“Mummy, mummy. Why is she cutting the fats away? I want to eat it,” asked a boy to his mother when Son Mijin, Director of Hansang, was barbecuing for the customers. As a mother, anything that Mdm Son won’t serve her children wouldn’t be served to her customers, which translates to healthy and tasty food with little MSG, unlike many Korean restaurants in Singapore. So it is not surprising to learn that Hansang means “one table filled with food prepared specially to welcome guests and family for festivities.”
Six years ago, the dearth of Korean restaurants has led Mdm Son to open her own and now, the third outlet, at the furthest end of Grandstand, is its central kitchen and also the biggest Korean restaurant in Singapore, with 200 seats, 10 VIP rooms and a Korean supermarket, great for gathering of large groups. (The other two outlets are at Novena Square 2 and Holland Village.) They serve more than 100 Korean dishes, including a hotpot buffet ($28.90). For the hotpot buffet, there is a choice of kimchi or seaweed soup, a selection of cooked food (Korean pancakes, sushi, fried chicken, rice-cakes) and raw meat, marinated and unmarinated, pork, chicken, beef, squid and prawns.
But we didn’t try the buffet and went for the a la carte. Started off with a refreshing iced yuja tea ($3.50), good on a hot day, sweet and citrus without the acidity. The ginger tea ($3.50), which boosts immune system, was equally excellent, gingery without the heat, sweet but not so much so. If you want something alcoholic, try the makguli (Korean unfiltered $18), which looks like soya bean milk but tastes of rice wine. Very mild and may have that smelly fermented taste that some dislike.
I was uncertain about haemul naengchae ($22) or seafood salad. While the wasabi-like mustard dressing was very shiok, shooting up the nose, there were only prawns and squid and it may be priced too high. Instead, pick from any of these three, all of which were delicious during our tasting: dubu jon ($9 for small, $16 for medium) is tofu sandwiching fresh crunchy vegetables, drizzled in a lively, tangy soya sauce; gochu jon ($9 S, $16 M) is a pan-seared pancake stuffed in green chilli, rather spicy and had a great bouncy texture; and saengson jon ($9 S, $16M), fish fillet pancake. The ganpoonggi (pictured above, sampling portion, $28), dried chili and minced garlic chicken, was different from elsewhere, less spicy, and saltier, a good variation but might take some getting used to.
The highlight of the restaurant! The charcoal grill stove is specially made so that the smoke gets sucked into the sides. No smoke, no stench on clothes. But I’d suggest changing the metal grill to wire mesh so that the smokey scent of charcoal could be infused into the meat.The menu could also be improved by including the weight of the beef to inform the customers.
USDA Prime Ribeye
Marinated Short Rib
An assorted beef platter for two costs $58. All the three types we tried, USDA Prime ribeye ($38), Short rib (marinated, $35), and brisket ($22) were very good, a good balance of fats and meat. The prime ribeye was the best of all, firm with a bite and flavorful.
The samyetang (ginseng chicken soup, $15/half, $20/whole) was outstanding. The chickens are freshly slaughtered every morning and the soup wasn’t the kind that had flavors bursting. It was subtle, not a bit oily, and had a complex play of flavors from red dates, pine nuts, ginko nuts. Eaten during summer in Korea, this makes a very comforting food on a rainy day in Singapore. This is a must order.
The yolmu bibimbab ($18) isn’t for everyone but I liked it very much. Yolmu is a summer vegetable, bitter and salty, that has a similar texture to kai lan. Mdm Son asked a local farmer to see if it can be grown in Singapore and now the farmer sells the vegetable exclusively to her. The bibimbab consists of yolmu, summer kimchi, bean paste soup, and rice mixed with barley. Why barley? Like bu dae jji gae (stew with spam), yolmu bibimbab is a cultural dish that came out of war. Mdm Son related her experience to us: in the 60s, during the Korean DMZ conflict, there wasn’t enough rice for everyone and they had to mix barley and rice as their staple. Everyday, the teachers would check the students’ lunchboxes to see that there was a good proportion of rice to barley. If there was too much rice and too little barley, they would be punished! It was strange on the first bite of the yolmu bibimbab, but when I got used to it, it was tasty, a mixture of tastes, sweet, spicy, salty, bitter, but all held together very well by the bean paste and the crunchy lettuce.
Yolmu bibimbab after mixing
Although I don’t like to use the word “authentic”–because if you go Thailand, you’ll eat 100 versions of pad Thai and they are all authentic and, in a way, inauthentic–the dishes here, I thought, really brought out the authenticity of Korean cuisine. The food had more character, was less localized and tasted very different from other Korean restaurants in Singapore. I’d highly recommend this restaurant for a casual family meal or friends’ gathering. If the place is more accessible, it would be packed.
Hansang Korean Restaurant & Market
200 Turf Club Road
#02-14 The Grandstand
T: 6463 6508
Rating: 3.501/5 stars
PS: Thanks to Sera and Mijin for the tasting.