If you remember the location of the very first Brothers Burger, perhaps even the Minggoy’s that was adjacent to it, then you know where Ye Dang is.
It’s on a rather obscure, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it place, overshadowed as it is by the used car sales lot it shares space with.
I live and play very near Manila’s own self-described Little Korea so I have it on good authority as to which Korean restaurants make the grade. But Ye Dang, more than just a stone’s throw away from my playground, is the best Korean restaurant I’ve been to yet. Totally slamming on a Saturday night, my Bin and I nab the last table. A few minutes later, a line gets progressively longer. A caveat: come to Ye Dang on an off hour. This isn’t a meal that can be rushed, nor would you want it to be. Service, while harried, is efficient and courteous.
A Korean meal isn’t just one dish, but a juxtaposition of fresh and preserved foods; a veritable mix and match that begins with the side dishes or chups, that range from as few as three to as many as 12. Throughout the duration of the meal, these side dishes aren’t just appetizers, they’re meant to enhance the other dishes that follow. A Korean meal tests my “matchmaking” abilities: does the pickled radish go well with the bulgogi? Will the caramelized peanuts disrupt the smoothness of the pork and leaf roll?
Speaking of leaves, the side dishes at Ye Dang come with a basket of – to the uninitiated – leaves that are decidedly startling in appearance. No, not the “biggest mint leaves of your life”, they’re Korean perilla, the larger version of the somewhat similar Japanese shiso leaf. While the latter is used more as a garnish, this Korean variety strikes a unique flavor between mint and basil. Their size also makes them a desirable vehicle with which to wrap and eat cooked food.
Every proper Korean restaurant has a grill with which to cook one’s food tableside. Though we order the customary bulgogi and pork belly with the assumption that we get to cook tonight, the said dishes come to us already cooked and ready to eat. I guess cooked food will allow for faster turnover so I don’t mind it too much since the place is crowded and the line has just snaked out the front door.
Tonight, there’s nothing new that we haven’t ordered or tried elsewhere before. The aforementioned bulgogi is tender with enough sauce to spoon over steaming rice. The pork belly has been rendered somewhat dry because of overcooking but a quick drag through the accompanying rice vinegar sauce and a dip into the gochujang chili sauce (that comes with cloves of peeled, raw garlic) remedies that quite nicely.
The japchae, the stickiness of the transparent potato noodles always making it a delicious challenge to slice and serve, is abundant with vegetables. But unlike other restaurants that attempt to make up for less noodles with more cabbage (these glass noodles are expensive), Ye Dang’s japchae has an equal amount of both.
Then there’s a new favorite of mine, pajon, the Korean spring onion pancake. It’s so flat that I’m surprised it holds as much as it does, a filling of threads of green onion enmeshed in a sticky-savory batter. So good. And equally wonderful too wrapped in a perilla leaf roll with some of the sauce from the dish of spicy squid. The squid is cooked till just hot, cosseted as it is in a pungent and red sauce.
Ye Dang is also eye-poppingly affordable. Everything we eat tonight between two people with plenty to spare for take home is just P1,490.
Meralco Ave., Ortigas
I like Leslie’s post on Ye Dang.