Assa: Ahnyong Haseyo and Kamsahamnida

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September 27, 2010 by bethanjthomas

For someone who regularly eats more than their daily recommended calorific intake, I keep in relatively good shape.   However, six years ago I lived in South Korea and developed a gut.  And a double chin.  And slight bingo wings.  I blame this entirely on the deliciousness that is Korean food.

Since returning to the UK, I have had considerably less access to the sinful pleasure of barbequed red meat, chilli laden soups, pickled cabbage and stodgy fried pancakes for which my waist line is grateful.    However, my taste buds have not been and it is only recently that I have found a haven in Tottenham Court Road to satisfy all my Korean cravings.  I went there this weekend to celebrate Jacob’s birthday.

A Birthday Treat
Korean beansprouts with sesame oil and seaweed

Assa is a tiny restaurant by Centre Point which can normally be identified by the queue of Chinese and Korean students lining up outside the door.  Six tables await the eager diners, and after placing your order complimentary beansprouts with sesame oil, seawood with vinegar and iced green tea arrive.  Faced with such delicious, healthy starters, I began to wonder how on earth I managed to get so fat in Seoul.

Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap (Rice and Vegetables in a Stone Pot)
Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap (Rice and Vegetables in a Stone Pot)

That was until our main courses arrived and I remembered my excessive consumption of Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap.  An oven baked stone pot is filled with rice, and layered with bean sprouts, cucumber, seaweed, carrot and ground beef.  Topped with an egg yolk and accompanied with spicy chilli sauce, it is a sight for sore eyes.  The whole concoction has to be stirred at speed, cooking the egg and coating the rice in gooey, spicy goodness.

The sizzling dish is no where near as spicy as the numerous other options on the menu though, and those brave enough to pick a ‘hot’ soup from the list should be advised not to wear a white shirt whilst doing so.

Spicy Beef Soup
Spicy Beef Soup

Scarlet soup filled with seaweed, slow cooked beef and bean sprouts is a daunting task.  I refuse to believe that anyone could eat the broth without breaking into a sweat, but the sticky boiled rice it comes with helps take the edge off.  It is a perfect (temporary) cure for the common cold and the ultimate stainer of clothes.  Not to mention moorishly good.

When eaten in small quantities, neither of these dishes could be the culprit of my weight gain.  If anything they could have been part of a well balanced diet.  Standing in stark contrast to this, and accompanying our meals, the Korean seafood pancake is a sinful food stuff which I have longed for on many occassions.

Seafood Pancake
Seafood Pancake

Oozing with grease (in a good way), crisp to bite and soft to chew, the prawns found inside this plate of fried salt, fat and sugar appear as a cholesterol raising bonus.  When the pancake arrived at our table smelling of heaven, I bravely declared that I could eat it in its entirety.  This was an epic exaggeration as I eventually struggled to eat half, but five years ago in those halcyon days of Seoul summertime, I would have eaten two of these bad boys in one sitting.  I would have savoured every mouthful.  Given my family’s tendency for high cholesterol, it is probably a blessing that I am a less prolific eater nowadays, but I want to say ‘kamsahamnida’ Assa, I’ll be back to indulge as soon as possible.  But for now, I’m off for a run.

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