If you live in the relative Asian food desert that is Nashville, TN, you start believing that every decent looking photo of an Asian dish is just a mirage. I once believed there was a potential for dim sum when I first learned of Lucky Bamboo China Bistro but the dreams of dim sum soon turned into ashes in my mouth. Luckily, there’s hope here: we have some legit Korean food.
Hai Woon Dai rests on Antioch Pike and features a number of traditional Korean dishes like Bugolgi, Bi Bim Bap, and Soondubu Jigae. Like most Korean places, every entree comes with an assortment of Banchan, an assortment of small dishes that pair up with the food, creating a colorful and rich experience filled with kim chee and other pickled items. The Banchan here do not disappoint – they are like little pools of refreshing happiness for the hungry wanderer.
Speaking of the hungry…let’s talk about their Haemul Pajeon (seafood pancake). While it is listed under “appetizers,” this beast could easily be a meal on its own. It’s looks less like a pancake and more like a Chicago styled deep dish pizza.
This gigantic “pancake” is thick, filled to the brim with shrimp, octopus and squid, green onions, and a delicious batter that is fried. It’s very hot and crispy on the outside, so be careful lest you scorch and scrape the roof of your mouth. Inside, it is chewy and very satisfying.
The Bugolgi, thin slices of marinated beef cooked on a stove-top griddle, was fairly average for Korean fare. It’s slightly sweet, is very tender, and is packed with flavor from soy sauce, green onions, and sesame. You can either cook it at the table or have it cooked in the kitchen and served to you on a heated iron plate
Other standout dishes here include the Seafood Sundubu, a spicy spoft tofu stew that is filled with sea creatures. It’s served very, very warm and is perfectly paired with a small bowl of steamed rice. Here, the Sundubu really stands out – the broth is perfectly seasoned and the texture of soft tofu mixed with chewy squid is simply amazing.
If you like soup, you might also like the Galbitang (Beef short rib soup) here too. It has bone-on short ribs that are cooked with a light, semi-clear broth that is filled with radishes, scallions, and thin ginger slices. Most of the time, this dish is heavily doused with black pepper which can easily overpower the delicateness of the vegetables. Hai Woon Dai’s version of it is much better balanced than most. The short rib isn’t quite as tender but the flavor is spot on.
For a heartier soup, try one of their bowls of ramen. While the noodles taste slightly better than the instant packets you can buy at any grocery store, the way the soups are dressed really make it interesting. For example, the rice cakes and dumplings are doughy in the best possible way and are bursting with flavor. The portion size is also unexpectedly large, so it’s a solid choice if you are hungry.
If you’re in the mood for something that is sweet and spicy, you can’t go wrong with Nakji Bokkeum (spicy octopus), a stir fried dish of small octopus tentacles that are tossed with gochujang (red chili pepper paste), gochugaru (red chili pepper flakes), sesame oil, green onions, carrots, zucchini, and onions. It sounds much spicier than it actually is (think of a low-medium heat level).
The octopus here is a running theme of deliciousness. Every dish that has octopus in it is a favorite. Perhaps if you are wandering a desert, there’s nothing like seafood to bring you back to your senses and remind you that life is worth living. Continue forward, survive, and you might just get a bit of paradise.
Wander on over to:
Hai Woon Dai, 2051 Antioch Pike, Antioch, TN 37013