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.

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…

Cheese Dung Galbi (Pork Ribs), Hongdae, Seoul: Because Not in SG, Yet

This blog strives to post food that is out-of-this-world, spectacular and worth remembering forever. Afterall you can never delete anyting on the internet. So blogging about amazing food lets me look back anytime and smile at those delicious days. However in this post, I am so embarrassed to write that this dish is not out of this world, not exactly spectacular (it didn’t even come close), and quite frankly, I have no desire to remember the taste forever. But I hunted down this dish because out of the many many Korean exports, it has not arrived on our sunny Singapore shores. Yet. These days, one has to find unusual ways of being a pioneer…

Cheese Dung Galbi (Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Cheese), 치즈등갈비, is just one of the many takes on American comfort food by the Koreans. No visitor to Seoul will deny the strong influence America has on the modern Korean “cuisine”. Just look at the chips/ crisps and ice-cream in the 7/11, and street food such as fried potatoes and sausages everywhere. 

In this particular dish, the Koreans took a hot plate, topped it with cheap easily-meltable cheese, grilled saucy baby back ribs, and served it all on a portable gas stove. To Korean-fy it further, some good old Korean rice cakes never hurt. Ta-dah! A new dish is born. You have got to applaud their ingenuity.

How does one eat it? Wait for the cheese to melt. Then using the plastic glove provided, hold up a rib and dunk it in to the melted cheese, lift up and twist more cheese around it. That’s it. This dish is to be consumed purely for comfort purposes. They didn’t even bother glamourizing it.

This dish is not hard to find. In Hongdae, it was everywhere! Short of time, we popped into the first place seen to offer this dish. Sat down, pointed to the picture, held up two fingers signifying two portions then pointed to level two spiciness. Shortly thereafter this hot plate arrived.

Having said that, this dish was not bad. The meat around the rib was tender albeit could have been meatier. And that sauce, at level two spiciness, was lip-numbingly spicy. If you love your heat, SHIOK! My friend was perspiring from the heat, I was revelling in the spiciness.

Very soon the cheese will go from liquid to crusty and that’s when the real fun begins. Scrap off the brown bits for some crispy cheese chips – it’s fun!

If you are heading to Seoul soon and desperately need a place to eat, do pop in to one of these cheese-ribs joint for an experience. >_<