The Korean wave continues to crest in the Philippines, thanks to a Filipino obsession with K-dramas, K-pop bands and Korean movies. The Korean wave, also called the hallyu, even extends to the food and beverage industry, where diners are ready for dishes that go beyond Korean barbecue.
Incorporating Korean dishes into your restaurant menu isn’t as hard as it seems. There are ways to adapt perennial Korean favorites to Filipino tastes to reach the widest possible audience of diners. You can introduce your customers to the Korean flavor profile, offering something new that also has a taste of the familiar. Here are six go-to Korean recipes that can work on any menu.
Bibimbap, or mixed rice, is an excellent introduction to Korean cuisine. Ostensibly originating at the royal court during the Joseon era, bibimbap is comprised of beef, stir-fried vegetables and a fried egg served on top of hot rice and mixed with sesame seeds and gochujang, or Korean red chilli paste.
To inject a Filipino flavor, use natural local vegetables like okra, pechay, kangkong or sitaw in the stir fry and squeeze in calamansi juice as a final touch before serving. Don’t forget the kimchi.
Bulgogi, or marinated beef barbecue, is comparable to the Philippine bistek (beefsteak). And just like bistek is popular in the Philippines, bulgogi is a favorite in Korea.
For a Filipino touch, try tricking out the marinade by adding a cider, sweet clear soda or apple juice – as is common in many Filipino dishes. It’s always good to have more greens, so include some local vegetables, and instead of sesame seeds, use annatto seeds as the garnish.
The quintessential Korean street-food experience is tteokbokki, better known spicy rice cakes. It’s great as an appetizer or even a full meal on its own. However, since some Filipinos can’t handle tteokbokki’s spice level, adjust it to local tastes my making it milder.
You can also riff on the Filipino street–food style by using fishballs or kikiam instead of fish cake, or by replacing anchovies with local tuyo (dried salted fish).
Korea is in Asia, which means that Koreans have their own unique and delicious take on noodles. Case in point: The Korean favorite that has Filipino diners wanting more is japchae, or stir-fried glass noodles with meat and vegetables. Japchae resembles Filipino sotanghon soup, except with potato glass noodles.
For your restaurant, try making japchae with beef tapa as the meat and kangkong instead of spinach. Along with the kimchi, leave a calamansi lime so diners can add a familiar zest.
Korean cuisine is known for its side dishes, called banchan. Every restaurant serves up its own selection as a complement for all the dishes served, including samgyeopsal, or Korean barbecue.
Banchan aren’t standard, even in Korea, so feel free to experiment with some Filipino tastes. You don’t need to serve a kimchi-soaked fishcake, for example. Try using fish ball sauce or dipping sauce that can be seen in local street food. Maybe you can craft your version of kimchi using green mangoes or have adobo-flavored radish slices?
The Philippines has its halo-halo dessert for hot summer days, and Korea has bingsu. It’s a shaved ice dessert that features a variety of toppings, such as fruits, nuts and beans. Just like halo-halo, bingsu is something that a diner has to mix themselves at the table.
Bingsu typically uses red beans, but local-style mung beans are a good alternative, and you can also add fruit cocktail or ube macapuno into the mix.
Filipino and Korean food have differences – and similarities, in that both cuisines favor bold flavors, whether sweet or savory. Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors and techniques from each.