27 (Tue) April 2021
Köttbullar med Potatismos & Sås
-Sogong, Jung, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
with HSK, HYM
Hemlagat is a Swedish restaurant. Established 2014. Currently the only Swedish, perhaps Scandinavian, restaurant in Seoul/Korea. Specializes in traditional family-style dishes – “hemlagat = home-made.” Owned/operated by a couple: chef is Swedish, manager is Korean. On TripAdvisor, currently ranked #8 out of 26,552 restaurants in Seoul.
A few days ago, realizing that I’ve cooked quite a lot of Swedish cuisine myself although external experiences have been limited to a couple plates of meatballs – once in a dive bar in the Philippines (see 6.334 Swedish Meatballs), the other at IKEA in Korea – I did a search of “swedish restaurant seoul” and discovered Hemlagat. I made reservations for the next evening (tonight).
Number One Swedish Fan GK provided advice on what to order.
- Of course köttbullar is traditional, but I would guess you want to try something else…
- Vildsvinsgryta (boar stew) is also traditional, but would be eaten more often if you are a hunter yourself, or have access to game meat. Do you have wild boars in Korea? Do people eat wild boars in the US?
- Stekt Lax med Dillstuvad Potatis is also traditional, although it might be a little boring for you to order salmon, since it’s readily available in Korea anyway…
- Älgskav (marinated elk/moose meat) is also traditional, once again eaten more often if you have ready access to it. Maybe it would be interesting for you to try moose if you have never done it before?
- I would finally guess you should skip on the pickled herring (sill) platter, considering you found the sill I sent you before to be too “fishy.”
As I was accompanied by only 2 companions, we had the shared capacity for 2 mains (+ bread, cheese, salad) + 2 starters/sides + 1 dessert.
Our first starter comprised shrimp and crab and fish roe dressed in sour cream with dill.
It was delicious with the bread, same as above, paired very nicely with the Spanish cava that I had brought.
When making the reservation, I was pretty sure that the manager had quoted me a corkage fee of 10,000 won per bottle, but the check at the end of the meal initially charged 15,000 won, so upon inquiry the manager knocked it back to 10,000 won. Not sure what it will be next time.
The home-made pickled herring was presented 3 ways: (i) as is, with pickled onions and carrots; (ii) in sour cream; (iii) in sour cream and mustard with spices (I think).
I enjoyed the texture of the herring, which was thick and meaty. (By contrast, I seem to recall that the pickled herring in the jar sent to me by GK had been kinda soft and slimy.) As a beginner to this dish, I preferred the ones with sour cream to balance out the fishiness. The dark bread provided an excellent foundation, sorta bitter and crunchy. Not as immediately embraceable as, say, a Spanish charcuterie platter, but I could learn to appreciate it, certainly much more healthy.
Elk! Shaved, seasoned, pan-fried with onions. Served with mushrooms in a creamy mustard stew, hasselback potatoes, and jellied cranberries.
I had most been looking forward to this dish, just the idea of eating elk. I had imagined that an enormous cut of the animal would be served, with ribs and antlers sticking out of it, carving off huge chunks of juicy flesh.
So, I was already kinda disappointed that the meat came thinly sliced. I’m assuming perhaps that elk is inherently rather tough/dry, so the shaving makes it easier to handle.
Otherwise, the flavors were okay, though not particularly distinctive. Paired nicely with the spicy Italian barolo brought by HSK.
The mushroom stew and potatoes were awesome, with the jelly providing a touch of tang, like lingonberry jam.
Did you know? The animal (Alces alces) referred to as “elk” in Europe – “älg” in Swedish – is “moose” in America, where “elk” refers to a different though related animal (Cervus canadansis). “Deer” is a broader term for various species in the Cervidae family, including moose and elk, as well as reindeer and other smaller deers.
We were surprised to learn that the elk – or whatever it is – is sourced locally. They discovered a ranch in Korea that raises the animals for antlers (male), which are dried and ground into traditional medicines, but the meat (female) was being exported, so now they have a special procurement deal. Or something like that.
I ordered the meatballs as a matter of course, not expecting much. The dish came with mashed potatoes, gravy, and lingonberry jam.
The meatballs – all pork, as per southern Swedish style, the manager explained (GK, is that right?) – were interesting in texture. Somewhat crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, presumably due to more filler than the ones that I make, or even the packaged ones from IKEA, which tend to be denser and chewier.
The gravy – sås! – blew me away. Perfectly seasoned, rich in umami, with a hint of spice and a touch of tang. When asked, the chef generously revealed his secret ingredients: tomato paste (umami), all spice (spice), lingonberry jam (tang). Perhaps the best gravy that I’ve ever experienced.
I am inspired to up my game next time.
Across the board, the food was great, though not overwhelmingly so. The sås made the entire experience worthwhile.
The service was excellent, with both the manager and chef presenting the dishes with helpful explanations.
We had a fantastic time – more about reminiscing than eating. The 3 of us graduated high school together, Class of 1991, 30 years ago, oh my fucking god. Over the course of our conversation tonight, they seemed to suggest that I had been something of a Mean Girl back then. HSK, who’s one of my best friends, said that I had “motivated” him to improve his English skills through my constant teasing, like while rewriting his college application essays for him. HYM, who used to be my “arch enemy” in school – tonight being the first time us hanging out, maybe even conversing socially, ever – said that she had admittedly been kinda snarky but only because I had been such a tyrant, like making unilateral decisions as senior class president about our class trip (she didn’t mention this specific example but I do recall it was one of those things that I had to ram through, blocking out the noise of dissent, otherwise it never would’ve happened). I’d like to think that I did more net good than harm.
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