Real South Korean flavours are the order of the day at Mannaland.
Korean expats find a taste of heaven
DUBAI // Beef sizzles on a hot plate next to sides of chilli peppers, raw garlic, lettuce leaves and a chunky salsa the colour of tabasco.
The stack of short ribs, galbugui, are simple, savoury, and signature Korean - just like the restaurant serving them, Mannaland, in Bur Dubai, strives to be, whether it's catering to regular Korean customers or foreigners who have trouble wielding chopsticks.
The front half of the restaurant has a raised wooden platform with cushions and low tables for customers who prefer to dine cross-legged on the floor. South Korean television plays in the background, and a few fans and drums bearing the country's flag patterns hang near the entrance.
"It's comfortable," said Mr Jung, a Korean resident who gave only his last name.
He said he comes here at least once a week and that, among about a dozen other Korean places he has visited, Mannaland ranks near the top. The food "feels like home", he says, after savouring a bowl of yang jeongol, or mutton stew.
Also served are traditional side dishes such as fried peanuts, dried radish and the well-known red pickled cabbage called kimchi.
With each main course comes even more serving bowls - and a bit of a show.
For galbugui, the beef comes in a raw roll that is unwrapped, snipped with scissors and dropped on to a sizzling hotplate. (It can also be cooked in the kitchen, if the guest prefers.) It is meant to be eaten on lettuce with sauce.
For bibimbop, another favourite dish, all the components - rice, carrots, mushrooms, cabbage, beef, an egg with a runny yolk - are brought to the table in a bowl, tossed together with a thick reddish sauce and served in individual bowls. Bulgolgi, another popular beef barbecue dish, comes on a sizzling hotplate with peppers and onions.
The first-time diners Nurzat Musabaeva and Niso Ismailova order bulgolgi because it seems familiar. They also have what's known as Korean sushi, or kimbab, with cooked vegetables and crab wrapped in rice and seaweed.
"At the end of the meal I am going to be more hungry because I am trying to grab these things," said Ms Musabaeva, a 28-year-old saleswoman from Kyrgyzstan, as she and her friend picked at the sushi platter and side dishes.
"I like the concept of little things to be mixed," said her friend Ms Ismailova, 29, an Uzbek and also a saleswoman.
Many of the guests at Mannaland come from South Korea, China and other East Asian countries, who like what's familiar to them.
Chinese guests often order a savoury pancake dish full of green onions, which is familiar in Chinese cuisine. Korean guests like the mutton stew that Mr Jang ordered. They also often order traditional barley tea, said the chef, Piao Zenzi.
Ms Piao, 55, is from northeastern China near North Korea and of Korean descent. She has cooked Korean food "for a long time", she said.
Mannaland was opened in 2002 by Nam Youngho, a 66-year-old South Korean who has lived in the UAE for three decades. When he left his job as a construction engineer, he decided he wanted to start a restaurant.
A Christian, Mr Nam decided to name the restaurant after the "food from heaven" referred to as manna in the Bible.
But the food at Mannaland claims no such stature. Even compared to the handful of other Korean restaurants he knows of in Dubai, it simply serves most of the same, traditional Korean dishes, he said.
"It's not much different," he shrugged. "It's Korean cuisine." One order of galbugui costs Dh75 and serves two. Bulgolgi and bibimbop, both enough to serve two, cost Dh50 each. Sushi for two costs Dh45.
Where to find it: Mannaland is on the north-west corner of the intersection of Diyafa Street and Al Wasl Road, in the slip road next to the Capitol Hotel. Metered parking is available in the front and around the back. The restaurant is open daily till 11pm, but shuts between 3pm and 6pm Saturdays to Thursdays.