Chef Mingoo Kang of Hansik Goo on a Modern Korean Cuisine That Goes Beyond Fried Chicken and BBQ
Hansik Goo is Hong Kong’s newest modern Korean restaurant that will make you think differently about its cuisine.
My appreciation of Korean food stems from two years spent in Seoul discovering, and vigorously eating my way through, its varied cuisine which is deeply rooted in its traditions and heritage. It’s a fascinating cuisine to explore, and one that goes far beyond the barbecues and fried chicken that most are familiar with. From the diverse range of side dishes, or banchan, that is part and parcel of all meals, to the foundation of sauces, or jang, that defines the cuisine. Not to mention all the beautifully preserved and fermented dishes such as kimchi in which there are over 100 different types.
So when I was told that a new modern Korean restaurant was landing in Hong Kong, I was more than excited for its arrival. What’s more, it is helmed by award winning chef Mingoo Kang of Seoul’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant Mingles. Hansik Goo, a collaboration with ZS Hospitality, is the new Korean restaurant I’ve been asking the food gods for: a restaurant that brings contemporary Korean cuisine, inspired by all of its traditions and full of playful twists and elevated flavours, to really showcase the food that I know and love.
To find out more, we took a moment with Chef Mingoo Kang to ask about the essence of Korean cuisine, what the new restaurant is all about and how it came to be.
What is the essence of Korean cuisine?
The essence of Korean cuisine is the knowledge and understanding of how to use ingredients and the method of making a variety of dishes. We have four seasons in Korea, so there is a large variety of ingredients to choose from each and every season. Therefore, you need to know how to handle each ingredient the right way to bring out the best in them. Certain ingredients cannot withstand too high or low a temperature, while some vegetables and herbs need to be cooked in a specific way.
In Korea, because of our long winters, a lot of the vegetables are pickled, so it’s about knowing how to pickle them, which vegetables can last or not for example. So, it’s really about understanding the technicalities, intricacies and knowing how to use the ingredients in a balanced way.
How would you describe your cuisine at Mingles and Hansik Goo?
Mingles serves innovative Korean food but still uses a traditional Korean base. We respect the origin, taste and process of making (traditional) Korean cuisine and add seasonal ingredients and various cooking techniques to create Mingle’s own dishes.
I wanted to introduce a more traditional and familiar type of Korean food in Hong Kong. So, for Hansik Goo, we lean towards more of the traditional techniques in creating our dishes for this restaurant. My dishes are inspired by authentic Korean food; based on a diverse array of traditional recipes ranging from royal cuisine, temple cuisine, everyday food to home-cooking, but in my style of cooking as opposed to doing innovative Korean food like at Mingles. However, guests will be able to try dishes inspired by some of our dishes at Mingles too.
Can you please explain more about Korean jang (sauce)?
Jang is the most important ingredient in Korean food and it determines the taste of the cuisine. To make jangs, you need a lot of time, space, and long-term knowledge, so we make all our jangs in-house at Mingles and send them over to Hong Kong.
The Korean mother sauce, Jang, comes in two types such as ganjang (liquid) and doenjang (paste), which are the products made from fermenting beans. Jang is essential to almost every type of Korean food and at Mingles and Hansik Goo, we use jang in most of our dishes. Often we make different kinds of pickles and kimchi with jang too.
You’ve worked with some great Korean master chefs including Asia’s best female chef Cho Hee Sook and Seon Buddhist monk and chef Jeong Kwan. What was that like?
There are so many chefs that I like and respect. I learned the beauty of Korean vegetarian dishes from priest Jeong Kwan, who became interested in temple food and taught us how to live beyond cooking. Through her, I learned not only cooking, but a change in perspective to life. Living with the flow of nature… and cooking is how people can reveal the true beauty and taste of nature.
Chef Hee Sook Cho, the Korean chef I respect the most, started her career as a Korean chef the year I was born. I am very grateful for this teacher that studied traditional Korean food her whole life and generously shared it with many young chefs including myself.
Why did you decide that Hong Kong would be the destination for your first overseas restaurant?
Although Hong Kong has a lot of Korean restaurants, they are mostly Korean fried chicken or Korean barbecue type of restaurants. But nothing truly showcased all the different aspects of Korean cuisine. So I wanted to offer that here.
When creating a new dish, where do you get your inspiration from?
I normally get the inspiration from my everyday life and travelling. Communication with overseas chefs through collaboration also help me to broaden my horizons and learn new things.
What do you do when you’re not in the kitchen and cooking?
Cooking, food, and restaurant operations are my main hobbies. It’s my life. But when I am not working in the restaurant(s), I enjoy delicious food and alcohol, or I’ll go to the farm and markets to find good seasonal ingredients.
I also try to spend as much time as possible with my family and children, and I often read humanities or economic books during my less busy times. I also kickbox to keep fit and maintain my stamina since I have long working hours.
Do you have any favourite dishes at Hansik Goo?
Naengchae is a popular name for Korean cold appetiser salads. The main ingredients are seasonal seafood, vegetables, and meat. You can make different sauces (or dressing) using various spices such as mustard, ganjang (soy sauce), doenjang (soybean paste), gochujang (chilli sauce), vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, nuts, red pepper powder, garlic, ginger, and more.
The cold version at Hansik Goo is prepared with shrimp, seasonal fruits and vegetables, spicy cod roe and mustard to complement the hot summers here in Hong Kong. Personally, I like light dishes using vegetables and fruits. In the future, we will do a cold version with pineapple sauce or spicy chili pepper sauce.
Are there other lesser known Korean dishes that you want to shine the spotlight on?
Since we opened Mingles, we have created many signature dishes that I’ve loved, but my favourite is noodles with anchovy broth. Anchovy broth is one of the most commonly used soup bases in Korean cuisine. We spent a lot of time doing research on how to create the best anchovy broth and as a result, we make and use pure anchovy broth suitable for Mingles’ and Hansik Goo’s dishes, and the noodles are made with sun-dried noodles.
Now that you have Mingles in Seoul and Hansik Goo in Hong Kong, do you have plans for anywhere else?
We believe that there will be many more opportunities to expand to other cities in the future. But for now, we will focus on Hong Kong and Seoul.
2/F, 8 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong
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