New Koreatown restaurant serving Korean 'rain' food
09 Jun 2017
Ssal Bori Ssal is a newly opened makgeolli restaurant from the same people who brought us Momojein. The restaurant is modelled after the many ubiquitous traditional jeon (Korean pancake) and makgeolli restaurants in South Korea, with its wooden front door and its weaved baskets. You’ll often hear the poetic mention of jeon and makgeolli on rainy days in Seoul. Seoulites crave jeon and makgeolli on rainy days, associating it with a nostalgic (and nearly melancholy) mood that comes with the sound of raindrops.
‘Makgeolli’, a rice-based alcoholic beverage traditional to South Korea, is the main superstar of the restaurant. You'll recognise it from its milky white colour and its gentle fizzing. We tried the Boksoondoga Makgeolli, famous for its premium taste and unique feature of fizzing on its own when opened. We loved it. Imagine sweet yoghurt meets champagne but with a tangy aftertaste. It’s a taste that is unforgettable and quite addictive-- making one wonder how this yoghurt-y flavour can come from rice. Naturally, we reached for a few more glasses of this stuff.
Although Jokbal (pork trotter) and bossam (boiled pork) has lost a lot of its takeaway popularity since the rise of Korean fried chicken, it still holds a nostalgic value for those who enjoyed it during their university party days. Ssal Bori Ssal’s jokbal and bossam is juicy and homely. Judging by the taste, it is likely cooked in coffee and/or medicinal herbs to negate the porky smell, and then cooked till tender. We were surprised by the authenticity of the shrimp paste dipping sauce. The smell of the shrimp paste wasn’t strong, but the flavour was intact. The secret of authentic Korean cooking is that it is a simple affair. Korean dishes can seem bland or flat when eaten separately, but that's to be expected, as they are meant to be eaten in harmony with the other dishes. These boiled meats are one particular example, they are cooked in a way to work harmoniously with the crisp of the lettuce and the saltiness of the shrimp sauce.
The DIY rice balls were nothing special, just casual bento-food, that we may have preferred if served along with the meat that came before them. The fishcake soup could have benefitted with a more flavoursome broth, but the fishcakes themselves were alright. Originally fishcakes are meant to be eaten with a sauce, so we recommend dipping the fishcakes into the same house sauce used for the jeon.
The kimchi jeon was delicious, crispy parts on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The kimchi to batter ratio is satisfying and we recommend to have it with their house sauce. While some of us prefer our jeon even crispier, the jeon in Ssal Bori Ssal stay true to the traditional recipe in texture and taste.
Ssal Bori Ssal serves traditional Korean bar food authentic and untouched. Many Korean restaurants in Hong Kong tend to add extra sodium and sweeteners into their broth(s), their soups and their sauces, but Ssal Bori Ssal does not cave into these local trends, and that is refreshing to see. We recommend this place to start your quieter Friday nights with friends, or for one of those gloomier lonelier days when you need to drink alone-- surrounded with authentic Korean bar food and Korea’s traditional bubbly, the makgeolli.