Authentic: A Taste of Korea

Just as the Chinese world celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival, Koreans also celebrate Chuseok, a three-day event that marks the end of a successful ...

Sep 21, 2013

Just as the Chinese world celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival, Koreans also celebrate Chuseok, a three-day event that marks the end of a successful harvest season. Chuseok is a national holiday in which the extended family gathers to cook and share a delicious feast of traditional Korean dishes — eating copious amounts of sweet rice cake is encouraged. This year, the festivities fell on Sept. 19. Being far away from home, I sought an authentic Korean restaurant near Sama Tower to celebrate the festival in style.
I was surprised to discover that there were five Korean restaurants in Al Markaziyah to choose from: Taste of Korea, Hangook, Manna, Han Kang, and Sura. My Korean upperclassmen unanimously declared Taste of Korea to be the safest bet in terms of overall dining experience.
“If your friends are first-timers, Taste of Korea might be better because of its aesthetic factors," said junior Brian Chung. His advice was especially convincing as my dinner companions that night, freshmen Yasmin Al-Modhwahi and Yi Yi Yeap, had no prior experience with Korean food. Another winning aspect of Taste of Korea was its accessible location in the Eclipse Boutique Suites, beside the Central Souk and a short distance from the Corniche.
Taste of Korea was located on the penthouse level of the hotel, and I was immediately struck by the quiet interior of the restaurant. The atmosphere was undoubtedly relaxing, but not truly authentic because it lacked the rambunctious and intimate setting typical to Korean restaurants. I would have described the decor as Westernized and unassuming, but I realized that the missing element was the people. I saw mostly families out for dinner and not many youths at the tables. The service, however, was swift and accommodating; the menu was comprehensive and had both English and Korean descriptions.
We ordered the bulgogi, grilled marinated beef with sliced bell peppers, onions, carrots and sweet potato noodles; the kimchi pancake, cooked diced kimchi in flour batter; the spicy tofu stew, a hot stew made with tofu, seafood, vegetables and mushrooms served in a solid stone bowl; and tteokbokki, a braised dish of sliced rice cake, meat, eggs and spicy seasoning.
“How do I eat this?” Yeap said as I showed her how to make a lettuce wrap from the vegetables and rice, topping it with a fermented soybean sauce called Doenjang.
“My understanding of cake has been turned upside down because of the rice cakes,” said Al-Modhwahi, as I explained to her that not all rice cakes were necessarily sweet.
The food was much better than expected. I had braced my stomach for an inauthentic Abu Dhabi version of Korean cuisine, but was pleasantly surprised. My companions also enjoyed their dining experience. To my taste buds, the food was erring on the side of sweet rather than spicy, but I saw that for my non-Korean friends, it certainly contained enough spice. At one point, Yeap was tearing up from the heat, but she fought valiantly to continue eating.
“I have never tried Korean food before, but I love its spicy food and I definitely want to explore the other Korean restaurants out there,” Al-Modhwahi said. “My favourite dish was the bulgogi, the Korean barbeque.”
The food at Taste of Korea does not disappoint, although the ambiance is slightly lacking. This restaurant would be a great starting point for those seeking an enjoyable first encounter with Korean food, but I would advise taking a Korean friend or someone well-acquainted with the cuisine to explain how and what to eat.
Taste of Korea is located in the penthouse level of the Eclipse Boutique Suites on Liwa Street, near the Central Souk and Al-Markaziyah. The restaurant is open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Chaeri Lee is a contributing writer. Email her at 
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