In Yori authentic Korean cuisine takes the stage in Vienna as a veteran proudly looks on.
One of my earliest memories as a child is making special excursions to New York City with my parents, my nose pressed against the window as I drank in all the chicly dressed people, bustling streets, and countless shops and restaurants. But the family agenda was different. Passing by the infinite distractions, we would always arrive at the same destination: the only Korean restaurant in town. The establishment catered to natives only – as enterprising immigrants, Koreans focused more on creating 24-hour delis, which are now prevalent in every borough of the city. The younger me had a tortured relationship with the food of my forebears, which was always served at home and a barrier to the Big Apple’s temptations.
So as an expat adult living in Vienna, I never anticipated the current popularity of Korean cuisine, which is unique, difficult to prepare, full of pungent odors and special, hard-to-find ingredients. I also never expected to feel so nostalgic for something that was anathema to me as a second-generation Korean American child. But sure enough, after becoming the culinary craze of the last decade in New York, especially due to David Chang’s gourmet empire, Momofuku, authentic Korean cuisine has now officially arrived to Vienna: Finally trusting that Austrian palates are ready for straightforward Korean fare, the team behind Akakiko, the popular pan-Asian restaurant chain (another bow to prevailing demands), finally opened the deliciously authentic Yori in late 2015.
COURSES FOR BEGINNERS & EXPERTS
Although its décor is chic and modern, Yori eschews current fusion trends and sticks mainly to traditional Korean dishes – the novelty still holds without any Westernized meddling. I went straight for the classics: a variation of galbi, thinly sliced cuts of beef that you grill right at the table, then wrap in lettuce with soybean paste and rice. Dolsot bibimbap followed – rice arrayed with a colorful mix of slivered beef and vegetables heated in a stone bowl, which you then mix yourself with gochujang (chili paste).
If you want to have the full experience, be sur to request the grill, which is cleverly installed on a portable cart instead of built into the table. The rice of the bibimbap was perfect – slightly charred on the bottom, but easily liberated by a dash of toasted sesame oil, creating a nutty flavor and consistency that went great with the tangy, spicy gochujang.
Traditional Korean cuisine is a proactive, sense- assaulting, cacophonous affair. Everything is served at once, including the requisite banchan, an infinitely variable selection of side dishes that must always include some form of kimchi, fermented pickled spicy cabbage and the sine qua non of Korean meals. Grilling, wrapping, mixing, slurping – passivity is not an option. It was amusing to listen to the courteous young Korean waiters patiently explaining the DIY procedures to the neighboring Western party. Of course, they refrained from doing so with me.
The clientele was a balanced mix of such adventurous first-timers and veteran natives like myself. The difference was striking: While the newcomers enjoyed the novelty, Koreans take their food very seriously. Conversation was minimal, focused eating essential. As the novices fumbled and laughed through their exciting new culinary adventure, I quietly took my journey down memory lane.
That legendary restaurant in New York no longer exists, but as I dutifully instructed my dinner partner on the joys and complexities of authentic Korean dining – which Yori delivers with grace and gusto – my childhood memories transformed themselves into pure and irrevocable nostalgia.
YORI •1., Wiesingerstraße 8 • daily 11:00-16:00 & 18:00-23:00 • 057 333 777 • yori.at