One viral Facebook post with over 36,000 reactions was all it took for Gokain Bistro to have a swarm of hallyu-hungry customers expecting 99-peso ramyeon and unlimited kimchi waiting outside its double-door entrance. Although tucked deep within the green grounds of Taft Avenue, there’s no stopping students clad in different school colors from lining up just to try out its budget-friendly Korean dining experience.
Since the hallyu wave broke out in the Philippines like an epidemic, thanks to the rise of its music and dramas, many have become interested in immersing themselves into the colorful Korean lifestyle. One could pride himself in knowing the basics of the language or mastering the aesthetic, but the full Korean experience is far from complete without getting a taste of hansik (Korean food).
As if paying homage to the culture that blessed it with fame, near the doorway was a display of Kpop albums signed by artists such as Big Bang, EXO-CBX, and VIXX, among others. The dimly-lit interior is reminiscent of the urban streets of Korea with its metal stools, black leather couches, and the black and yellow barricade tape that’s impossible to miss.
Photos by Nicole Constante
From Benilde alumnus Youngjun Mun’s former wife’s secret recipe, or as the menu suggests, Gokain’s food is a “fusion” of many influences––one of which is the Filipino silog. It’s not everyday you see a side dish of milky macaroni served alongside grilled pork belly.
Lately, K-style restaurants have become synonymous with self-grills and buffets that are more often than not meant for splurging on cheat days. With a menu that ranges from Php99 to Php190, Gokain caters to curious tastebuds without being too heavy on the average student’s wallet.
A staple in almost every Korean meal, the Kimchi is an appetizer made of seasoned fermented vegetables. Much like wine or fine cheese, the Kimchi is immortal and gets better with age, depending on preference. Good news for Kimchi fans, too much side dish does not exist in Gokain’s vocabulary. Albeit leaving you with the dragon’s breath, the restaurant’s take on this Korean staple is undeniably irresistible. With each bite of the intensely colored cabbage comes just as much intense flavor––the finest blend between spicy and sour. You would find yourself sniffling a little yet unable to stop raising your hand to request for more.
Gokain has two kinds of ramyeon on their menu: regular (Php 99) and the seafood Haemul Ramyeon paired with egg (Php 129). Both are very similar to instant noodles, especially the regular flavored noodles. The Haemul Ramyeon was seasoned, spiced, and topped with shrimp. The blend of its ingredients managed to dull out, although not completely, the impression of store-bought ramyeon which you could get for less than Php50. The restaurant offers to make the ramyeon depending on the customer’s choice of normal, spicy, or extremely spicy, but order with caution as even the normal level is enough to trigger the sweat glands.
However, the Dak-galbi (Php190), grilled chicken covered in red sauce that claims to be the marriage of sweet and spicy, was a dish that fell quite short of expectations. The sauce was too thick and its taste was nothing extraordinary. In short, it’s not worth the price tag.
Saving the best for last, the classic bulgogi, beef marinated in a sweet soy-based sauce and grilled to its ideal, is a real crowd pleaser. This dish is gentler on the palate as it has zero trace of chilli. The sweetness of the side dishes—creamy macaroni and fruity blended salad, as well as the sunny side up-topped rice—seemed to work with the juicy beef in harmony, complementing each other and creating a truly delightful recipe.
The rice meals are all served in a steel cooking pan, staying true to the Korean quirky nature. The portion is enough, and since there was an abundance of side dishes, the meals are very filling overall. And if you have yet to reach the state of food coma by the end of all that, a variety of Korean ice cream is available upon request for one last hurrah.
With a second branch currently in the works, Gokain invites everyone to “go kain” with them for the love of experiencing the flavors of a different country and celebrating it along with a mix of our mother land’s own, guilt-free. Although it’s not something you should wait in line for, it’s not all that bad for a budgeted meal interchanged for an overseas trip. Gokain is located on the second floor of the University Mall, open from 10 am to 9 pm.