and Duesseldorf.
The first of the the three Leipzig restaurants, Korea Restaurant Kim, was unfortunately a miss. Located in a small non-descript shopping arcade in the center of the city, my husband had a feeling even before we went that it wouldn’t be particularly authentic. After reading a review or two online, it was apparent that there was a lot of duck and chicken on the menu. While Koreans do eat chicken, it’s more of a secondary ingredient or specific to dishes such as Korean fried chicken (yum!). Korean beef barbecue is better known. Pork, fish and other seafood are more often prepared and eaten in Korean cuisine, but duck is more the exception. Seeing it on the menu raised our gringo alarm. In general, the menu was very uneven. The restaurant is not a specialty house such as for barbecue or oxtail stew, but at the same time, it did not have a well-rounded generalist menu, just a handful of Korean classics and then a few variations of the aforementioned duck!
We decided to try it anyway since it was an easy walk from our holiday flat and had family-friendly hours, i.e., it opens at 5 PM. Some of the positives: The restaurant has a big aquarium with huge fish that fascinated my kids. There was a friendly waitress who was part Asian, but didn’t speak Korean. Not to seem unfairly discriminatory, this raised another gringo alarm. While I am aware that plenty of ethnic restaurants have “non-ethnic” servers and nonetheless serve delicious food, this seemed to correlate with our growing suspicions of this particular restaurant’s lack of authenticity.
We ordered two orders of Dolsot Bibimbap and one order of Bulgogi. The Bibimbap comes out in a stone bowl which is sizzling hot. Various vegetables sit on a bed of rice which forms a nice crispy crust if you like. (N.B. Mix frequently if you don’t want the crust.) There is also a raw egg cracked over it which cooks on the sizzling stone as you mix.
This is a pretty straightforward dish, one which we make plenty of times at our house minus the sizzling hot stone bowl. You have to julienne or slice various vegetables and then steam and season them. These are often shiitake mushrooms, carrots, spinach, soy bean sprouts and sometimes daikon and fiddlehead ferns among other variations. Usually marinated beef is also part of the mix, but they used faux crab meat here, an unusual alternative. The toppings are typically seasoned with a base mixture of soy sauce with sesame oil. Unfortunately, these vegetables weren’t seasoned at all and not even a healthy dose of Gochujang (Korean chili paste that is mixed in) could revive any flavor. This dish is one of my kids’ favorites, yet they refused to eat this.
We ordered the Bulgogi thinking that it might be safe as another standard dish. It really wasn’t, and bad memories of my aforementioned trauma at a really bad Korean restaurant in Heidelberg resurfaced. Bulgogi seasoning is also pretty straightforward. Without revealing the details of my ancient family recipe, the essential ingredients are soy sauce, water, sugar (of some sort – some people use soda while others use fruit), garlic and sesame oil. While this meat was seasoned you couldn’t really distinguish the fine flavors of the ingredients. It somehow tasted like some college student was messing around in the kitchen trying to figure out how to make Mom’s Bulgogi recipe (yes, I am speaking from personal experience). The soy sauce and black pepper were overpowering in an unpleasant way.
After such an unsatisfying meal, we all ended up having some yoghurt and some other snacks when we got back to our apartment before going to bed.
With caution, we decided to try Tobagi, located in Zentrum, the next evening. The menu was much more even. It was a general Korean restaurant and had a good representation of classics: dwenjang jjigae (soybean paste soup), kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew), bulogogi, etc. We were eager to try it, but unfortunately as we stood in front of its door at 5 PM, we saw that it didn’t open until 6.
We kept going and tried Meet Freude in Suedvorstadt. The concept of this place was different since it was a cafe that also served food. It was open throughout the day for coffee, etc, but it also served Bibimbap and Kalbi along with one or two other dishes. I’ll post my review of Meet Freud next time, but needless to say, it was much better.