Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Banchan binge at Manna Korean Restaurant

Korean restaurants provide such good value.  Aside from being relatively affordable, all authentic Korean restaurants provide a wide array of free banchan or small side dishes, at the start of every meal.
Manna Korean Restaurant along Don Pedro, a small side street off Kalayaan Avenue in Makati is as authentic as they come.  The banchan is on your table even before you've ordered anything!

A minimum of 6 side dishes are enough to make up a good quality banchan spread.  A typical banchan usually consists of different types of kimchi, pickled or boiled vegetables, cold tofu and sometimes even fish or mini seafood pancakes or even creamy salads.  Manna's banchan may not be as extensive or exhaustive as other Korean restaurants I've been to (Korean Garden along Jupiter has more than 10 dishes in their banchan, all free) but everything is balanced and the flavors play off well against each other.

My favorite Korean "sawsawan" is gochujang -- that spicy, addictive paste made of chili and fermented soybeans.  It's like a really hot korean catsup  -- I like mixing it with rice and wrapping it up in a romaine leaf.  So refreshing, like a mini rice lumpia!

If you watch  korean t.v you know that meat, most specially beef is a major ingredient in most korean dishes -- think bulgogi, kalbichim, kalbikui, etc.  But for vegetarians like me, a simple pajeon or pancake cum omelet  with scallions, leeks and carrots is a hearty and filling dish. It comes with a soy sauce and sesame seed sauce but I like eating it with --  what else ... gochujang!  
Pajeon usually comes with seafood bits like squid or shrimp but the kitchen is always ready to do a vegetarian version. If I feel like having a spicy dish, I go for kimjeon, where hot kimchi takes the place of all other vegs.

Bibimbap is korean topped rice!  Served in thick earthenware bowls, it's a bright palette of colors, tastes and textures.  Orange carrots, bright green spinach, the sunny yellow of a raw egg yolk, dark brown mushrooms, golden sprouts and the fiery red of gochujang.  Bibimbap comes with slivers of barbecued beef which I ask to be served on the side.
You mix everything together and it's all good!

My Japanese gourmet friend, Abe san visits Manila once a year and he likes going to Manna too. The last time we had dinner there, he introduced me to Makgeolli or korean rice wine.  It comes in dark green  pet bottles and is best taken chilled.  It may look deceptively like a soda but beware, it packs a punch!

Makgeolli is poured and drunk from small ceramic bowls.  It's milky opaque, slightly sweetish, easy to drink but quite potent.  It reminds me of an unrefined sake or a more refined lambanog.
It certainly is the perfect drink to go with korean food!

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