The Koreans, a hardworking, resourceful people, have brought us many wonderful things: the notion of “pro” video game players, disturbingly cheap electronics and several really quite special filmmakers. Recently, across the nation, we are starting to see the arrival of their latest gift to the world — the Korean barbecue.

Hasn’t the Korean barbecue been around forever? Well yes, but an explosion in the number of Korean students coming to Australia has meant that more of these style of restaurants are opening in order to give the kids a taste of home. They’re everywhere.

The Korean barbecue style of cooking, or gogi gui, shares many similarities with it’s showier, more extroverted cousin, the Japanese Teppanyaki. Meat is grilled in front of diners, who garnish it with various sauces and condiments before eating over rice. However, Korean barbecue distinguishes itself through both the primary method of cooking — a grill over glowing charcoal — and the obscenely tasty range of sidedishes presented with the meal.

Upon ordering a meal, visitors to a Korean barbecue restaurant will be presented with a range of marinated and non-marinated meats — primarily beef, in the form of brisket and sirloin. Ribs are also very popular. A waiter will start you off, placing some of the meat on the grill, before leaving you to cook — quite unlike those Teppanyaki staff who will often have you playing some ludicrous game involving catching cups of rice. We get it fellas, you’re handy with a spatula.

Watching the meat cook and tending to it is a rather comforting experience. There’s something about the process that tweaks the long-dormant hunter-gatherer instinct, satisfying a primal urge. Dipping pieces of meat into sesame oil and bean paste before eating them is just the deliciously salty and juicy cherry on this fleshy sundae.

This carnival of meat is only part of the joy of the Korean barbecue. The side-dishes, invariably involving some form of pickled bean sprout, cabbage or onion, are tangy and refreshing. Kimchi, the infamous and ubiquitous fermented pickled cabbage dish, is an acquired taste, but once you’ve got it you’ll be buying tubs of the stuff from Korean supermarkets.

It’s not vegetarian-friendly and I dare say that prolonged exposure to red meat, pickled vegetables and oils could do irreparable damage to the digestive system. But a Korean barbecue is a unique, tasty night out. A cursory search of food websites in any city around the country will reveal a mass of the places popping across your city. Go on, you’re already buying their electronics and their cars — it’s time to sample their approach to the barbeque.

Peter Fray

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