I don’t know how many times someone has encouraged me to try a “great” Korean restaurant in Paris. Each time, I found them to be not bad but exactly the same as all the others, with cook-your-own meats on the tabletop accompanied by little bowls of indifferent kimchi and other condiments. Vainly I searched for something more original and authentic.
Such were my thoughts as I headed with little hope to dinner at Jium, a Korean restaurant in the 15th arrondissement recommended by a new friend, Karen, who lives nearby. She and Terry were waiting for me in the pretty little restaurant with a white-tiled open kitchen in the front, a variety of hanging lamps and an antique clock hanging over the front door.
Eureka! A glance at the menu was enough to convince me that Jium was not your bog-standard Korean restaurant. Whoever heard of pine-nut and rice porridge, for example? Certainly anyone who knows Korean food well (it’s called jatjuk), but not I, so I ordered it for the first course. At first sip, it seemed a little bland, but then the rich, subtle flavor of the pine nuts came through and thoroughly charmed me.
Meanwhile, Karen and Terry were in ecstasy over the pajeon (green onion crepe) they were sharing. This was no French-style crepe; it was more like a huge, crispy pancake,big enough to be a meal in itself. Filled with shellfish and zucchini, it was served with a soy sauce in which a lot of good things had been macerating in a big jar on the counter. Like my porridge but in a different register, this was Korean comfort food.
With our main courses, we each got a dish of three condiments: fermented-radish kimchi, a little ball of cold mashed potato with what tasted like grain mustard in it, and candied lotus root.
My next course, mokssal gui (pork shoulder fermented in the house soy sauce and grilled), with some grilled cauliflower and zucchini, was voted the favorite of the three main courses we tried.
Karen played it light with a vegetarian bibimbab, with spinach, eggs, soybean sprouts, zucchini, dried Korean vegetables and turnips, all sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was subtle and lovely, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with a big appetite.
Terry also went for pork, ordering the kimchi jjigae, a spicy kimchi stew with pork and tofu, which she downed with gusto and perhaps a slight burn on the palate.
There were no desserts on the menu, and when asked, the owner, who had served us ably while his wife did the cooking, said only ice cream was available. Having enjoyed our meal so much, however, we felt no need for a sweet.
Gomabseubnida, Karen! I will never doubt your word again.