I used to fret whether searching for “authentic” cuisine in non-native countries was a pretentious thing to do. Now, I’ve reconciled to the fact that people who try out a fake version of a foreign cuisine and gush about it are far more pretentious, and hence I have my own right to be more smug than them. IT HELPS ME SLEEP AT NIGHT, OKAY.
Anyway. I’m back in Delhi while I’m waiting for my visa to be sorted out. During this time, I’ve gone around meeting friends and I’ve quite often been disappointed with what is passed off as foreign cuisine in Delhi. The other day I went to Boombox Cafe, much-beloved among the Delhi crowd for its variety of cuisine as evidenced by online reviews. I haven’t eaten Mexican food for ages now, so I ordered a chicken quesedilla…and got a random mix of diced chicken inside a paratha. Another day, at Cafe Morrison, I ordered nachos with cheese only to get a hardened, dried nachos with “cheese” that was yellow-coloured running water. Such is the state of eating out in Delhi, with many popular restaurants trying to serve dishes from multiple cuisines to customers who wouldn’t know better, as long as they have an illusion of choice. It was in this context that, you must realise, when one of my friends suggested a place in Green Park that served “really authentic Korean food” I wanted to reserve my judgement until I saw it with my own eyes.
Tucked away in a side road from Green Park Main Market is Gung The Palace. The lobby that greets you when you walk in is littered with Korean pamphlets and memorabilia, with private rooms where you sit down on the floor in front of low tables for your dining experience. My friend (Karmanya) and I walked in today asked for a table for two, and the hostess who greeted us at the door asked us if we had a reservation. We didn’t. She gave a look as if that never happened in this establishment. I was almost about to blurt out “Look here lady, I don’t know how they do it in False Korea, but in True Korea we would have been greeted warmly” when we were ushered upstairs to a standard seating area with normal dining tables and chairs.
The decor in this section of the restaurant was somewhat incongruous. There was a TV, much like in a dhaba, playing a Korean TV channel showing a Korean version of Takeshi’s Castle where competitors were running around over giant inflatable pools and eating noodles. (I presume on their breaks from running on top of giant inflatable pools.) In another corner was a disco ball on the ceiling for…I don’t know. Impromptu karaoke parties?
We got served cold tea right away – I assume it was barley tea, or hell may rain wrath upon them – along with a selection of appetisers such as soft, sweet peanuts (my favourite), kimchi, fried chicken pieces (kinda similar to Japanese chicken karaage), brussels sprouts, spinach, et al while we perused the menu. The menu is cute in how words in the story of the restaurant are randomly missing spaces to make breathlessrunonwordsthatmakenosense. Helpful pictures guide first-timers to Korean cuisine on what the dishes look like, and it took us a while to decide on dishes because there are around 70-80 items on the menu. (Options available for vegetarians too, asthemenubreathlesslyinformsyou.) I was salivating at pictures of prime sirloin and prime jowls already. Perhaps the only item that looked out-of-place were the California rolls.
Ultimately, I ordered marinated chicken – dak bulgogi – with glass noodles (it’s been a while since I’ve eaten glass noodles) while Karmanya ordered sour pork with rice. Part of hesitation with the menu came from the eye-watering prices (by Delhi standards) with most dishes in the range of Rs 700-1800. We also ordered sweet plum soju, which came in a teapot for multiple servings.
We’d seriously underestimated the quantity of food we’d get. Unlike other expensive places, Gung doesn’t skimp on portions at all! My noodles were served hotpot-style with a burner on the table a huge plate with a generous serving of bulgogi with noodles. In fact, to anyone who goes there I’d recommend being restrained with how many dishes to order since each can easily feed 2-3 people. (It was the same with the portions Karmanya got.) The bulgogi was done just right – with deliciously tender pieces of chicken. A superb meal in all!
The total for two people came to Rs 3000 – exactly as predicted on Zomato – and neither of us wanted dessert because the only option was ice shavings with red bean. I’m not a big fan of desserts with beans in them. To me, that’s the antithesis of what dessert should be – sweet! Especially when paired with something cold like ice, the resulting taste is bland.
Overall, I’d say Gung The Palace is an excellent place to go for a meal. It’s pricey, but totally worth the money if you’re looking for authentic Korean food, and the portions are huge. The decor’s nice too, as long as you don’t get shunted into the ghetto dining area on tables on the first floor. Would definitely recommend.
Rating: 7.5 / 10
One thing I noticed at Gung was that all the waitresses were Nepalese (at least from the conversation I could hear from the kitchen), dressed in traditional Korean uniforms. Maybe it’s just me, but hiring Nepalese waitresses exclusively smacks of institutional racism to me because the intent it implies is that patrons would want to be served by someone “vaguely Korean-looking”, as Indians so commonly do for anyone with slightly Oriental features. It’s a tricky one, because on one hand people from North-East India and Nepal get a shit deal in the rest of India, ritually being marginalised and referred to by derogatory terms. So if this was “affirmative action” on the management’s part to provide employment to a marginalised section of society, then I laud them in their efforts. Yet there’s a part of me which thinks that perhaps not the case – and that would indeed be sad.