Lincoln Tan discovers Auckland’s hidden restaurant dishes – Ori bulgogi at Mr K BBQ

Herald ethnic affairs reporter and dedicated foodie Lincoln Tan introduces you to a world of hidden restaurant delights around Auckland.

The first time I had Korean ori bulgogi, or duck barbecue, was in a village near the de facto border between North and South Korea.

The guide who took me there said that by virtue of my profession as a journalist, the chances of getting across the border even as a tourist was virtually zero and this was the closest I would get to “taste the North”.

Those who are lucky enough to have been to North Korea will know that Pyongyang Duck Barbecue Restaurant is perhaps its best known eatery. Almost every tourist gets taken to it for their final meal on tour.

Ori bulgogi is not common, even in South Korea’s larger cities such as Seoul and Busan, where the preferred meat is beef, pork and chicken.

Jeongah Go, born on the South Korean island of Jeju, says it is still a favourite among rural folk in smaller towns and villages and firmly believes it is “the best meat for barbecue”.

Go moved to Auckland with her family in 2008, and after her children had grown up, decided three years ago to open up Mr K BBQ specialising in Korean-style duck barbecue.

“We cannot find this in Auckland and I cook this at home all the time at first, but I think it is such a waste if New Zealanders don’t get to experience this special dish and experience,” Go said.

Unlike Western-style barbecues where you just slap your meat on the grill and wait for it to cook, an ori bulgogi meal offers a truly unique Korean culinary experience.

This is a dish to share, and Go’s restaurant offers a choice of either spicy meat with a home-made gochujang marinate or a non-spicy soy marinated option.

The thinly pink and fatty sliced duck comes piled with crisp and leafy minari, or water dropwort which has a herbal parsley-like flavour.

The meat and vegetables are then poured onto the sizzling hot plate and, as with your normal barbecue, get the meat charred to your liking.

There’s banchan, or small side dishes of kimchi, pickled vegetables, fish cake and garlic.

There is also fancy lettuce, chilli and soyabean paste that’s made by Go.

The typical way Koreans enjoy ori bulgogi is to take a piece of cooked meat, wrap it in the lettuce and add a little bit of chilli and soyabean paste before popping it into the mouth.

After the meat is eaten comes the unique part – the rice arrives and the bowl gets emptied onto the hot plate and is cooked with the fatty juices from the duck.

Duck fats are high in beneficial unsaturated fats and the chemical composition is reportedly closer to olive oil than to butter.

“The best way is to leave the rice until they get nice and crispy, also giving it more time to absorb the deep, rich flavour from the duck meat juices,” Go said.

For those who are unsure about the processes or what to do, Go says she has staff – including her two adult children on most nights and weekends – to help.

“When I started this restaurant, my aim is really not just about running a business but also to let non-Koreans experience our special way of dining,” she said.

Typically, the barbecue dinner ends with guests ordering a bowl of mul naengmyeon (cold noodles in beef broth) or bibim naengmyeon (spicy cold noodles) – or some would prefer a combination of both in a dish called mul-bi naengmyeon.

“We don’t really have dessert after a duck barbecue feast, but the cold noodle is what we believe will help wash it all down and settle our full stomachs,” she said.

• Mr K BBQ, 239 Rosedale Rd, Albany;

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