The South Korean chef shares with us the comforting meals he enjoys when he's back in his home country

Louis Han's culinary career has taken him all over the world—from working as a military chef at the United Nations Peacekeeping force in Lebanon to serving up fine Italian cuisine at Circo in Abu Dhabi. In 2016, Han moved to Singapore to join Meta as its sous chef before moving to the now-shuttered Kimme as its head chef. 

Currently, Han is the head chef and founder of Naeum, where he serves up contemporary Seoul cuisine that draws inspiration from his South Korean heritage and his multi-cultural experience working in various parts of the globe. He embraces this mix of influences to craft innovative dishes that are new, yet familiar.

While he's busy serving up his own brand of cuisine on the island, he longs to visit his family in South Korea once the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) opens up on November 14. Of course, his itinerary will include dining at his favourite eateries in Seoul. Here are some of them:

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When was your last trip to Korea? How did you spend your holiday there?

Louis Han (LH) I flew to South Korea in April 2020, a week before the circuit breaker was implemented. I had been away from home for around six years since I came to Singapore, so it was really good to spend time with my family and friends again.

While I was there, I took the time to re-discover my roots and gain new inspirations. I worked at Mosu to learn from chef Sung Anh and update myself on Seoul's vibrant F&B scene. I also tried my hands at pottery and tended to a small home farm. Although I was unable to travel overseas then, I enjoyed nature by hiking near my home and going on road trips to the East Sea.

What do you miss most on the food/drink front when you are away from home or haven’t been back for a while?

LH I miss eating and drinking with my friends—soju with ssamgyeopsal (pork belly); beer with Korean fried chicken; and makgeolli with pajeon (scallion pancakes). These drinking scenes are very different and unique to South Korea. I also miss camping with my friends, cooking barbecued meats, and drinking wine or soju while surrounded by nature.

If you have visitors/guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Korea?

LH I often take them to the barbecue street in Gangnam. It is an alley lined with a variety of Korean barbecue and pork belly restaurants, and the appetising aroma of meats being grilled constantly fills the air. Even in winter, you can enjoy grilled pork belly outdoors, but under a heated tent restaurants set up.

I also make them try Sandeulhae. It is an affordable hansik (traditional) restaurant that you can find at a few different locations in Seoul. They literally serve each table over 30 different kinds of authentic Korean dishes—most are refillable. Because it is value-for-money, there is usually a queue of ajummas (middle-aged women) during peak hours. But don't worry, Koreans eat very fast.

What are your favourite heritage dishes and where are some of the places you go to find them?

LH My favourite dish is haejangguk. It means 'hangover soup' in English, although you don't have to be hungover to enjoy it. It is my soul food, and my favourite restaurant that serves this dish is Cheongjin-dong Haejangguk.

What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?

LH My grandmother's cooking at her house. Her galbi jjim (stewed ribs) is my favourite dish, so she always prepares it whenever she is expecting me.

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Do you have a favourite restaurant in the Korea? For fine dining and for more casual experiences?

LH Mosu for fine-dining; in my opinion, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant is the best modern dining concept in Korea. Chef Anh first opened Mosu in San Francisco and took the concept to Korea when he decided to move back.

Having had the opportunity of learning from chef Anh, I’ve witnessed his way of looking at an ingredient and then bringing out its nuances through varied and precise cooking techniques. Dining at his restaurant is truly a memorable experience.

For something casual, Gimbap Cheonguk (Kimbap Heaven) serves many types of Korean food at an affordable price.

Is there anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?

LH Yetnal Nongjang. It's the Korean barbecue restaurant we always book for family dinners. My grandmother has many friends, and sometimes, they will join us as well.

What do you always take back to Singapore with you when you leave Korea?

LH My grandmother's kimchi!

Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home in where you live (Singapore)?

LH I've been frequenting Hyangyeon and Go-K BBQ. Most recently, Sura is also gaining popularity with the Korean community in Singapore.

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