[dropcap letter=”F”]ire meets meat. Basically, that is how one can describe the best of Korean dining experience in Manila. Eating and grilling Korean meat in a buffet is the newest craze to hit the Philippine culinary scene. Several Korean restaurants have mushroomed in the metro offering this unique food experience along with their sumptuous buffet spreads.
While the Korean meat doesn’t come in a slab, the bite-sized pieces are incredibly tender and juicy. Like Pinoy BBQ, it is best cooked bulgogi style – over a charcoal grill – to give the meat a distinct and subtle smoky flavor.
The term bulgogi (which literally means “meat grilled on fire”) refers to the cooking method. The cuts of meat used for grilling vary. The most popular is the samgyeopsal which is thick and juicy slices of pork belly; followed by the galbi which is the lean and high protein meat along the backbone and ribs or the short ribs, and chadolbaegi or beef brisket.
Of course, these meats can be used to make other dishes such as galbitang or galbijjim. But these main dishes can be easily overshadowed by their grilled counterpart.
You might dismiss it and enthuses, “We always have barbecue or steak!” Yes, we all know about tender slab of steak with the juicy oozing out of its meat as you slice and eat it with the knife and fork. But eating meat the Korean way is quite unique.
Here’s how: so, you grill the meat, along with slices of garlic. While the meat is cooking, get a lettuce or perilla leaf. Put the cooked meat on top of the leaf, smudge some ssamjang which is a mixture of daoenjang (soybean paste) and gochujang (red chili paste) or perhaps some gireumjang (mixture of sesame oil, salt and black pepper), add some garlic and top it with some kimchi. Roll the lead and stuff it in your mouth.
Along with a buffet spread of popular Korean dishes and banchan, experience the atmosphere of eating samgeopsal and bulgogi – the sound of pork and beef strips sizzling on the grill, the smoky aroma, the animated conversation over soju shots and an occasional shouts for one more serving – in these 8 popular Korean buffet and grill restaurants located in Manila. Jal meokkesseumnida! (Enjoy your meal!)
Store Hours: Lunch time starts at 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.; dinner begins at 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Price: P580 per head for adult; P350 for children below 4 feet
Established in 2011, this buffet restaurant offers both Korean and Japanese cuisine. The restaurant isn’t stuffy. It is quite spacious with bright lighting and high ceiling. It also has a good exhaust system to keep the smoke at bay. Warm up with Korean noodle soup, crab soup or egg soup. Meat selection for grilling are varied, including beef with enoki mushroom, beef with asparagus, spicy chicken wings, fish variety such as salmon belly, marinated pork, pork belly and gizzard, among others. Of course, banchan or Korean side dishes are available such as kimchi, gimbap (sushi-like rolls), kongnamul (beansprouts), japchae, among others. While waiting for the meat to cook, have some ebi tempura, sushi and siomai, or perhaps some main dishes such as galbi (beef stew).
Location: 1547 M. Adriatico St. Corner Pedro Gil St. Ermita, Manila
Store Hours: Opens daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., then from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m.
Price: P399 per person; P349 during lunch
From the same owner as Mak Chang (one of the popular Korean BBQ place in Malate), this buffet place offers unlimited serving of beef belly and pork belly. During lunch, guests will be treated to unlimited samgyusal; while dinner will be a combination of brisket and samgyupsal. The meat comes with lettuce or perille leaves. The grill pan is quite big that it can hold several meat slices in one cooking. Aside from the meat selection, guests can feast on the spread of Korean appetizers and hot dishes such as kimchi, kongnamul, goguma mat-tang (sweet potato), al gamja jorim (glazed baby potatoes), nokdumuk (mung bean jelly), among others. Have a bowl or two of seaweed soup or pumpkin porridge. Or have a plateful of chicken gangjeong, beef bulgogi, stir fried
spicy pork or some shellfish. Aside from steam rice and fried rice, try the bibimbap. Hwangso-Ga has its Bibimbap Station where guests can create their version of Korean rice bowl.
Store Hours: It complies with the Mall Hours (10 a.m. to 10p.m.)
Price: P548 on weekdays and P647 on weekends for adults; P328 for kids under four feet. Students get a discounted price of P388 (just present your school ID)
Seoul Garden goes for Korean and Chinese. Here, the griller has a spot for a pot where guests can make their own soup. As soon as you get settled on your table, the waiter will ask what kind of broth you would like for your soup. Choices include samgyetang (which is a Korean broth made from chicken and ginseng), spicy broth or the sinigang soup. Once the broth is brought to your table, you can load the pot with your choice of vegetables, meat or seafood. For the grilling options, guests can take their pick different meat – beef, pork, chicken – marinated in different spices and marinades. You can also ask the waiter to make some dolsot bibimbap for you. If you are not that hungry but what to have some Korean fare, Seoul Garden has ala carte meals including bibimbap or naengmyeon (cold noodles) for under P180 each.
Store Hours: Opendaily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; then from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Price: P399 per head
Situated at the cradle of Maginhawa Street food haven is another affordable Korean buffet – Don Day Korean Restaurant. For P399, you can get unlimited plates of samgyupsal (pork belly). But for variety, you can upgrade your buffet to chadolbaegi (beef brisket) for P447. The non-stick tabletop grills are quite well-maintained which gives diners a hassle-free experience without burnt meat. While waiting for the meat to cook, take your pick at the ready-to-eat section for some Korean dishes. It has banchan of kimchi, japchae, marbled potaties. Have some soup of the day or rice cakes in syrup. Don Day is always busy so it is best to make reservations especially during weekends.
Store Hours: Open from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. from Monday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. on Sunday
Price: P349 during lunch and P399 during dinner
Hwaroro offers something similar to Don Day – unlimited grilling plus a spread of
ready-to-eat dishes. But it has more meat selection including beef brisket, beef chunks, pork belly, pork chops, chicken and cream dory. For the buffet spread, try the popular Korean side dishes such as gimbap, kimchi and japchae. HwaRoRo sells kimchi for P120 for 500g and P200 for 1kg. Sometimes, one can find some Filipino dishes such as adobo and sweet-and-sour pork. This hole-in-the-wall buffet place serves soju, the popular Korean alcohol. Open until 4 a.m., this place is popular drinking spot for barkada. Unlimited pulutan plus cheap-but-strong alcoholic drink, need we say more?
Store Hours: Opens Monday to Saturday; Lunch buffet starts from 11:30 am to 4:30 pm while dinner buffet starts from 5:30 pm to 11:00 pm.
Price: P399 per person
Like Hwangso-Ga and Don Day, Matgalne serves unlimited beef brisket and pork belly, with unlimited access to the buffet spread. Unlike other Korean buffet and grill restaurants, Matgalne uses portable stove and metal griller. The buffet place has a homey feel to it, with everything laid out in clean and orderly manners. Aside from the banchan counter, Matgalne has a Bibimbap Station as well as a Janchiguksu Station. To assemble this Korean comfort food, put some noodles in a bowl. Then, add some toppings like carrot slices, egg strips, mushroom or any toppings available for the day. Pour some broth and drizzle some sesame oil. Top it with seaweed. Mix and enjoy. You can opt to level up your buffet experience, but adding unlimited bulgogi for a price.
Store Hours: Opens Monday to Thursday for lunch (ala carte) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Lunch buffet on Friday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Opens daily for dinner from6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Price: Lunch buffet at P500; P550 for dinner
Hanayo offers more meat choices. Aside from pork belly and beef brisket, they also have marinated chicken, beef slices and pork slices. Sometimes, they have the occasional fish fillet and squid. They have a counter for sashimi and gimbap, as well as twigim or deep-fried food including shrimp and vegetables. Guests can also ask the waiter for a serving of sundubu jiggae, kimchi jiggae or bibimbap, and it will be prepared for you. What endears this buffet restaurant to its patrons is the unlimited ice cream that comes with the buffet. You can eat all the Korean ice cream you want. Want to try Korean food but not that hungry? Hanayo serves ala carte dishes such as galbijjim, shabu-shabu, bulgogi, among others.
Store Hours: Open from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Price: P499 for Eat and Run Challenge; P899 for unlimited grilling experience
Can you beat the clock? Then, try the Eat and Run Challenge of Kpub BBQ. For one hour, get unlimited refill of seven signature meat dishes including beef sukiyaki, pork belly, Korean-style bacon, marinated pork belly in sweet and spicy sauce, marinated pork chop, marinated chicken in sweet and spicy sauce and marinated chicken in sweet soy sauce. These meats come with steamed egg, kimchi pajeon, steamed rice and kimchi fried rice, soup, house salad, ssam (lettuce), side dishes for the day and sikhye (Rice Punch) for dessert. Want to enjoy more your Korean dining experience and don’t want to rush? Try the K-Pub Meat-All-You-Can Experience with a whopping 17 choices of meat dishes including marinated beef short rib and marinated cross-cut beef short rib and other added dishes such as dried seaweed roll, beef bulgogi, and Korean ice cream.
Aside from its meat-all-you-can dining experience, Kpub BBQ boasts of its K-Pop Music ambiance which transports guests to hippest and coolest downtown Seoul. Guests enjoy their meal while being serenaded by popular Korean pop artists on the giant video wall. Sometimes, you can catch the country’s top bands jamming live on weekends after dinner. Kpub BBQ has a Green Room – the only Heineken bar in the Philippines.