Nov 27, 2012

Okryu-Gwan, Unique North Korean in the UAE

When someone recommended this restaurant to me, I immediately perked up!  I had enjoyed some delicious South Korean food, but never any delicacies from the North.  It was a journey trying to locate this hidden gem, but once we found our way, it went from good to great very quickly.

Hidden in the side streets of Deira close to Deira City Center, we were guided to Okryu-Gwan by the enthusiastic staff anxiously awaiting our arrival.  As we approached, the ethnically clad waitstaff lined the front of the restaurant smiling and welcoming us to their humble and quirky eatery.  Upon entering the room, we couldn;t help but notice the sounds of the Kareoke machine echoing throughout the rest of the quiet restaurant.   We were informed by the delightful staff, there were private rooms if we were interested in partaking with the joyful act of Kareoke. Since food was on the top of our agenda, we politley declined.....for now!

A couple of things to take note of when eating in this restaurant is the decor and eclectic table ware.  Surrounded by random vases of fake flowers, plus murals and paitings of cascading waterfalls and horses galloping away into the sunset, we couldn't help but notice a small stage set-up towards the back of the room.  My friends and I inquired about the dated musical equipment (i.e. keyboard/synthseizer and drum set. It felt as if we were in a time warp from the 80's).  The staff informed us they have live music on Thursday evening, sadly, we were there on a sunday.

Moving on, we realized we were so in awe of the aesthetics of this restaurant, we hadn't even looked at the menu.  First things first, an order of Kimchi was a must.  It arrived in this "Italian" themed plate, giving this funny little restauarnt even more character!
The next item, isn't somethign I would normally order, but it did seem to appeal to my lot of friends, who enoyed the sweet and tanginess of the prawns in ketchup sauce.  Presentation was decent, and the dish wasn't bad, but I am adamantly against anything made with or consisting of ketchup, it's one of thos artificial tastes that lingers on my palatte, but in all the wrong ways. 
Below we have a picture of something that resembles Japanese maki rolls, however the Korean version is known as Kimbap.  Filled with shredded beef and pickled vegetables, the balance of flavors and textures worked for me, and it was the perfect little size!

By Definition compliments of Wikipedia:
Gimbap is derived from the Japanese futomaki (lit. "large rolls") style maki-zushi sushi rolls[1] and became popular among Korean people in the modern era,but differs in the way the rice is seasoned and in the fillings. In sushi, relatively large amounts of sweetened rice vinegar is added to the rice and sesame oil is traditionally not used, as it is in gimbap. Korean gimbap generally does not contain raw fish and is prepared with sauteed beef, sausage, ham, fish cake, or crab stick. Unlike Japanese maki, gimbap is usually not served with wasabi soy sauce or sushi ginger, but is sometimes dipped in kimchi brine
I am a sucker for anything in dumpling form.  It usually packs a lot of flavor into a small well proportioned package.  These Yaki Mandu* were fried egg dumplings, and between the seasoning and spicy dipping sauce, I think I single handedly cleared that plate.

*'Mandu' means 'dumpling' in Korean and Yaki Mandu (also known as Gun Mandu) are the golden fried parcels filled with delicious east Asian ingredients like rice noodles, cabbage, tofu, eggs, toasted sesame oil, spring onion and seasoning. You will love biting into these crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside parcels of yummy goodness! (source:
This was by far the prettiest dish served, it's called Mul-naengmyeon, a chilled buckwheat noodle soup. 
The noodles are made with buckwheat and starch. Served in a chilled beef broth with pickled radish, sliced Korean pear and a hard-boiled egg. It is often served with a side dish of vinegar and mustard.  I love the presentation as well as the components, but it's somewhat of an aquired taste.  I am so use to having a warm broth served with delicate noodles, trying it cold, throws everything off.  But don't get me wrong, I would definitely go back for more.....
Lastly we were served some Korean style ice cream.  It was creamier than I am used to covered with chopped strawberries and a fruity syrup, It was a nice little taste of sweetness, but I couldn't have more than 2 bites. 
Overall the experience at Okryu-Gwan was a unique one.  Between the flavorful food, friendly staff, optional Kareoke, and 80's like decor, I think it's safe to say I will return to this hidden gem. I was fortunate enough to bring an adventurous lot of friends, and it really made all the difference.  If you do manage to make your way down, bring a group of foodies with a sense of humour, you will leave the restaurant with full bellies and tears in your eyes from all the food and laughter this place can bring. 

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