Seoul Food Korean Kitchen, Halifax: Korean food more popular than ever after Squid Game success
My lockdown Netflix shows featured the likes of Mind Hunter, Young Wallander, Ozark and Trapped, which gives you an idea of my viewing habits; darkish and Scandi-ish with bursts of mindless violence.
I didn’t watch Squid Game, a phenomenon that passed me by – in fact I had to google it – and ended up watching a couple of episodes, just by way of research, of course.
It makes Breaking Bad look like Jackanory. It’s made in Korea, is currently number one on Netflix around the world and has generated an insatiable fascination that has led to teenagers having fist fights outside a Squid Game pop-up shop in Paris.
In Halifax on a sunny Wednesday lunchtime it’s a bit calmer. A tiny Korean kitchen has opened up on the Westgate Arcade and it’s partly down to the success of the show that Seoul Food exists at all.
Sisters Choomi and Heeae Kim ran a crepe stall in the town’s Borough Market for three years – it wasn’t remotely Korean but it was incredibly popular. Heeae had been working at Bradford University and when she and her Halifax-born husband started a family she was keen to find a job that didn’t take her away so much.
Her sister Choomi had just graduated in textile design in Leeds and had been working at a creperie in Trinity – so they decided to throw their lot in together, and their stall was born. In time they added an even tinier Korean kitchen in another part of the market, but the pandemic left them struggling for customers.
They thought that was the end of the story, but as the world started to reopen they were offered a place on Westgate Arcade, and jumped at it.
It’s a compact space, with clean, uncluttered lines, pale wood furniture and arty Seoul posters on the walls. The business end is a kitchen the size of two phone boxes, out of which come a series of vibrant, colourful dishes.
Mandu are feather-light gyoza dumplings, pan fried but greaseless and full of flavour with a scattering of spring onion for crunch. Crispy chicken, another pillow-light “small dish”, is the colour of Doc Martens oxblood boots; a sprinkle of sesame seeds and lightly pickled white cabbage accompanies.
An absolute charmer of a dish is seaweed rice balls – Jumeok-bap. Innocent-sounding and coal black, they’re salty and sweet at the same time, and with soy sauce they explode in my mouth. Kimbap is a sushi roll, savoury and subtle – again with seaweed and rice with the addition of pickled radish and spinach.
Japchae (glass) noodles is a stir fry dish with sweet potato, onion and cabbage, sesame oil and seeds with spring onion. They really are transparent – revved up with tender, moist chicken it’s a umami bomb.
There’s a choice of four ramen bowls – I love ramen, it’s unlike anything I ever cook and if the chef’s got the spicing right it’s an absolute delight – and here it’s spot on.
My kimchi ramen, a steal at £6, is fiery and a riot of colour and flavours. I really like the look of black bean noodles, “the most famous noodle in Korea” with its earthy, sweet and salty taste; next time for sure.
A vegetable pancake (yachaejeon) is loaded with mushrooms, sweet potato and courgette, beautifully soft on the inside, crispy outside and served with a deliciously sharp tangle of stir fried garlic carrot – and the ubiquitous kimchi.
It’s a dish that’s been gaining popularity with hip chefs who are into home fermenting. A wide selection of seasonings are used, including gochugaru (a smoky, fruity-sweet chilli powder) spring onions, garlic, ginger, and usually with anchovy and/or fish sauce.
Heeae and Choomi have adapted some of the traditional spices to cater for vegans. “Korean spicing is very different to other Asian food, and we’re keen to bring the genuine taste of Seoul to West Yorkshire,” says Heeae. “After the explosion of Squid Game on Netflix, all things Korean seem to be popular, and we thought it seemed like a good time to do it. Since we moved to Westgate it’s been crazy from day one!’
Come for crepe, stay for genuine Korean food and be delighted.
Seoul Food Korean Kitchen, Westgate Arcade, 5 Carrier Street, Halifax HX1 1DH 01422 347479, www.seoul-food.co.uk. Open: Monday to Thursday, 11am- 6pm; Friday to Saturday, 11am to 8pm.