Recently, the Metro has become a popular venue for restaurants who boast of delicious cuisine that is authentic to their country of origin, which is a good thing because this gives Filipinos the privilege to experience more variants of foreign cuisine without having to leave the country. The prospect of experiencing a smidgen of the culture of a particular country by living vicariously through its cuisine has always appealed to me. I believe I can say that it appeals to others too; otherwise, how else can we explain the long cues that used to hinder us from purchasing drinks at Happy Lemon or the insane number of people who used to populate the then scarce branches of Bon Chon Chicken?
Sariwon Korean Barbecue, known in its native country of Korea and elsewhere around the globe for its beef bulgogi, may just be the next obsession to hit Pinoy restaurant goers.
Sisters Diane and Donna Tan first encountered Sariwon during a trip to Korea. They had enjoyed their food so much that they decided to give their fellow Filipinos a taste of Korea by setting up an establishment in the Philippines.
The restaurant comes with a darling little tale of love and devotion. In 1938, a woman named Mrs. Bun-Im Koo created a special bulgogi broth made out of twelve different fruits and vegetables for her diabetic husband. What started out as a small eatery with twenty seats grew into an empire over the decades; this led to the founding of what the world now recognizes as Sariwon Korean Restaurant. The restaurant pays homage to the culture of Korea, particularly, the Zelkova tree, which is a tall tree native to Korea known for its longevity and endurance.
Sariwon, located at Bonifacio High Street Central
The restaurant’s interior speaks of class and upscale elegance. Everything is done in warm shades of orange, brown and gold; the state-of-the-art grills on the table can be changed or even concealed according to a specific purpose. The utensils and other materials and key ingredients have been imported from Korea to preserve the authenticity of a patron’s dining experience.
For the press launch, we were provided with a set menu that consisted of seven dishes. Like every meal, we began this with the Banchan or appetizer which is inclusive of a salad and small dishes of kimchi, kimchi radish, spinach, sweet anchovy, Korean beansprouts and sweet potato stuffed with raisins. The best thing about this is that you’ll never have to worry about running out—the small dishes are refillable.
Our first main course of the night was my favorite, the Seng Galbi (P780), two large hunks of non-marinated USDA beef short rib cuts that I referred to as “the slabs of joy” due to its delicious taste. The server let it grill for a few minutes (once on each side) before cutting it up and serving it with four different condiments (Korean salt, chili, meat sauce and sesame sauce) with sidings of sesame leaves and romaine lettuce. To eat the beef, you dip a piece in your choice of sauce, wrap it up with one of the leaves and pop it into your mouth.
This was followed by the Dak Galbi (P350), barbecued chicken cooked in a sweet and lightly spicy sauce. We also had Doenjang Chigae (P250), a slightly spicy Korean soybean soup with vegetables and tofu served with rice. One thing that makes the Dak Galbi special is that it is not served in Korea due to restaurant protocol; the Korean owner developed the recipe especially for the Filipino clientele.
The next dish was Dolsot Bibimbap (P380), a rice and vegetable mix served in a stone bowl. I only had a little of this since I felt rice would fill me up, but I enjoyed the dish all the same. You can have it mixed with spicy bean paste; we had about half of the paste mixed in with ours to preserve the taste of the ingredients and not to overwhelm ourselves.
One of my favorites was their Japchae (P350), a vegetable noodle dish with Korean vermicelli stir-fried in sesame oil. I’m very picky with my Japchae because it can be too slimy at times, but Sariwon’s is perfect. It did not taste greasy at all and the vegetables were fresh.
Of course, everybody was saving their appetite for the Sariwon Bulgogi (P545), the star of the show. I was very intrigued by how it was cooked because the vegetables are placed to boil in the special broth on the sides while the beef—thinly sliced and very tender, might I add—was placed on top to fry. It can be eaten with sweet potato noodles, which the server also cooked in the bulgogi broth. I was particularly fond of the dipping sauce that was served with the beef; it is very light and sweet.
The dessert dish became the subject of our curiosities. Shikhye (P60) is a sweet drink served chilled with a sprinkling of rice, pine nuts and dried fruit that is said to assist in circulation and digestion after a heavy meal. The surprising thing about it is that it takes almost ten hours to make, which I found hard to believe, at first. We also ordered the Sangria Soju (P195) to go with our meal. This alcoholic drink is a fierce concoction of red wine and soju with a blend of apples, oranges and lemon.
Dining at Sariwon will make you feel as if you’ve fully experienced Korea through its cuisine. The prices are just right considering the quality of the ingredients used. Considering what you’ve just eaten, you won’t go home unhappy.