Once upon a time, there was a wave of Chinese migrants in post-war Korea; in the process introducing Koreans to what is now a universal staple – noodles. Granted, the Koreans take pride in their own cuisine – jap chae, for one, is their own version of noodles – it inadvertently led to an earlier form of ‘fusion’, long before the term, in gourmet-speak, would refer to a form of cooking deriving from different cuisines.

Kyu Sik Kim, who hails from Seoul, South Korea but has spent almost half his entire life in the Philippines, was among those who grew up acquiring a taste for Chinese food. In fact, his Filipino wife of more than twenty years, Starlita, swears his husband’s favorite dish is anything that has noodles in it.

So it’s no surprise then that Mr. Kim would be inclined to venture into the restaurant business and open a place billed simply as a Chinese-Korean restaurant. (The restaurant’s name really is Jinjaru, which, his wife tells me, means ‘surely’ in Korean). But what exactly is the kind of food they serve?

Mr. Kim, in an affable manner typical of Koreans who’ve lived in the country long enough, simply tells me that it’s “Koreanized” Chinese food. A quick glance at the menu yielded a number noodle dishes or better yet, if it’s any measure of Chinese authenticity, the slight spelling error in “fried dumping”.

Apparently, many Koreans like him have fallen in love with Chinese food, only they want it served in a slightly different way – meaning, not too oily or sweet and definitely as little MSG (fondly called vetsin, in Filipino) as possible. Or spicy hot, but Korean spicy hot and not Chinese chili-sauce hot.

At this point, I half-expected bowls of Chinese noodles spiced with kimchi, a sort of Korean version of vegetable salad. But the Koreanized part doesn’t end there. Based on the menu, Mr. Kim’s restaurant can match Hap Chan, North Park or any place in the Binondo in variety of noodle dishes.

Filipinos are not exactly acquainted with Korean cuisine, at least not until recently since the so-called Korean invasion (it’s all over Asia, actually) has reached the country and a few Korean restaurants sprouted here and there. Unlike Chinese cuisine, which is deeply rooted in our nation’s history (take pansit, for example, which seems ALMOST as if it’s Pinoy already), not too many Filipinos are familiar with Korean food beyond dishes such as bulgogi or bibimbap.

Only a fellow Korean transplant like Mr. Kim would feel familiar with the kind of food served in his restaurant. “There are many big restaurants in Korea that serve Chinese food like we do but not here,” he says.

The couple was generous enough to let my non-Korean taste buds sample Jinjaru best-sellers, including the ja jang myun or ‘chocolate’ noodles with seafood and black soybean paste (which adds to the brownish color). I didn’t find it hot enough, though, which puzzles me because I was told it’s a favorite among Korean patrons. Or maybe it’s just the kimchi freak in me.

Starlita, Mr. Kim’s wife and an expert in the art of making kimchi, was kind enough to discuss with me in full step-by-step detail on how to create the perfect kimchi. But I wouldn’t elaborate further out of respect that it should be a best-kept secret.

The sam gye tang or ginseng chicken is a lot like our local tinolang manok both in appearance and taste, only instead of ginger it contains ginseng roots. Yes, exactly what ginseng tea is made of and what could be the healthiest food in the menu.

The deiji bulgogi or sizzling beef is a must-try. Instead of the usual sisig-and-beer combo, make it a bulgogi-and-soju instead.

But my two-thumbs up go to what is called the san giup sal, which outshines the other dishes in both presentation and preparation. Picture this: thin, almost bacon-like slices of pork you grill yourself on the table along with some garlic and onions. Then dip them pork strips in sesame oil with salt, place them it in a cabbage leaf (the kind used for making kimchi) and add whatever you wish from a smattering of kimchi (eggplant, cabbage or cucumber), soybean paste, rice, garlic and onions, wrap it with your fingers and engorge in one big bite. It’s a lot like how the Vietnamese do it, but this Korean veggie wrap makes for an interesting mix of flavors – the unique spice of kimchi clashing with the saltiness of the soybean paste.
I washed everything down with a few shots of soju and thank Starlita profusely for the best-tasting kimchi I’ve ever had, genuinely rubbing my forearm on my forehead. She narrated a time when a Korean walked into their restaurant and got disappointed.

“For a time, we got used to serving our food not that spicy because Filipinos might not like that much. So this customer told us, it’s not similar to how it’s served in Korea. From then on, unless requested, we cook our food just like how my husband says how it tastes like from home,” she says. However spicy, it felt good to have it the original Korean way.

Jinjaru is located at Timog Avenue in Quezon City across GMA-7. Opens from 12noon to 6AM, to satisfy late-night kimchi cravings.