Outside the restaurant

Ever since the K-drama invaded the Philippine television some years ago, quite a number of Filipinos have been caught up by the K-pop bugs, no wonder Korean products, even restaurants, became very popular to Pinoy consumers.

Korean restaurants have mushroomed in the metropolis, and samgyupsal, a popular Korean food, ultimately became a dizzying food trip trend.

Though I am not guzzled up with the K-pop craze, I am curious about their food.

Although samgyeopsal appears very strange to me since I am not into meat, I am eager to take a bite just to find out how it really tastes. And just like any other gastronome adventurers, I am open to the possibility of exploring Korean cuisine.

Two days ago, together with my colleagues, I took a leap of stepping into the world of Korean food. I did not know what to expect. I have not tried any Korean dishes before. But just like anyone else embarking into a food adventure somewhere, excitement swelled up.

Just before the restaurant's opening

Originally, we planned to go to a Korean restaurant in Malate where diners can wear Hanbok, the traditional attire of Koreans, while eating. But the restaurant only offers a seat-down meal and the boys wanted something more than that. 

So we searched for another resto that features a buffet meal. We ended up choosing Sodam Korean Restaurant in San Juan.

It was a hot Tuesday morning. And the intense environmental temperature was made worst by the traffic congestion en-route to San Juan. So when we arrived at J. Abad Santos drive it was either we were hungry, thirsty or annoyed with the blistering heat of the sun. I was neither. In fact, great anticipation of a happy food trip mounted in my mind.

Buffet area of Sodam

Sodam Korean Restaurant opens at 11:30 in the morning and we reached the place before 10:30. So we needed to stay outside (the staff anyway offered us benches) after we made a reservation. Towards 11:00 o'clock,  the staff allowed us to get in together with other diners. And while stepping inside, honestly, I could not feel anything other than hesitation. I was unsure what it was. Felt like a looming disaster was rolling somewhere. I find the interior a little tedious.
It was a jam-packed lunch hour. All tables were filled in on both floors, making it hard to move around without bumping on the next person. Though the interior appeared more like a homey structure furnished with some oriental decors, it brought so much discomfort to my senses because of the atmosphere of having diners fidgeting in a small space.


The place looked like an enclosed two-storey house smacked between old buildings with unimpressive interior. While I adored a minimalist design, Sodam was too way down bland, rustic and too vintage. The ambiance was reminiscent to old Kungfu movies where characters engaged into fierce fight scenes in a restaurant.

At 11:15, staff began filling in the racks with, well, samgyeopsal. And beef! I have learned that bulgogi refers to grilled pork and beef so I am certain we did not try this selection. What we had was only those poor raw things. There was a grilled pot built on each four-setter table, something I find unpleasant because smoke will be directly wafting in diners' eyes.

 But girls just wanna have fun 😅[/caption]

But while I was grieving with the irksome ambiance, which was far from being cool, I was delighted with the selections of fare at the buffet table. Delectable and savory. Very oriental concoctions indeed. Though far from luscious (you know that lipsmacking tad), the selections captured even the most subtle appetite with its balanced flavor and twists.  

I tried almost everything in the selections. From fish fillet to sauteed vegetables to chicken and mussels to omelet. Even the kimchi. And it was hot! Naay! I am not fond of chilli food so when I tried kimchi I cringed! But I guess it was just right for tongues that can tolerate hot and spicy dishes. Apart from kimchi, the rest of the food selections tasted awesome. I will give two cents to the fish fillet lathered with whipping cream. A must-try. The coating was just right.

But unlike the characteristic of the Japanese food which has some spicy overtones, Korean dishes appeared sweet (though not entirely sugary) and piquant. I don't have issues with sweet-coated food but I could easily get full with this kind of flavor, so much so that I did not finish everything in my plate that day. Overall, the buffet meal selections at Sodam can satisfy one's hunger. It captures the pinoy taste that craves sweetness in recipes.

And yes! Here comes the highlight of this Korean food adventure - the grilling epic where the spotlight centered on samgyeopsal. Porky baby, oh God! I was so naive with this Korean gui (dish) that when a pile of wood racks were rolled into our table I thought it was bacon haha! When I whispered it to Scarlet (you know calling samgyeopsal a bacon) she gave me a confused look, I guess she could not decide whether to  agree with me or give me a little lecture on using the correct term.

Racks of Samgyupsal

My unsympathetic treatment over meat has some deep roots. Ever since I was a kid my father admonished us never to consume too much meat (except native chicken). Hypertension runs in the family so my father has been particular with the type of food we eat. So I grew up avoiding meat in my meals. Ten years ago I totally stopped eating red meat when I discovered consuming meat can contribute to global warming. So this Korean food sojourn with all those meats spread in our table sounded like a punishment. But I was fine, I enjoyed the buffet meal anyway.

While my colleagues were grilling stuff and enjoying the pork and beef, I was silently agonizing with the thoughts of animals being killed mercilessly for food consumption. Though pigs and cows are part of the food chain, I still find it implacable to kill one just to be consumed. My latest lifestyle of not eating meat actually is not entirely about health but on my advocacy of no to animal killings. Each time I see meat, I am wondering how animals were slaughtered and how were they during their dying moment.

But I was with my friends and looking them happy gorging grilled meat made me thought life can be so simple and can be twisted in instant. I tried few strips of grilled beef but did not finish the last strips. My appetite started to revolt, not because I did not like the taste. But it was meat. And the gruesome thought of killing animals haunted my mind. However, it was tasty,  a little sweet though, but for diners who have penchant over Korean barbeque-styled dishes, this selection sounds terrific.

Other selections in the buffet table

But the overall structure of the place has a negative impact on me. It was close and there was no conducive ventilator to exhaust and suck the smoke coming from the grilling plate. Our eyes ended up absorbing the tendrils of smoke, piling up to the unpleasant atmosphere inside. Looking around the second floor, I saw smoke draping across, circling around, blurring the entire view as though it was a picnic ground for smokers . Not ideal for people who have some respiratory problem.

I have not tried the samgyeopsal but according to my friends it was tasty. The fact that they had several racks turned and replaced by more racks, vouched the idea that it was indeed scrumptious. I saw them devoured the meat with gusto.

Sodam Restaurant is an ideal place for people who adored meat - pork and beef in particular. The unlimited selections will give an infinite dose of meat binging and overindulging during meal time. You can, in fact, make a repeat request of as many racks of pork belly and as many plates of marinated beef as you can. And you have the pleasure of grilling it on your own, you can control the temperature and the texture of the meat if you like it medium-rare or well done.

Buffet time

For gourmand trippers, the buffet table of Sodam offers a mammoth of choices, whether you are into sea food and vegetables or opt for Korean recipes and Filipino dishes with a twist, the place has something enormous to fill. But not so much for people who equate comfy of place to insanely delicious meal.

Sodam Korean Restaurant might be a perfect place for meat lovers and who love to just go out there and eat, then leave the place, but this is not a good place to hang around with friends and family.

Comfort is at stake and the smoke coming from the grilling plate can really ruin a good day. It is more punishing if you reserve a place on the second floor where smoke will just drift around with no conducive exhausting equipment. Very prickly to the eyes. The place is quite dreary for a sit-down meal and the setup is so compact you might accidentally elbow the next person if you clumsily move.
I will rate the place with 4/10 for ambiance, and 6/10 for food.

Asking if I will recommend it? Well, for folks who love unlimited meat and who have hearty appetite, this is a must-try place. And I love the seafood and the vegetables! But not for people who look for comfort. The place is too rustic and too compact to be considered a cool food destination. But if you are into all things Korean, this place will surely interest you.

Sodam Korean Restaurant opens at 11:30 in the morning but you need to make a reservation ahead as the place can really get full even during lunch time. For rates, you may check the screenshot below. During our lunch out we spent only Php318.00 per head. This covers the entire buffet meal and unlimited racks of pork belly and plates of beef meat. However, drinks are not included.

The location of the place is quite unpleasant to commuters, so better take a car pool if you come as a group. For diners who will bring a car, you need to come early as parking space is very limited.

Note: My cellphone got snatched following this food trip, so I have no personal photos taken here.