When Hyundai first made its way to Chennai, a minor Korean migration soon followed, inevitably leading to one of the largest Korean expat populations in the country. Now it would be fair to think this minor population would have made a larger mark on Chennai as a whole in the last two decades, but oddly enough, they have remained an anomaly, calmly co-existing within their own space. Though if you know where to look you’ll find little Korean women golfing as a pass-time, a Korean bakery, some brilliant barbeque spots to grab dinner at, and of course, the InKo Centre serving as a cultural hub for all things Korean in India, buzzing with activity.
We’ve got to be honest, out of all of the above it’s truly the food that caught out attention. In the past, their cuisine was like a well-kept secret hidden in Korean canteens closely guarded by menus and crowds that explained little to those who dared to venture down this path. The adventurous ones were rewarded handsomely, fulfilling pipe dreams of smoked, tender meats bursting with flavour, spicy ramen, steaming bowls of seafood and broth, all in one place. The Indian palate has finally succumbed to the glorious array of Asian cuisine that moves beyond the ‘Chindian’ Chicken Chilli or Paneer 65 and we couldn’t be happier!
Thankfully not only are the Korean menus now more explanatory (it isn’t the most fun relying on Google all through dinner to get you through your Naengmyeons and your Samgyupsals followed by Bokkeumbap and Bibimbaps). They’re also more accommodating when it comes to vegetarian options and choices of meat.
Of course, this called for a curated list of Chennai’s most popular Korean restaurants, where one can indulge in homely, comfort Korean food that is (for the larger part) authentic:
Where: 11/39, Flat A1, Ground Floor, Ceebros Apartments, Cenotaph Road, Nandanam
While this isn’t your traditional Korean restaurant, Cafe Ambrosia is still a popular little bakery known for its Japanese and Korean snacks. From a red bean paste stuffed bun to their ever-popular strawberry rolls and soft bread, this little cafe makes for an interesting visit. Prepare to have goodies that’ll melt in your mouth, flaky bits of pastry quickly crumbling as you make your way through it and the softest (slightly sweet) buns to grace your taste buds.
Set up like most Korean bakeries, it is self-service, encouraging customers to pick the cellophane-packed goodies of their choice, only billing it all together towards the end. Go in with an open mind, and leave with a well-lined tummy (and perhaps a lighter wallet), you’ll regret nothing.
Cost: INR 500 for two.
II. Café Mori
Where: 18, Adyar Gate Club Road
We’ll be honest with you, we were unsure about this one but when we only heard good things about Cafe Mori, we knew we couldn’t skimp on this list. In fact, even CN Traveller states that it is possibly one of the few places in the country that you can order a ‘Bingsu’, a popular Korean dessert that consists of ‘shaved ice with sweet condiments’. Sure, this sounds like a regular Iced Gola that’s just not on a stick, but it’s so much more than that. Think condensed milk, chopped fruits, red beans, fruit syrups; it’s basically Korea in a bowl. If ever there was a better dish to risk a brain freeze on, let us know — we’ll wait.
Besides that, their Honey Bread and eclectic beverage choices make for a rather pleasant dining experience.
Cost: INR 500 for two.
III. Cheong Ki Wa
Where: 21, KB Dassan Road, Teynampet
Cheong Ki Wa isn’t strictly only Korean, in fact, they’re incredibly popular for their Japanese cuisine too. Don’t be fooled by this though — they’ve roped in Korean chefs who can cook up a proper storm in their kitchen. Prepare for your senses to truly be assaulted by the variety of seafood options one can find here, each finely presented to diners looking for some true-blue authentic Korean food.
The staff too are incredibly helpful and are more than willing to suggest dishes that would be more suitable for a newer palate. For those already accustomed to the meaty extravaganza that is Korean cuisine, look no further than their Bulgogi, barbecued pork in a spicy, red chilli paste. Flaming hot in more ways than one, this dish is bound to make you go for Round Two. Fair warning, you’re going to need a drink or two as well, to wash down this spice. They don’t play around here.
Cost: INR 2,000 for two.
IV. New Seoul Hotels
Where: 406, TTK Road, Alwarpet
Often touted to be the replacement of In Seoul, a previous contender for best Korean on the same street, New Seoul Hotels has already managed to recreate history. Its Chinese cuisine is popular too, but the Samgyopsal here is one that’ll have you planning annual road trips to Chennai, if not more often. Roll up your sleeves because this is going to be one messy affair that you’ll be glad you got your hands into. As tempting as it may be to eat the spiced belly straight off the grill, take the effort to get Korean barbecue right — one bite of your little lettuce roll and you’ll know why the Koreans seem so content always.
If you don’t feel like dedicating yourself to a whole barbecue shindig though, you can never go wrong with their Bibimbap.
Cost: INR 1,800 for two.
Where: 24, Wellingdon Estate, Ethiraj Salai, Egmore
You know how we love local gems, often set up by a family that has recipes they’ve passed down over the years? Well, now Chennai has one — except it’s Korean. It’s spicy, it’s homemade and it’s as traditional as it gets! The only downside is that the space is small, so always call ahead to ask about space. Here, we’d suggest sticking to what the owners themselves suggest —their sweet, crispy pork. Top it off with some ramen or stew, whichever floats your boat; we can assure you, anything you pick, will tick all your boxes.
Cost: INR 450 for two.
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