Delhi Belly – Creating Seoul in the Soul
An authentic Korean eatery in a stinky bazaar alley.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
As soon as I plopped a pickled fiery-red cabbage into my unsuspecting mouth, the ground beneath the taste buds started shuddering. My eyes burned with million mutinies. The cabbage in Kimchi Jigae (Rs 150), the Korean stew I ordered, had fermented to the right degree but its spiciness was jolting. I quickly hurled in cucumber slices, one of the six banchan, small side dishes if you please, that included eggplant and spinach.
It was my fault. The pony-tailed hippie who was supervising Dokebi Nara – this little known Korean eatery deep inside a Paharganj bylane – did warn that “spices can be moderated if so desired.” But I had foolishly requested to make it hot.
Mr. Hippie, now calmly staring at me, shook his head and said that Korean spices are different than the Indian ones. I nodded in surrender and asked for a Kingfisher. Once the burning sensation subsided, I concentrated on the stew. Jigae could also have pork or seafood but mine had vegetables. Alternating a spoonful with a mouthful of fine sticky rice that came as accompaniment I gradually began to enjoy the Kimchi’s piquant flavour. Other adornments like the stew’s pungent fish sauce, its hot pepper, crisp scallions, familiar garlicky flavor, and of course the cool monsoon breeze, together conspired to create a Seoul in the soul.
As the tangy savour started establishing its comfort zone, I looked around and marveled if Delhiwallas could imagine a truly authentic Korea inside a stinky bazaar alley. Dokebi Nara (I have been here before) is a hidden treasure in this city of only a couple of Korean eateries, which are for the most part high-end.
Korean pop played in Sony speakers and Korean paperbacks lay mildewed on a shelf. The tiny terrace, lit with Chinese paper lamps, was packed with Korean backpackers (the laminated menu was in English, not Korean!). I was like a foreign intruder. But the stew agreed well making me feel at home.
A little later I requested Mr. Hippie for Fired Cuttlefish (Rs 200) that comes in a spicy sauce and is served with rice. Looking aghast, he pointed to my plate and said, “I will if you say so but this is enough for one person.” I bowed and assured him I needed more.
Where First Floor, Navrang Guest House, Paharganj Main Bazaar; another very popular outlet is in Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh