The one thing I’ve learnt from my four years in this city is that you can’t pigeonhole Bombay. Just when you think you’ve seen all that there is, out pops a new aspect that you’re yet to explore, and with it comes new adventure, a fresh perspective and bucket loads of Instagram stories. This realisation was reinforced when I chanced upon the Korean community that calls Bombay its home.
K-beauty or Korean beauty brands have over the past few years begun to dominate not just our Instagram feeds but a considerable amount of bathroom shelf space as well. It’s not just Korean skincare that has taken the world (India included) by storm. The meteoric rise of Korean pop music has in the recent past led to the exponential expansion of the fandom from select north-eastern pockets to becoming a national phenomenon. Not so well acquainted with K-pop myself, I am definitely guilty of indulging in sometimes amusing and always worth it Korean beauty treatments. And as much as I appreciate the post bubble mask glow, Korean cuisine undisputedly tops my “Korean things I love” list.
As I sat in the inconspicuous Sun & Moon Korean Restaurant staring at the scribbles that cover every inch of the whitewashed walls — scribbles that are testaments of love for all things Korean — is when I truly realised the actual magnitude of how strongly the Korean culture has influenced young Indians. Bombay’s Korean community is a relatively unexplored territory and this cubby hole of an eatery was my window into this lesser-known microcosm.
A major factor behind my new found love for this exquisite cuisine is Sun Dae Young Jung, the force behind Sun & Moon. Even though the restaurant opened its doors to Mumbai just six months ago in May, 2018, Sun’s kitchen has been catering to Korean barbeque loving Mumbaikars for close to three years now. Initially, before formally opening a full-fledged restaurant, Sun & Moon was an off-license eatery that functioned out of a Korean guest house in South Bombay. The establishment was a hush hush affair and this exclusive dining experience could only be enjoyed by members of the Korean community or those who had ‘inside contacts’.
“The popularity increased and so did the number of customers. It was becoming difficult to function out of a small space. That is when I decided to open Sun & Moon,” explained Sun. Rather formal to begin with, Sun gradually warms up to me and how. Within 10 minutes of me entering the restaurant, I am being given formal training in the nuanced art of using chopsticks (which I am hopelessly bad at, by the way). “I teach everybody. It is very easy, just position your fingers like you do when you tear a piece of roti,” said Sun with a furrowed brow, waiting patiently for me to stop being a clutz. “Why did you you name the restaurant Sun & Moon?” I asked in an attempt to distract her — my hand was cramping up and I was nowhere close to perfecting the (ridiculously difficult) art of eating with chopsticks. “Well, Sun is my name and moon is for my husband. I am Sun and he is the moon,” answered Sun with a now flushed face, trying not to smile.
Sun’s warm presence, the mismatched crockery, and the general ambience made the restaurant feel a lot like home even before the food was served. The first few dishes to be served were four kinds of Banchan (Korean starters) — sweet and sour pickled carrots, kimchi, roasted peanuts covered in a sweet glaze, and a savoury banana preparation served with julienned vegetables. “We keep rotating these everyday. We have many different options. This is the traditional way of starting a Korean meal,” said Sun.
Kimbap was the next dish that was served. Kimbap might seem like it’s inspired by sushi, however, the reality is actually quite the contrary. It is said that sushi was inspired by and is a rendition of kimbap. The kimbap served at Sun & Moon has a rather mild flavour with the sauce adding just the right amount of punch required to lift the subtle notes of the kimbap itself. The rather elaborate looking bibimbap is what followed the kimbap. Bibimbap is a rice and seasoned meat preparation that is served with assorted vegetables and topped with an oozy sunny-side up egg. The literal meaning of bibimbap is mixed rice and that is exactly what Sun did. In a fraction of seconds of Sun whisking up the chopsticks, the egg was demolished and all the elements of the dish were thoroughly mixed and ready to eat. The fact that the beautiful dish was ruthlessly taken apart was more than made up for by the bursts of flavours that took over my palette. The egg and rice mixture acted as a canvas that showcased the delicately spiced meat and perfectly balanced the heat of the red chilli paste. I was in food heaven. However, what I did not know was that the best was yet to come.
As I waited for the next dish to arrive, I chatted with Sun and asked her about what her experience in India has been like. “I moved to Delhi with my husband in 2003. He moved for work, and to kill time I began to cook for people. I had a restaurant called Sun & Moon in Delhi as well,” said Sun. “I like India and I love Indians. They want to know everything about Korea. I want to introduce them to our culture through our food,” she added.
As I listened intently, a group of Korean businessmen entered the restaurant and Sun excused herself to go cater to them. Meanwhile, the next dish had already been placed in front of me — tteok-bokki or stir-fried rice cakes. This vegetarian dish comprises stir-fried rice cakes soaked in extremely flavourful vegetable broth. The gelatinous cylinders of rice might not be for everyone, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the broth that is balanced out perfectly by the rice cakes that counters the broth’s spice. Sipping on the broth while nibbling on kimchi and washing it all down with the rather unusual but mildly flavoured onion and ginger cold tea, I am transported to a food heaven of sorts. I’m brought back to reality by the heavenly sound of sizzling pork. A waft of charred meat follows soon after and without a second’s worth of thought I am walking to the table where the businessmen are seated. Sun, standing at the head of the table, is patiently flipping the thinly sliced pork. Korean barbeque is a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. This DIY take on food is one that is unique and a dream come true for all meat-lovers. “I have been coming to Sun & Moon for years. We have known Sun for years, the food and ambience here takes me back to Korea,” says Dong, a Korean businessmen who frequents the eatery.
However, my favourite dish from all the bucket loads of food that I ate was the Korean spicy pork stir-fry or the jeyuk bokkeum. The crispy meat, the heat of the gochujang (Korean red chilli paste), and the smokey flavour of the barbeque glaze checked all the right boxes. Usually eaten with rice, I devoured the dish all by itself.
Even though pork and beef (that Sun & Moon imports from Korea) seem to be the core ingredients for most Korean preparations, they have quite a few options for the less adventurous meat-eaters who usually stick to chicken. Their yangnyeom chicken is a “favourite among Indians”. Sun & Moon also has a horde of vegetarian options including the aforementioned tteok-bokki.
When asked about what lies in Sun & Moon’s future. “I want it to grow,” promptly responded Sun, who is on the lookout for a partner, but at the same time is extremely protective of her restaurant and wants to take her time before making a decision.
One visit to Sun & Moon and you’re sure to join the long list of patrons. It isn’t just the mouth-watering delicacies that make people keep coming back, it’s also the hospitality. Hovering over tables, stopping to chat, eating a bite of your food to make sure everything tastes okay and off late clicking pictures with all her customers for her Instagram page — one meeting with Sun is enough to make you visit the restaurant over and over again.
As I walked out of Sun & Moon with a full stomach and a fuller heart, I smiled at how my regret that came from my lack of knowledge about the Korean community or culture in general had now turned into a blessing in disguise. There could have been no better introduction to Korean culture than diving nose down into the riot of flavours that is the culinary world of Korea.
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