Bahrain’s savvy diners are well accustomed to a wide variety of Asian cuisines, but Korean food has remained an exotic mystery.
We have a feeling that is set to change, however, as a new craze for Korean barbecue is sweeping the world. Thus far, Bahrain has just two Korean restaurants, predominantly frequented by those who hail from, or have lived in, the Orient. Arirang is one of these, conveniently located just off the Al Fateh Highway, opposite the corniche. ‘Arirang’ is a popular Korean folk song, often considered the unofficial national anthem. The word itself loosely translates as ‘beloved darling’ and indeed dining here could potentially spark a love affair with this exciting ethnic cuisine.
From the outside the venue is unassuming, fronting on to a main side street in bustling Hoora beneath a sign teasing traditional Korean and Japanese fare. You step through the front door only to be faced with a choice of three seating areas; immediately the manager appears and directs you through to the right one according to the size of your party and smoking preferences.
The interiors are immaculately clean with perfectly preserved retro decor, while the table settings are modest with a good view of giant fish tanks or flat screens showing genuine Japanese and Korean programming.
Cheerful waitresses quickly appear with menus, asking to take your drink order. Shortly thereafter, five small bowls filled with a variety of foods appear on your table which may be refilled to your stomach’s content. No, we did not skip a step, this is simply how things are done in Korea, where your preconceived notions about starters and side dishes should be disregarded. Koreans prefer to take a smorgasbord approach rather than eat in courses; this poses an excellent opportunity to order an assortment of things and share with your fellow epicures. It is customary to include a soup with your meal and fashionable to get a barbecue item too, which will be cooked at your table for you.
Variety and unusualness are recursive themes here – from the range of preparation methods, to the ingredients, to the flavours. This expanse in offerings means that menu items may be found for both the tame and the wild of palate. In fact, Arirang is an ideal location for daring diners due to the powerful spiciness of some dishes and the outrageous ingredients of others – we’re talking jellyfish. Nevertheless, there are plenty of choices for conservative eaters also, composed of more recognisable Asian flavours and ingredients like bok choy and garlic. Don’t forget, there is an entire section of the menu dedicated to Japanese grub, too. Authenticity abounds throughout, as verified by the native staff and customers who frequent this eatery.
At Arirang traditions die hard. Koreans are among the world’s biggest consumers of vegetables per capita, with a particular fondness for the allium family. Kimchi is a quintessentially Korean dish made from fermented cabbage bathed in a variety of seasonings; you can eat it cold or stick it on the barbecue alongside your chosen meat. There are many pickled and fermented options borne out of historical necessity. This ethnic cuisine also includes dishes that use every part of the animal, not to mention almost any animal that’s edible. That said, the menu is dominated by more traditional protein options like beef, seafood and tofu – all perfectly cooked.
Alongside our bowls of traditional staples we ordered a spicy meat and pickle soup, beef barbecued in salted sesame oil and Pa Jun, which is a pancake creation that leaves omelettes in its wake. The meat is cooked on a special contraption at your table and is meant to be eaten in a lettuce wrap topped with garlic, kimchi and ssamjang sauce. Overall, the powerful and exciting flavours and textures will make you feel alive. If you are averse to spice be sure to let your server know so they can steer you away from things that kick. The staff really are a lifeline to the uninitiated, who may be intimidated by the menu at first glance, because they are enthusiastic about sharing their expertise via recommendations. Even though there are freshwater snails on the menu, the things that really stand out are the smiles of the staff and all those taste sensations. The bill (for two) 1 x kimchi BD5 1 x ojingo bokum BD5 1 x pa jun BD4 1 x roast beef BD4.5 1 x large water BD1 Service charge 10% Total BD21.45
Time Out Bahrain staffhttp://www.timeoutbahrain.com