Arirang Korean and Chinese Restaurant

$-$$
175 Elizabeth Street, Hobart
03) 6234 3277
Open: Daily 11.00am to 9.00pm.

Named after a traditional folk song which doubles as Korea’s unofficial national anthem, Arirang was opened by Young Man Kim in 2011. Kim subsequently also opened the Korean grocery, Sandy Mart, in Sandy Bay. The restaurant is at present managed by the very personable and fluent English speaking Robin Kim (no relation) who is taking a gap year from medical studies in Sydney.

Working in the downstairs kitchen below street level are two trained chefs bought in from Korea by Young Man Kim, one to cook the menu’s Korean dishes, the other the Chinese dishes.

Kimchi, a traditional Korean dish of fermented and spiced vegetables, is by far the best-known Korean food item and, as Korean food becomes more trendy, kimchi is rapidly gaining a wider popularity among chefs promoting the health benefits of foods that have undergone lactic acid bacterial fermentation.

Robin Kim says they make their own kimchi at Arirang. Made mostly with cabbage, theirs is pleasingly crisp, has a tolerable chilli bite and a love-it-or-not fermented sourness – as it should do. If you love it, as I do, you can have your choice of kimchi pancake, kimchi soup, kimchi dumpling hot pot or served simply as a side dish or condiment.

Now I must confess that, apart from kimchi, the only Korean dishes that I’m vaguely familiar with are bulgogi, bibimpap and their savoury pancakes. Which was not a lot of help when confronted with a menu offering some 70 or so Chinese and Korean, but mostly Korean options running from soups and dumplings, noodles, hotpots and rice to seven different Korean BBQ dishes. But, according to Kim, the reason I knew about bulgogi and bibimbap was probably because they were Korea’s most popular dishes and, as such, were the ones, along with kimchi, that had received the widest international exposure. So that‘s what we ordered.

Bulgogi is very thinly sliced beef, marinated in soy, garlic and other spices and then flash grilled. Interestingly, a few weeks earlier, we had enjoyed Cape Grim bulgogi prepared by Korean chef Dong Chu Lim at The Glasshouse. There it was served in fluffy steamed buns, here it came as a topping to mixed vegetables. Tasty, but nothing special.

More enjoyable was the bibimpap – minced beef, mixed vegetables and rice in a stone pot topped a soft-fried egg that you break and mix through. The flavours and textures were fine but I watched a young Chinese girl with the same dish at the next table almost empty a container of mild chilli sauce onto her food, try it and then add more. And she was right, the dish needed a lift.

Even more in need of a lift were the thick, heavy, glutinous and virtually tasteless stir-fried rice cakes which I was told by a young Aussie/Korean lady at a nearby table were typical Korean street food. As an Airirang regular, when I asked her about the authenticity and quality of the food generally, she said “It’s not as good as my mothers, but is about what you expect in a mid-level restaurant of this sort in Korea”

And, with the non-descript décor, a couple of tables of much older Asians bent over their respective hot pots, the busy comings and goings of predominately Asian students and Korean news and other programmes on the wall-mounted colour TV, it didn’t take much of a leap to imagine that that’s where you were – at a mid-level eatery in Korea.

So it was a new experience and an interesting dinner. But with unusual but very traditional menu items like pork backbone stew, beef tripe hot pot, their BBQ meats and plenty of chilli-spiked dishes, there’s lots there to try next time.

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