Disclaimer: This post is incomplete and I will add on descriptions to the other dishes along the way– hopefully I can review their full menu in due course
I really do love the area that I stay in, because of all these quaint shops that I get to try and decide if I want to be a frequent patron of. I’ve frequented Ming Jia since it opened in 2007, when I had to scrimp and pull out every penny from every cranny of my house in order to buy food there (allowance was low at the time). Memories involving Ming Jia’s food run deep, especially having had that tide me through OLevels and part-timing there before (more on that later).
What I like about Ming Jia as a whole is that the food isn’t too pricey, and while you do not get the wide array of banchan as you would in other restaurants, the food never fails to be GOOD. I started patronizing the shop since 2007, part-timed there in 2011 and even with the change in owner in 2009 or so, the quality has never faltered.
The store is run by a Korean ahjumma and a few other “aunties” (when I worked there, she said she wouldn’t let me cook. Only aunties could cook – I guess because she believed that only aunties could bring out the taste of real home-cooked food), and is frequented by Koreans who live in the neighbourhood (for some reason this just attests to the authenticity of foods from those countries doesn’t it?)
She has been adding new dishes to the menu the past few years but I NEVER fail to order the usual few:
2. Seafood Pancake
3. Tofu Soup (Spicy)
For the benefit of those of you who judge my food preferences and prefer the other “more Korean” dishes (i.e. the ones seen in variety shows or dramas), I will add on more dishes as I eat them (so that I can furnish the descriptions with pictures) so look forward to this growing post!
Let’s start with the linguistics: bibim means “mixed” and bap means “rice”. Basically, it’s a one-bowl wonder of steamed rice, sautéed vegetables and a fried egg, all mixed up together. In the Korean household, it’s a traditional way of using up day-old rice and leftovers, so if you’re lucky there might be a bit of barbecued beef or tofu thrown in too. It’s served cold in the summer, hot in the winter, but always with a side serving of gochujang – a thick, shiny, deep red chilli paste – to add perkiness. (Source: The Guardian – Bibimbap: The ultimate comfort food)
When I went on a tour to Korea ages ago in 2008, I remembered the tour guide introducing to us this dish as farmer’s/poor people’s food. Apparently when farmers used to toil the fields, they would have this for lunch—rice in a large plastic basin, topped with all the banchan (side dishes) in the fridge, a huge dollop of gochujang (red pepper paste), and the Korean staple, sesame oil—I say this because they always add a few drops to their food and goodness, how it changes the taste!
I could not, for the life of me phantom how such a seemingly thoughtfully constructed dish in the dolsot (hotstone) with all its colors, textures and flavours could be for poor people! But I suppose that this humble bowl has come a long way. Like the hard-working individual that toils in the field for a better life, for money to feed his family, who finally reaps the fruits of his labour only years after, the Bibimbap is recognized as one of Korea’s hallmark dishes and has even been included in shows such as Masterchef Korea Bibimbap: Elimination Challenge (see second half of clip). The Bibimbap has evolved with luxurious variations including ingredients like Abalone, Mussels, Ginseng, and the like.
So after that LONG introduction to this humble dish, here’s my take on Ming Jia’s Bibimbap (about time huh):
The Bibimbap is constructed with a scoop of fluffy short-grained white rice at the base, then topped with five veggies: sautéed shitake mushrooms, blanched and lightly seasoned bean sprouts, carrots and lettuce, dried laver, a dollop of gochujang, and topped with a beautifully fried sunny-side egg that is not over-fried and yolk breaks into a runny mess that binds all the bibimbap ingredients together. It is garnished with a squirt of sesame oil and sesame seeds. The image pictured has a meat included, which you can add on for an additional $2. There’s chicken, beef, or pork to choose from, in fact, you can add on any of the banchan in the store window for additional $$ ($2 for meat, $1 for the rest).
It is served with seaweed soup on the side which usually a dish served during celebrations or to honor the presence of an esteemed guest, but in this case, it’s just a nice addition. I’m not much of a seaweed fan so I always graciously offer this to the fried who accompanies me for the meal. Yes, generous, I know.
What I like about this Bibimbap as compared to any other I have eaten (let’s not compare the dolsots) is that it is unpretentious, simple, tastes clean to the palate, and HEALTHY—a claim which I can safely put out there. I love how all the veggies have their own individual flavor and texture that just blends the dish perfectly and keeps my tastebuds happy and excited. Also, if you decide to have a variety of dishes to share with your friends, this would be a good basic staple, and an excuse to order more.
Price: $7.50 (without additional side dishes)
OVERALL RATING: 8.25/10 (Taste: 4/5; Visual Appeal: 4.5/5; Value: 3.5/5; Gimme-more Factor: 4.5/5)
#2: SEAFOOD PANCAKE
The seafood pancake will titillate your tastebuds the moment it nestles itself onto your tongue. The batter is adequately thick, making it lightly brown and crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. It is savoury, and tastes like a mashed up rosti/potato pancake (no there aren’t any potatoes in it). The vegetables in the pancake include onions, carrots, and chives, as well as bits of seafood like prawns and squid. While they aren’t too generous with the seafood, the taste makes up for it. And for some reason, you can’t leave out the small unassuming saucer of light soy sauce that they serve with it. Each piece of pancake, prior to consumption, must be covered in a few drops of this liquid.
Price: $8.00 (served with light soy sauce for dipping)
Serves: (sharing portion)
OVERALL RATING: 8/10 (Taste: 4/5; Visual Appeal: 4/5; Value: 4/5; Gimme-more Factor: 4/5
#3: TOFU SOUP (SPICY)
By far my favourite dish, but I apologize that I have yet to furnish a photo for this. (it ain’t that pretty)
This soup is always served bubbling, taken straight off the stove, with a bowl of white rice and a choice of side dish. Its bright red and frothy, with loads of protein—tofu, egg, and squid and prawn pieces (less than the pancake has). It tastes seafood-y and definitely contains MSG. I must admit that this dish is an acquired taste. When I had it the first time, I wasn’t sure that I liked it much. But it had a charm (msg charm?) that made me return to making this dish my resident order every time I came back.
Best eaten with the yolk of the egg broken before the heat of the soup cooks it hard, with the rice scooped and dumped directly into the soup bowl.
Price: $8.50 (served with a choice of any non-meatside dish)
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10 (Taste: 4/5 I’m biased!; Visual Appeal: 3/5; Value: 4.5/5; Gimme-more Factor: 3.5/5)
#4: KIMCHI PANCAKE
Presenting an image of a bright red sun, the Kimchi pancake is full of flavor, and crispy on the edges. The beauty of this dish is in the Kimchi, which is well aged and seasoned, homemade by the ahjuma and her sister.
As with every similar dish, there are comparisons made, just like how you’d compare your kid with the cousins or friends. Compared to the Seafood pancake, this one is much thicker, and has the tendency of having slightly more undercooked bits of flour where the kimchi stalks overlap. It isn’t much to fuss about but if I really had to nitpick, that’s be it. Also, you can do without the miraculous light soy sauce for this pancake as the seasoning is salty enough. Any further addition and I’d probably be sued for sending you to the hospital for risk of hypertension. I’m not saying that the dish is bad, in fact it’s really really good and one of the BEST kimchi pancakes I’ve ever eaten in town. But if you aren’t allergic to seafood, I’ll recommend the other.
Price: $9.50 (served with light soy sauce for dipping)
Serves: (sharing portion)
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10 (Taste: 3.5/5; Visual Appeal: 4/5; Value: 4/5; Gimme-more Factor: 3.5/5)
#5: KIMCHI FRIED RICE
Ming Jia’s Kimchi fried rice is delightfully moist, with the right ratio of kimchi to rice, topped with a beautiful sunny side-up egg, roasted laver, and sesame seeds. This dish is fragrant to the core, with each grain of rice coated red by the kimchi juice, showing how much love and care is put into frying such a simple dish.
It looks gorgeous and glistens under the store lighting, a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for the young and old. I have no complaints about this dish, and you’ll probably understand why when you order it yourself.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10 (Taste: 4/5; Visual Appeal: 4.5/5; Value: 3.5/5; Gimme-more Factor: 4/5)
#6: KIMCHI STEW
Boiled with well-aged kimchi, mung bean noodles, tofu, and some pork, this dish is spicy and tangy, and dances circles in your mouth. But the sourness can be too much for some, and I usually order this to share. If anything, this dish screams authenticity and deserves a try if you are a kimchi-lover.
Price: $7.50 (comes with non-meat side dish on your choice)
OVERALL RATING: 7.25/10 (Taste: 3.5/5; Visual Appeal: 3.5/5; Value: 4/5; Gimme-more Factor: 3.5/5)
Everything in your consciousness will scream that this is a waste of money, and trust me, my hands hesitate to pull out money to pay for this dish every time. But I never regret ordering it. It is like the wanton lover that you know will break your heart each time you run into his/her arms, but you decide to anyway, because that time spent together is just worth the pain.
This addictive bowl of instant noodles is unlike anything you can replicate at home. The soup is thick and with bits of broken egg swimming in its spicy-goodness, with noodles that are plump with flavour.
I tried to replicate this dish at home, and the closest I’ve gotten to it is with a packet of Shin Ramyun (the ramyun from Nongshim sold in a Red Packet with a black Chinese Character “辛” on it), a heaped tablespoon of gochujang, and an egg.
Price: $6.50 (with kimchi on the side)
OVERALL RATING: 7.25/10 (Taste: 4/5; Visual Appeal: 3/5; Value: 3/5; Gimme-more Factor: 4.5/5)
#8: JAJANG MYEON
(image not ever coming soon)
I had this dish probably more than 7 years ago when I saw the cool delivery guys on bikes send them around in Korea in almost ANY drama I put on. The whole novelty of mixing it up and eating it intrigued me, especially when consumers ate it with such excitement and sheer pleasure. How could that black mess taste anything like how they conveyed it through the tele?
So in curiousity, my friends and I ordered one to share. It comes with a plate of yellow picked radish (danmuji), which is an absolute necessity, because its acidity cuts through the starchiness of the noodles. When it arrived it was NOTHING like that on the tv. Rather than a bowl of white noodles topped with a thick black bean gravy with carrots, potatoes and onions (the dream impression), we received a bowl of instant noodles with thin, ingredient-less gravy that didn’t need to be mixed at all. It was just CARBS. Nevertheless, it tasted good. But yeah, nothing worth mentioning, hence the image caption, because I haven’t ordered it again for the past 7 years, and never will for the rest of my life—until they do REAL JJM. Sorry guys.
Price: $6.50 (with yellow pickled radish on the side)
OVERALL RATING: 4.25/10 (Taste: 2.5/5; Visual Appeal: 2/5; Value: 2/5; Gimme-more Factor: 2/5)
#10: SPICY BEEF STEW
#11: ODENG STEW
I highly recommend Ming Jia for the value. Good, authentic Korean food, at completely affordable prices.
Ming Jia Korean Food
Bukit Timah Plaza
1 Jalan Anak Bukit B1-07