The night is tiresome, and the city is feeling the effects of post-work grogginess. It’s instances like these that a Korean meal of sizzling meats reassures. KL’s ‘Little Korea’ calls, and I answer its pleas at Chung Wa Dae.
From the get go, it’s a piercingly blithe restaurant that’s loud and proud about what could be Korea’s best export – pop. On the signage are photos of rosy-cheeked teenage boys clad in matching all-white ensembles, and inside, suspended TVs looping Korean girl bands competing for superstar status. Coupled with wooden chairs and covered in cloth of baroque prints, it’s all so inadvertently kitsch.
Along the five-foot path, I notice a man flipping thinly sliced meats on a grill, a (mildly disappointing) signifier that my meal won’t be cooked tableside. There’s nothing like the fog of steam rising from smoky meats and their dramatic hiss and curl when smacked on the grill, and all the better for the senses to get warmed up if the meats are cooked below your nose.
But never mind, because I’m armed with a cold pint of Hite beer (RM50 for a large bottle for two) and a smorgasbord of colourful banchan. There are at least ten varieties, laid out lavishly like a spread for a family of miniature figurines. Most things are great save for the cold, limp omelette, and a gloopy sausage concoction with peppers and onions.
I particularly like the soybean sprouts – crunchy and slicked in sesame oil. The blocks of konyaku taste perfectly of nothing but are delightful in all its chewy, starchy glory. There are also marinated eggs in soy sauce, chilli-laced cockles, and a bright spring onion salad.
When the meats arrive browned and searing, I am almost full, a cheery reminder that there is no end to the joys of Korean food. The pork and beef set (RM78) begins with the pork jowl, distressingly gamey chunks of meat that proves too much for me. It tastes like it’s been sitting in room temperature for some time, and the lack of seasoning accentuates its time in the sun.
But things pick up. The pork with barbecue sauce is more masked by the seasoning, and therefore, easier on the palate. The pork belly doesn’t miss a mark (does pork belly ever?), while the beef rib-eye with barbecue sauce is served in curly slivers. A bit of the meat on petals of crisp lettuce and a dollop of chilli-bean paste is the way to go, for otherwise, it’s too much animal to ingest in one sitting.
To counter the oils, I also order the chicken broth with ginseng (RM35), one of my favorite Korean dishes. It’s an entire chicken stuffed into a giant clay pot, simmering in a mildly sweet, majorly comforting broth. The best part comes in picking apart the chicken – stuffed with glutinous rice, red dates and garlic – that falls apart in tender chunks. It’s a pick-me-up to soothe you straight back to sleep.
After a pants-splitting feast, I head to the cashier to be greeted by the shop’s owner, an elderly Korean man with an apple-doll face and a heart of pure gold. He warms the insides as effectively as the ginseng broth does, and suddenly, I’m unconcerned that Chung Wa Dae isn’t flawless. Because oddly, it still hits home.
|Venue name:||Chung Wa Dae Korean Restaurant||Contact:|
Lot B1-1 Boulevard 2
One Ampang Avenue
Jalan Ampang Utama 2/2
|Opening hours:||Daily, 11.30am-12midnight|