Less is more for S. Korea's one-specialty dining
The Korea Herald/ Asia News NetworkSEOUL--Catering to an increasingly food-savvy and blog-centric population presents a challenge to chefs and restaurateurs aiming to stand out from a burgeoning crowd of eateries, cafes, bars and bakeries.
January 22, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
To meet the growing expectations and get noticed, some establishments are focusing on one or two stellar signature dishes instead of wearing themselves out serving a wide variety of eats and drinks.
“Seeking out tasty spots has become an increasingly big thing through blogging, for instance, so people tend to prefer places that do one item well rather than shops that serve a vast range of so-so dishes,” said Suave owner-chef Kim Yong-rae. “So I think that is why places that specialize in one thing are popping up.”
True to his creed, Kim, 35, opened a shop devoted to handmade caramels in Hongdae in 2011. Christened Suave, the store offers customers a selection of 20 different kinds of caramel, neatly packaged in translucent wrappers.
A staunch believer in quality over quantity, Kim sticks to making his caramels by hand, churning out only around 300 daily.
Identity is something that any eatery, cafe or bar strives to establish firmly in diners' minds. One particular food service company has been successful at achieving that.
Headed by prominent CEO Paik Jong-won, The Born Korea Inc. masterminded and spawned successful restaurant chains Bornga, Saemaeul Sikdang and Hanshin Pocha. Choi Kang Jip currently boasts two outlets aside from the original Nonhyeon-dong spot.
To give patrons maximum chewy cartilage per trotter, the restaurant only serves relatively small ankle-to-toe cuts called “mini jokbal.”
After being boiled, the trotters are slathered in a fiery sauce infused with seasonings like oregano and cinnamon and thrown onto a grill. To amp up the flavors, the trotters are basted repeatedly with the sauce.
Diners are encouraged to don disposable plastic gloves, for hand-to-mouth-eating that Yang says makes for a “rustic” dining experience. Plus, it is easier to gnaw off every last little bit of spicy, gelatinous cartilage by grabbing onto each trotter with both hands.
Though a few trotters later, some might find themselves sweating, crying or panting from the chili-induced heat of the sauce, it is precisely that addictive spiciness that has customers coming back for more.
“The trend of this generation is to be professional about it and specialize in one thing.”
In other words, diners want a place that makes the best of the best, a spot that has received the masses' approval for doing a specific dish properly.
Earning such acknowledgment is not easy, which seems to be why more restaurateurs and chefs are devoting their energy to mastering one item rather than overexerting themselves with many dishes.
Kawakami first came to South Korea five years ago to study Korean. A native of Japan's Kansai region, which is famed for its okonomiyaki, Kawakami opened a small restaurant devoted to the cabbage-filled pancake dish in 2008 with the aim of bringing a cultural piece of his heritage to Seoul.
In this picture provided by Choi Kang Jip, the restaurant's jokbal are slathered in a fiery sauce and tossed on the grill for a spicy barbecue experience. (dpa)