A couple weeks ago my friends and I decided to try a new Korean restaurant that had just opened in Birmingham. Make that the only Korean restaurant in Birmingham. We had eaten there before, but only in its last incarnation as a few tables behind the Asian supermarket next door. The new restaurant was well lit and inviting, with framed screened panels, Korean art, and the requisite karaoke machine (probably for a different crowd than ours).

The chef was the same too, our waitress told us, and the built-in gas grills at the center of each table had been imported from Korea. I could tell she was happy not to have to share space with cellophane bags of dried fish and 15-pound sacks of rice. The chef, her mother, was undoubtedly happy too.

We began the meal with cups of barley tea; it had a delicate, earthy flavor that was soothing without the unnecessary side effect of caffeine. Next came Mandu—steamed and pan-seared pork dumplings with a soy dipping sauce. Our waitress turned on our grill, what looked like a metal bucket sunk into the center of our table, and blue flames leapt around the sides. She added our orders of kalbi and bulgogi, raw beef short and spare ribs in a sweet and savory marinade. The meat was ready in minutes and we ate it tucked into crisp lettuce leaves, along with dozens of garnishes including pickled daikon, kimchi, fish cake, and sautéed greens.   

Not only was the meal delicious, it was low fat, low carb, and due to the range of spicy, pickled, and fermented goodies, good for digestion. It didn’t matter that we were one of two customers that evening—the food was honest and authentic, not intimidating, as foreign cuisines often seem.

What is your favorite cuisine or dish from another culture? What have you been wanting the world to try?