Big Mama Korean Restaurant: Big & Bold Flavours – Love!

I love Big Mama Korean Restaurant in Tiong Bahru! Flavours here are big, bold and downright satisfying. If you have a massive craving for Korean food, like me last week, Big Mama will undoubtedly satisfy that craving. Two Sunday lunches ago, my family got out of our Japanese-food-comfort zone (I am soo sick of Sushi Tei!) and went out for Korean. For selfish reasons (cupcakes in Tiong Bahru that turned out to be a disappointment), I suggested Big Mama Korean. We have been to Big Mama before, years ago, and knew it to be good. Today I am incredibly happy to announce, the food is still fab!

Big Mama’s kitchen was mighty efficient. My sister arrived first and placed our orders. By the time we landed in the restarant, there was a spread awaiting us. This meant we picked our seats according to the dishes we preferred.

Guess which seat I picked?

Oh yeah!!! I have had a massive craving for Kimchi Pancake for god-knows-how-long so Big Mama’s vemilion hue pancake was calling out to me. After plonking myself right in front of it, I had no regrets for my hangry conduct. The Kimchi Jeon was shiok to another level!

On first bite, the unmistakable sourish taste paired with spiciness was immensely gratifying. Plus the pancake was served thin and perfectly crisp around the edges. Containing a generous amount of fermented cabbage with generous prawns, I promise you, you will reach for thirds, at least. The pancake was so well-seasoned that I completely forgot about dipping into the soy sauce on the side. That good.

The free and refillable of Banchan (side dishes) served alongside was pretty remarkable too. When I was done attacking the Kimchi Pancake, the Banchan got my full attention. I could not get enough of the lotus root slices in a thick sesame sauce. And the acorn jellies topped with soy sauce and scallions, a rarely seen side dish in Singapore, was much appreciated. In all, the Banchan dishes were a great addition to our meal. We got seconds for some of them.

We ordered another Korean pancake that afternoon: Buchu Jeon or Seafood pancake. The traditional and more common Korean pancake, I did not get to try this as my attention was solely on the Kimchi Jeon.

In the middle of the long table was a huge bubbling pot of the Korean Army Stew, Budae Jjigae. A thick spicy stew filled with nothing but nutrition-less ingredients, forget calories and say HELLO to p.l.e.a.s.u.r.e! Containing luncheon meat, sausage slices, baked beans, Korean rice cakes, instant noodles, and Korean dumplings, Mandu. There was an empty-calorie deliciousness for us all. No fighting necessary. I’m salivating just thinking about this pot…

Midway, Big Mama’s famed Dakgalbi arrived and the Budae Jjigae was cast aside (pun totally intended). Described as a “pan fried seasoning chicken with vegetables, rice cake, sweet potato, and spicy sauce”; all you need to know is that if you don’t order this, your heart will never thank you for it. Every ingredient was swathed in this thick and ultra-spicy scary-red sauce. Again, only one word to describe this: shiok!

But that’s not all. When you are almost done with the cubes of tender chicken and cabbage, you ask for two portions of rice. The friendly staff at Big Mama will either come around with a trolley of condiments or take this big pan away. What they do next is almost magical. They dump the metal bowls of rice into the pan, then add in a generous dose of kimchi, laver, sesame oil, and seaweed before mixing it up big time with the fire turned on. Lots of sexy sizzling sounds can be heard. If they mix it up next to you, feel your saliva drippling out your mouth. When the pan of fried rice is served back to you, liberate yourself from the confines of dieting and just indulge…

There is however a massive problem with Big Mama’s Dakgalbi: it is hard to go slow. And you want to go slow because the crispy bits of burnt rice will form below. That will be one of the nicest reward for your patience.

Later, for some strange reason, it seemed like food was not enough for my family of six adults so a Grilled Mackerel (Godeungeo Gui) was ordered. Oh, how we got onboard with Big Mama’s lovely rendition of this fish! Seemingly simple to execute, this mackerel was a juice-master. Utterly morish, we were well-impressed!

During our lunch, for those who enjoyed Korean food, Big Mama turned out to be a dependable source of comforting Korean grub. Craving comfortably satisfied. On the other hand, for those who did not normally enjoy Korean grub, they left totally disappointed. It seems the flavours of every dish just tasted the same. My friends, if you similarly enjoy the awesomeness of Korean food, I am sure you will feel positively strongly about Big Mama.

Ssäm @ Marina Bay Link Mall: Korean-Mexican Kitchen Does Fusion SO WELL! [Updated]

Picture pulled from Ssam's Facebook
Picture pulled from Ssam’s Facebook

This lunchtime, I had an epic Pork Belly & Shoulder Salad bowl from Ssäm! Specializing in Korean-Mexican fusion food, this tiny hole-in-the-wall is sandwiched in between Four Seasons Gourmet Market and Viet Baguette Cafe of the Mall. Ever cognizant of the market like a true savy investor, thankfully Ssäm does salad-based bowls too. The Korean influence is present in the protein options (such as Bulgogi beef and Kimchi add-ons) but Mexican at heart (Burritos and rice bowls).

I am so happy because my lunch was filled wtih the most delicious flavours and exciting textures. I was literally jumping for joy after! More importantly, so satisfied and satiated that I did not even need dessert after. Now I can’t stop thinking of my lunch and already planning my next trip! O_o

Ssäm means wrapped in Korean, though it traditionally refers to wrapped in lettuce leaves. What we we have is pieces of delicious meat delicately nestled between the bosoms of a warm tortilla and a spicy blend of pickled veg. This combination of Korean Galbi with Mexican salsa and spices is a match made in food heaven.

Picture pulled from Ssam's Facebook

Picture pulled from Ssam’s Facebook

The ordering is pretty easy, choose a base: a burrito, rice bowl (Cilantro Rice or Kimchi Rice), or a salad. Then choose between 4 staples of the menu which are the proteins: they have Korean-marinated Beef, Crackling Pork Belly & Shoulders, Grilled Chicken, and Soy-marinated Tofu. Finally finish things off with your choice and any amount of Basil Leaves, Cabbage Kimchi, Spring Onion Kimchi, Candied Lotus Roots (highly recommended), Seaweed (highly recommended), Scallions, tomato salsa (highly recommended), Kimchi salsa (highly recommended), and a dressing. Scrambled eggs, boiled eggs or Guacamole are available at an extra charge. The concept is not novel. It is exactly the same method as Chipotle in the USA. But who cares, it works!

Picture pulled from Ssam's Facebook

Picture pulled from Ssam’s Facebook

Affordably priced at $8 for all protein save for the beef ($9) without the extras, my hearty lunch was a huge portion. I was stuffed beyond words. My lunch was a Salad Bowl with Crackling Pork Belly & Shoulder, with Kimchi, Seaweed, Tomato Salsa, Kimchi salsa, Lotus root, and Sesame Seeds. My lunch companion’s bowl (top in the first picture) consisted of a rice bowl, beef, fried scallions, onions, and seaweed with guacamole added in. Needless to say, she couldn’t finish either.

I thoroughly enjoyed my choice of protein: pork belly & shoulder as the meat was cooked to tender-perfection, packed with flavour and… BITS of PORK CRACKLING sprinkled throughout. Every bite had a crunchy bit – sublime. I could not stop. Plus my side components were absolutely delightful with punchy flavours and crunchy textures. If you work in the area, GO TRY! I can’t wait to try the other proteins.

A word of advice: GO EARLY. I went at 1.15pm and got the last portion of salad! Plus a lot of other components were out too. Further this place is tiny. Be prepared to not get a seat inside but there are long benches just outside. Those are comfortable and great for people watching!

[Updated on 4th May 2015]

So I returned for my Ssam fix this afternoon. For the sake of research, I got the beef. Unbelievably, it was more fabulous than the pork belly & shoulder! I could not believe what was in my mouth. The tender-thin slices of beef were so flavourful. However unlike the pork, the Korean-style sauce was on the sweet side. But it was a harmonious sweet-savoury contrast. Two visits and I have not craved for a dressing yet.

I am so in love this with little spot. Can you tell?

Jangsu Galmaegi in Mapo-gu, Seoul: Korean Charcoal BBQ

No trip to Korea will be complete until one has Korean BBQ. Despite the availability in Singapore, KBBQ in its Homeland is still an essential experience. Jangsu Galmaegi Grill House was highly recommended by our hotel. Quite honestly, I did not think the food was out-of-this-world BUT this charcoal barbecue house ensured the pork was super fresh! My nasty pork trotter experience in Gwangjang Market earlier in the day was quickly dissipated. While the food was not as memorable, the experience sure was!

I thoroughly enjoyed Jangsu Galmaegi for a different reason. The Korean BBQ experience was strikingly different from Singapore. From the egg-ringed BBQ (which I found out after returning is available in Singapore O_o), to the copious amount of meat and Korean alcohol, and the wild time with the Ajummas serving us; my KBBQ experience was unforgettable. Despite the language barrier, the Ajummas were patient, maternal and efficient. Quite frankly I do not recall the exact cut of meat we had. The short menu was in Korean and the Ajummas just pointed to each of the four items and held up two fingers signifying two portions. We replied her with an “O.K.” sign.

The hotel receiptionist kindly reserved with the restaurant my large group of 20 diners for us. Upon arrival on the second floor, we were greeted with this super neat table settings.

From the above picture, one can see a kettle. Naturally we assumed it was water and my older colleague promptly took out his medicine. However when I poured into the glass…

It was beaten eggs! They would be used for the omelette ring around the plate for the meat.

At the same time, Kimchi was added into the beaten eggs to be cooked together. This ensured a flavourful omelette.

We did not have to lift a finger when it came to cooking the meat. The Ajumas were unintrusively standing around ensuring all meat were cooked to perfection. The BEST part was the hot plates were changed frequently. Even before it turned black from the meat, she would swiftly use a metal thong and replaced with a brand new plate. I was in awe of their efficiency! All our pieces of meat felt so clean.

Very soon we were wrapping pork chunks in red-leaf lettuce leaves — along with spicy bean paste, shaved scallions and kkaennip, an anise-flavored leaf, similar to Japanese shiso, and Jalepeno. My favourite green was the kkaennip. With a slight peppery taste, it was a refreshing leaf paired with the heavy meat. The Jalepeno was so spicy! And like a true Korean, we stuffed the whole thing into our mouths. No tiny bites for us.

Another memory of this place was the smoke! It wafted up from our small, round metal barbecue tables, turning the air so opaque and oily. The first thing we did upon leaving was douse ourselves with perfume. The second thing we did? Grab a cab for street food in Myeong-doing despite being over-stuffed.

Dinner at Jangsu Galmaegi was a memorable experience but not satisfying. Upon returning to Singapore, I found myself googling good KBBQ places in Seoul… Oh man… looks like another trip needs to be planned…

Bornga, Vivocity – A Korean Eating Experience


When my Korean friend asked me out for dinner at the famed Bornga in Vivocity, I knew I could not refuse an authentic Korean dining experience. This was so even at the expense of breaking my self-imposed one-dinner-per-week rule. It was worth it. Bornga delivered delicious authentic Korean food. It was a wonderful evening with my girlfriends. Although on the pricey side and the service was either slow or crap, the food more than made up for the flaws. Presentation was beautiful and big in flavours; it was so worth the juice cleanse the next day.

We left the ordering to my Korean friend to which she started with two portions each of Bornga’s signature meat; the Woo Samgyup (a patented recipe from Korean celebrity chef Paik Jong Won) and Yangnyum Dwaeji Galbi (thicker slabs of pork ribs marinated with a dark brown special house sauce), 

A long imposing tray of fresh vegetables was immediately placed on our table. The green-obssessed-me rejoiced!


A metal bucket of hot burning ember charcoals was next placed in anticipation of the meats.


Shortly thereafter, our first plate of Woo Samgyup arrived. Our tummies finally got to work! These thinly-sliced US beef short plates were seasoned in Bornga’s secret marinade. So beautifully marbled were they that I mistook them for Pork Belly slices! Oops… Nevertheless the meat were cooked for us and the smoky grilled beef smell was intoxicating. It awakened our appetites immediately!




Then three big plates of what-I-thought-were-Banchan (sides dishes) arrived and I immediately started picking at them but my Korean friend did not do the same. Silvered kimchi radishes, thinly-sliced spring onions in a slightly spicy marinade, and a green salad in a subtle sesame marinade.


It turns out the “side dishes” were condiments used be eaten with the barbecued meat. Grab a big piece of lettuce, dunk it into the special sauce, place however much meat and side dishes as you desire then like a piece of sushi, eat THE WHOLE THING IN ONE BITE. Kind of like barbecued meat poppers! This took a while to get used but as I learnt from my friend, it was all in the art of wrapping and rolling into a mouth-sized ball. Clean hands was mandatory! Slow eating with little bites, not required.


NOT PICTURED WAS the Yangnyum Dwaeji Galbi (thicker slabs of pork ribs marinated with a dark brown special house sauce), unfortunately this was overcooked for us with the texture more like Bak Kwa – not appetizing at all. But we did have another lady cook a smaller batch for us later and it tasted much better with its tender juicy well-seasoned meat.

Next up was the Haemul Pajeon (Seafood and Scallion Pancake). This is a must-order for me in every Korean restaurant as is a true mark of the standard of a Korean Restaurant.

Bornga, I hand it to you, you reignited my love for Haemul Pajeon with your interpretation. This pancake arrived on our table on a hot plate looking absolutely inviting. Thinner than usual, well-browned especially around the edges, with finely-sliced red chillis and spring onions scattered around, cut into wedges and served with a cake slice. The pancake was tender soft containing generous amount of finely sliced seafood and the edges more charred and extremely crispy. Left longer on the hot plate and the bottom would be even crispier (no soggy bottoms catastrophe will ever happen here.) HELLO HEAVEN in my mouth and brilliantness of the hot plate!


My Korean friend ordered Naeng Myun. I was initially apprehensive. Cold noodles… Mmmh… But my friend insisted we try and when I saw her earnestness in serving us each a bowl, I could not refuse. Boy did I regret my initial negative reactions. This house specialty contained chewy thin buckwheat noodles topped with thinly-sliced small round cucumbers, paper thin slices of radish cut into squares, more paper thin beef and half a hard boiled egg. The biggest surprise was the silvered pears that provided an appreciative sweet contrast to the savoury beef-based broth filled with crushed ice. I gobbled up my little bowl like a little pig. What a seemingly simple but satisfyingly bowl of noodles!


Bornga was good but with my Korean friend, an experience! I will be back, I am sure!

Kko Kko Na Ra: Chicken Feast

I gave up lunch reservations at Jaan and Lolla for this. To be honest, I don’t think it was a wise choice but there would be no other opportunity to eat this in the afternoon. For Lolla and Jaan, I could always drag my health-conscious family to try with me. My best friend and I were still very excited about this place. I was craving for Korean Fried Chicken and since Chicken Up was not available, this was the next best option.

We ordered the large Chicken Combo Set. Six pieces each of original, sweet and garlic flavour. I would have liked for the spicy version – Bool Dak, but that would be suicidal. So this combo set was a great option to taste the varieties. I like the sweet version (drenched in the red glaze and topped with sesame seeds) the most. I liked the sweet and savoury combination. The chicken was pretty moist but the wings were quite meatless. Still, the whole plate was pretty satisfying and my fried chicken craving was swiftly satiated after this plate.



But what really surprised and delighted me the most that afternoon was this Potato Pancake made from shredded potatoes and studded with red chilli and some carrot strips. It may look anaemic and no different from a soggy german Rosti but this was still packed with flavour and super moist. Paired with the salty dip, I was extremely happy.



I am not sure I will return to Kko Kko but to be honest I am not sure I will eat Korean Fried Chicken anytime soon. What’s the big deal? It is just unrefined comfort food and empty calories all round. If I am going to sin, it would be sweet potato fries any day.