If you rarely (or never) venture to Fulham, you should make this your go-to destination only for the japchae (vegetables stir-fried with translucent noodles) at Hamgipak, which owner and chef Soon Joo Bok has lovingly prepared since the start of this millennium, previously in her former location in New Malden.
Her philosophy is healthy food, with as little salt or sugar as possible, which comes to the fore in dishes such as galbitang (beef short rib soup) or maeuntang (spicy fish soup). She nails it with the japchae sauce, which is light yet intense in flavours and gets you addicted right away. At least that is what happened to me one dreary winter’s night – and now just thinking about it makes me drool and want to scratch my dinner plans. Maybe today is meant to be japchae day…
Japchae is made from sweet potato glass noodles stir-fried in sesame oil with vegetables which may include carrots, mushrooms, onion and spinach, as well as beef (which can be omitted). The sauce will consist of, amongst other things, garlic, soy sauce and sugar, but Soon Joo Bok obviously has some kind of secret as to what the winning combination of her intensely flavoured and just-the-right-amount-of-sweet sauce is.
Japchae is served as a starter at Hamgipak and most other Korean restaurants I have been to in London. It is a small portion as would usually be the case in Korea as well, but in Korea it is served as a side dish, an accompaniment to the classical trio of rice, stew and fermented vegetables (more commonly known as kimchi) alongside other side dishes all contributing to the complexity of flavours and textures that can be had at any one time (more on the practice of having side dishes with your meal can be found here).
In fact, japchae’s existence as just another side dish makes it rather inconspicuous in Korea itself, while outside of Korea its status seems to have been elevated, particularly in countries such as the USA and the UK. With a different eating culture of an ordered meal, japchae as a starter has been given a greater opportunity to shine for itself. And with fresh ingredients and the right sauce, restaurant-goers have not failed to notice it. And talk about it. And keep requesting it. This is the beauty of foods travelling and being received differently in different places. If you haven’t discovered japchae yet, dig in and enjoy a delicious dish! Hamgipak offers a vegetarian version without the beef as well.
Area: Fulham, Southwest London
Closest tube: Parsons Green (District line); Fulham Broadway (District line)
606 Fulham Rd
Fulham, London SW6 5RP
잡채 (japchae) = glass noodles stir-fried with vegetables
맛있어요 (masisseoyo) = it’s delicious
간장 (ganjang) = soy sauce
단맛 (dan mat) = sweet taste
소스 (sauce) = sauce
야채 (yachae) = vegetables
밥 (bab) = rice/meal
소고기 (sogogi) = beef
채식하다 (chaesig hada) = to be vegetarian
건강하다 (geongang hada) = to be healthy
마늘 (maneul) = garlic
설탕 (seoltang) = sugar
당면 (dangmyeon) = glass noodles (made from starch)