There’s a Chinese word, hallyu, which translates as Korean wave.
It refers to the rise in popular culture from this region, from K-pop to K-dramas, with film and telly programmes like Squid Game, Parasite, The Glory and All Of Us Are Dead.
It’s tenuous, but in Scotland, I think we should tweak that term, and call it, Up Helly-Uu, instead. We could all join a procession and head to the best kimchi-peddling venue in Scotland once a year. Viking gear is optional. An appetite is essential.
In the last decade or so, there’s been a huge increase in Korean restaurants, not just in the UK, but across the world. There’s something about fried chicken and bulgogi that’s hitting the spot.
The trend does seem to have hit the central belt of Scotland too.
Mind you, Edinburgh has long had a handful of homely Korean places, like the beloved Kim’s Mini Meals and Ong Gie, as well as plenty of traditional BBQ restaurants.
Glasgow’s most popular include Kimchi Cult, as well as two branches of Bibimbap, with the West Nile Street venue open since 2018. They’ve just launched an outpost in the former premises of the Capital’s Pakora Bar.
It’s canteen-y inside, with multicoloured umbrellas stuck to the ceiling, and film posters on the walls.
I took the whole family along. My nieces and nephew are global munchers, with Phileas Fogg palates, and were stoked to add Korean food to their repertoire for the first time.
We skipped the small dishes list of starters, which include tteok-bokki (simmered rice cake, £7.50) and kimchi mandu (a kimchi pork dumpling, £6.90). And we stuck to water, though, as far as drinks go, alongside Korea’s national spirit, soju, the notable offerings on their drinks list includes cocktails like the Cherry Gin Sling (£8) or the triple rum blend that is the BBB Zombie (£9.95).
Since my four-year-old nephew is a knee-high connoisseur of fried chicken, he went for the smallest set of six (£8.90) of these. These drummers had a thick bronzed crust, and came with a tomatoey and piquant ‘yum yum sauce’ that he managed to plaster all over his face. He looked like Bam Bam from the Flintstones, as he gnawed at the bones. Thumbs up.
My 10-year old niece, the pescetarian, is a fan of sushi, so she went for Korea’s equivalent - the tuna gimbap (£9.90). There were eight bouncy seaweed-wrapped discs, like toy truck tyres, filled with rice, mashed tuna, cucumber and grated carrot. She was very happy, and had gone for a bowlful of toasted seaweed (£3) on the side, to complete her transition to seal.
They don’t serve Korea’s traditional Spam gimbap here, which is good or bad depending on your particular feelings on tinned meat.
The dak-galbi is a take on wok-fried chicken, and we went for the cheese version (£13.90).
There was a glossy red gochujang sauce, peppers, sesame seeds, nuggets of meat and melted cheese, plus lettuce leaves on the side, so you could wrap it up. This dish felt very comforting and autumnal.
Our eldest niece, the 12-year-old, was in raptures over the bulgogi variation of the dak-galbi (£13.90) with more of those parcel-friendly leaves on the side. She loved the smokey-ness of the beef strips, which were jumbled with crunchy struts of veg and more red sauce.
Our bap, or rice bowl, of kimchi bokkeumbap (£12.90) was a wholesome thing of beauty, with a plinth of spicy pork, kimchi and rice and a sesame seed and seaweed scattered fried egg on top. I also went for a rice bowl, but the ‘saeu’ one, with Korean sweet and sour prawns (£12.90). The crustaceans were mutants, each the size of a portly mouse, and were all slathered in a lipstick red sweet sauce.
The portions are huge, so we wouldn’t have needed any pudding. That was moot though, since there aren’t any on offer yet, though a member of staff (all of whom are lovely) said that they’d be launching mochi onto the menu soon.
The kids loved it here, as did I. The hearty lunch put beards on our chins, so we lit our torches, and paraded off down Hanover Street.
Up Helly-Uu, indeed.