This was my first time visiting a Korean restaurant and eating traditional Korean cuisine. I think I have always thought that it would be too embarrassing ordering food when I don't speak or read Korean, and I might end up ordering something I don't like. But it only took a bit of research to make myself feel confident enough to try Korean food. I found out that Good Fella Korean Bistro was the closest Korean restaurant near me and my plans for dinner were made.
While my boyfriend and I were feeling adventurous, we wanted to play it safe on our first time ordering Korean cuisine. The dishes that I researched before arriving to the restaurant were the two of the most popular dishes in Korean cuisine: bulgogi and bimbimbap. For my boyfriend, I knew that bulgogi ($14.99) would be a great choice for him since he is slightly picky, and also a fan of meat. I was eager to try the bimbimbap because of the mixture of beef, rice, generous helpings of vegetables and it being topped off with an egg. There were a few different kinds of bimbimbap to try, but I decided to go with the dol sot bimbimbap ($12.99) that was served in a hot stone bowl for $1 more.
After we placed our order, we were served with ten different small dishes, called banchan. These come with any meal that is ordered and can change often. They were not labeled so it was a fun game for us to try to figure out what we were eating. Some of the dishes were obvious in what they were and some we have had previously, but others were completely new. They also varied in hot or cold, crunchy or chewy, spicy or mild, salty or sweet. It was a great guessing game for our taste buds, to say the least. We had the following as our banchan: tofu, spicy noodles, broccoli salad, marinated zuchinni, seaweed, bean sprouts, bean sprouts with peppers, potato, cold noodles, and kimchi.
I was the most excited to try the kimchi since my research told me that this is a popular dish in Korean cuisine. Kimchi is napa cabbage that has been fermented with Korean chili powder and other seasonings. As my boyfriend and I are fans of spice, this dish was very well received.
Before we had a chance to try all of the banchan, our main dishes had arrived to our table. My boyfriend's bulgogi was served on a hot plate with a bowl of sticky rice on the side. The bulgogi was marinated and very tender. It was served with cabbage, onions, carrots and topped with sesame seeds. My boyfriend also mentioned that the sticky rice was cooked perfectly and was better than the rice that we are used to eating.
My bimbimbap was served in a hot stone bowl as I ordered, and when they said it was hot, they weren't kidding! The heat radiated off of the dish and it was so hot that it was still cooking the bimbimbap as I was eating it. The bowl was filled with rice, beef and various vegetables including carrots, green onions, mushrooms, bean sprouts, zucchini and topped with shredded seaweed and an egg, served sunny side up. I also received my meal with a big bottle of gochujang, a Korean red chili paste that reminded me of Sriracha, but better. After taking a photo of the dish as it was beautifully displayed with all of the ingredients separated, I mixed everything together and added a good amount of gochujang on top. The variety of flavors and textures from this meal were outstanding. The crunch and saltiness from the seaweed, with the gooey egg yolk, the delicious marinated beef, with the hot rice and variety of vegetable flavors made my taste buds do a happy dance each time I took a bite. I also loved mixing bites from the banchan with my meal. It was more than enough food to fill me up quickly and leave me satisfied.
I am happy to say that my first time experiencing Korean cuisine at Good Fella Korean Bistro was a great success. Though I was only brave enough to try the most popular dishes, I was impressed with how detailed each of our meals were in their own way. I also loved how much of Korean dining is a communal gathering where you not only share each other's company and conversation, but also each other's food. I will definitely be coming back to Good Fella Korean Bistro in the future to try more of their delicious cuisine.
Good Fella Korean Bistro is located at 905 South Neil Street, Champaign, and is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
All photos by Brittany Busboom.