I always try to do my tasting for this series with local food experts. Dadawan, however, is an eclectic Asian-American fusion restaurant, with the Asian influences coming mainly from Japan, India and Korea. So where should the experts be from?
My dinner companions are Taehoon Lee and Jiyun Han, both from Korea. Taehoon is a global citizen with Korean roots, who grew up in Moscow and sees UM’s European Studies programme as a stepping stone towards a career in international relations, although he’s also thinking about applying at Interpol. Jiyun is here to escape the stress and hierarchy of South Korean society and wants to live a more chilled-out life. She’s studying European and Dutch law, though, which is quite a challenge for a non-native speaker. On top of that, she’s in the honours programme and is considering a career in corporate law, where a standard working week has 75 hours. So much for chilling out…
No queue yet
We arrive at Dadawan. There’s no queue yet, but the place is already nearly full. It turns out that both Jiyun and Taehoon have eaten here before, and certainly like the place. They’re especially happy with the value for money aspect. Looking at the menu, I have to agree: grilled steak and vegetables with fries for €12.95 or a Korean-style bibimbap starting at €7.99. And since the portions are quite generous, this seems an ideal place for hungry students.
Jiyun chooses the steak, Taehoon the poke bowl with salmon, and I have the vegetarian bibimbap with Korean gochujang sauce. As side dishes, we order kimchi – Korean-style fermented cabbage – and wakame salad – salad with marinated seaweed in Japanese style. Before we’ve even begun discussing life in Maastricht, our orders arrive. Quite impressive.
We first taste the kimchi. I like it, but Jiyun thinks it compares unfavourably with the kimchi her grandmother makes. The cabbage is too soft and doesn’t feel ‘alive’, and the sauce is too sweet. Taehoon thinks the kimchi is from a tin. The wakame salad, on the other hand, is very nice, with just enough marinated seaweed to provide the fresh raw vegetables with flavour.
Jiyun’s steak comes on a sizzling hot plate, accompanied by grilled mushrooms and courgette. At first, the meat is perfectly done: medium rare and quite tender. However, the plate is so hot that the meat just continues to cook. After five minutes, it’s no longer medium, but excessively well done and grey inside. It’s a real pity, since its quality is good, which also holds for the accompaniments.
Taehoon is happy with his poke bowl. This is a dish with American roots – as far as one can say that about something that comes from Hawaii – and it consists of cold rice with raw vegetables and fish. Originally, the vegetables mainly consisted of seaweed, onion and kemiri nuts, but since poke started conquering the world, the list of possible ingredients has been extended to include soybeans, sweet corn, and anything else the local cook thinks is a good idea. Taehoon’s poke contains good and fresh vegetables and the salmon is OK. I notice that Taehoon is eating his rice with a spoon. It turns out Koreans always eat rice like that; they only use chopsticks for side dishes.
As for my bibimbap, a bowl of hot rice with vegetables and tofu, Taehoon and Jiyun tell me that bibimbap was originally eaten vegetarian because Koreans were too poor to afford meat or fish. In that sense, my dish is very authentic. But in most other ways, it isn’t.
At first, the bowl in which it gets served is so hot that I can’t eat the dish and almost burn my mouth on the spoon. But after waiting a while, it gets better. The dish comes with hoisin sauce, which my dinner companions frown upon: “Not Korean at all!” They also have some remarks about the vegetables. In Korea, bibimbap usually comes with vegetables from the mountains, like wild spinach and small bean sprouts. My bibimbap is more European in this respect. Fortunately, I ordered the spicy gochujang sauce, which really makes the dish.
All in all, dinner at Dadawan was enjoyable, with incredibly speedy service, very fresh ingredients, and a bill that was as pleasant as bills can be. I can understand the long queues.