Hongquan Road, also widely known as Korean street, is often crammed with young people, mostly women, waiting outside various restaurants.
K-pop and K-drama have attracted Chinese youngsters for several years. The interest in Korean music and stars has gradually expanded to Korean cosmetics, cafés, food, sauna centers and travel.
The South Korean government has caught on that people from other countries — especially China and Japan — are interested in Korean culture. It has increased its culture budget annually in the last few years, with another 5.7 percent increase slated for 2014. And its cultural ministry spends millions of dollars promoting K-pop and K-drama overseas.
The latest hit drama “My Love from the Star” has hundreds of millions of Chinese enthralled as they wait eagerly to find out what transpires about the alien who falls in love with an actress.
The television show has sparked interest in Korean barbecue, including the famous bulgogi, or marinated beef. Galbi, or marinated beef ribs, is an all-time favorite for many people due to generous portions, thick slices and Korean soy sauce. The well-grilled and juicy meat is also affordable at most Korean barbecue restaurants.
“The food is great and the restaurants are somewhere we don’t have to worry about speaking loudly, eating more gracefully or whether we are eating too much, not to mention Korean superstars have eaten at some of these places in the past,” says Kathy Liu, a K-pop and Korean cuisine fan.
“So whenever we have five friends or more, we just go to Korean barbecue places. The atmosphere is great, like having a barbecue party at home. It’s comfortable and casual and no one has to clean up afterwards,” she adds.
Liu, a 24-year-old marketing assistant, went to Hongquan Road with some friends last weekend. Having heard of its popularity, they tried to make a reservation at Xi Lai Xi Rou, but the receptionist told them the place was booked until mid-March.
She said they could try their luck lining up for the few seats left for walk-in customers.
“We heard all the Koreans come here to eat, so we wanted to try the authentic taste,” Liu says. “It was crazy. We arrived just before 1pm, thinking it would be better since many people would have already finished lunch, but the line was super long and we didn’t get lunch until almost 3pm.
“And even then, we were still lucky. A friend said they once waited from 3:30pm to almost 9pm to get a table at another restaurant on the street,” she recalls.
Hongquan Road is part of the Longbai Community in the southwestern part of Shanghai. It has long been known as Little Korea as more than 80 percent of its foreign residents are Korean. It is between Hongqiao and Qibao, an area with many Korean schools.
Korean people, signs, supermarkets, restaurants, milk tea shops and sauna centers are all common on Hongquan Road.
“Korean food is very different from oily Chinese cuisine, especially the sweet Shanghainese food. We don’t use that much oil, and our dishes are mostly spicy,” says Lynn Kim, who has been working in Shanghai for nearly three years.
“When I first came to Shanghai, I was amazed I could get very authentic kimchi here, sold by old Korean ladies,” Kim adds.
Shanghai Daily recommends some of the popular and authentic Korean restaurants in town.
Ben Jia 本家
The place is almost always full of Koreans, a good sign of authenticity and quality. It doesn’t get too smoky even when packed and its portions are generous.
The free appetizers, including fresh vegetables, mashed potato, kimchi and salads, are great in terms of variety and quantity. They ensure a tasty start to the meal and enough greens before diners turn into carnivores.
The colorful jap chae (sautéed vegetables) glass noodles are highly recommended and probably the best in town. The noodles have an umami flavor and are mixed with spinach and wood ear mushrooms or black fungus.
The restaurant’s five-layered pork, a popular dish at Korean barbecues, is cut in thick slices and grilled to perfection.
The thin-sliced beef tongue and thick marinated beef ribs are also popular at Ben Jia.
Address: 1339 Wuzhong Rd
Xi Lai Xi Rou 喜来稀肉
Get prepared to wait hours at this barbecue restaurant. The menu is small. But almost everything is good while the pork they serve is more tender and juicier than other restaurants as they use the meat from near the heart.
The intestines have a chewy texture and they are another favorite. The tofu soap is spicy and is great, especially when it’s cold. Order this to avoid being overwhelmed by meat.
Address: Bldg 10, 1101 Hongquan Rd
Zheng Yi Pin 正一品
This restaurant offers one of the largest grill plates in town. Matching the size of a washing basin, the grill seems luxurious.
Zheng Yi Pin is also considered to have some of the most authentic kimchi in town. Be prepared for very spicy and watery kimchi, just like in South Korea, that is amazing when wrapped around slices of barbecued meat.
The five-layered pork is strongly recommended as it features a great balance between the tender lean meat and crispy fat.
The stir-fried seafood and rice cake is another popular dish. The impressive array of tasty seafood comes with an unmistakable umami taste.