I never in a million years thought I would review Korean food in Aalen that was prepared in a restaurant. Make that a trillion years. But here I am, writing about Korean food that we ate last Saturday in the newly opened “Lotus” restaurant in Wasseralfingen. Apparently, this restaurant has changed ownership a number of times in the last few years. It was originally a traditional German restaurant called Krone but was more recently owned by a Kurdish family that ran a Turkish restaurant. I happened to drive by last week and I incorrectly assumed that it was the Chinese restaurant owned by a Taiwanese family in Aalen that persisted in being called Beim Hecht, referring to where it was located, even though it was really called Lotus. That restaurant closed more than three years ago and I thought maybe they relocated and reopened.
Nope. This newly opened Lotus restaurant is owned by a Vietnamese family. If I wasn’t writing a blog about Korean food in Germany, I would have only ordered Vietnamese food there. But, I sacrificed my order and my children’s in order to sample the Korean offerings on the menu.
Lotus offers mostly Vietnamese but also Thai, Korean and some Chinese dishes on their menu. My husband and I have a strong opinion about large menus in Asian restaurants. Don’t do it! I’ve written a bit about this on the German Way blog when I reviewed one of the three Korean restaurants in Leipzig. This post is about the worst of the three as far as I could tell. Do you know why? Because they had a very long menu and not a single dish seemed to be worthy of serving in a proper Korean restaurant. The problem with this concept is that the restaurant is spread too thin, trying to prepare too many different dishes and not serving anything that is worthy of its name (i.e. unauthentic). Unfortunately, the results are downright awful to anyone who knows anything about how the dish is supposed to taste like. Diners who don’t know get the wrong impression that, for example, Koreans eat a lot of duck or that Asian food is really salty. This was sadly proven true at Lotus. The miyeok-guk (seaweed soup) which I ordered for my kids is offered as an appetizer. We had the choice of ordering it with tofu or beef. Beef is the traditional choice and while yes seafood is an alternative as I’ve posted before, I haven’t seen tofu before. The soup was really salty and the seaweed was a strange crumbly consistency. It almost resembled gim that was being passed off as mi-yeok. We ordered rice for the kids to put in the soup, which offset the saltiness somewhat, but we had to pay extra. At least the bowl of rice was large and equivalent to two portions.
We had also ordered kimbap (rice with meat and vegetables rolled in seaweed sheets)as requested by one child. They didn’t have it. Which brings us back to the question of why try to offer a comprehensive menu when you can’t fulfill it. We ended up ordering her Cha Gio or spring rolls, the alternative which they suggested as a Vietnamese equivalent. These were decent, but also a bit too salty.
I ordered the “Korean” tilapia in a spicy sauce. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be, but I was assuming that it would be like Agujjim, monk fish steamed under a bed of soybean sprouts and crushed red chili flakes. This is a dish which is one of my mother’s specialties. As I write that description, I know that it was wishful thinking when I ordered the dish and hoped to get anything resembling what I had imagined. I received pieces of dark brown fish, but it was so salty that I couldn’t eat more than two bites. The fish was brown from so much soy sauce. There was also no vegetable accompanying what we had ordered, but at the same time there was no banchan served with the dish, thus proving my point again that this concept of trying to serve as many different dishes as possible without getting them all right is fundamentally flawed.
My husband ordered bun thit nuong, which we used to order frequently at Vietnamese restaurants on Mira Mesa Boulevard in San Diego. I thought it was pretty good – especially compared to their Korean dishes. My husband said it was OK, but still too salty. We of course asked if they had pho, the traditional noodle soup dish in an enormous bowl of beef broth with slices of cooked beef. Unfortunately, they only served it at lunch time.
This led us to think about the ideal Asian restaurant concept for Germany which was to focus on a small handful of easy dishes. Pho is a good examples of these. You need to master a proper beef broth and get fresh, real ingredients. The beauty, especially with pho, is that the customer can regulate how he or she eats and seasons it: selecting the preferred cuts of meat, adding in the preferred amount of mint or Thai basil or coriander leaves, and putting in spicy Sriracha sauce or not. With bu thit nuong, the same rice vermicelli noodles used in pho are served with barbecue pork and chopped spring rolls. You poor a fresh sweet and spicy sauce and mix everything together. You can choose other meats instead of pork or spring rolls and you can put as little or as much of the sauce as you want. Serving the dishes is pretty straightforward and the turnaround could be speedy, easily accommodating more service than a normal restaurant.
A focused and small menu allows for the proper introduction and preparation of really lovely Asian food, which is often not available in this part of the world. Germans are more and more open and enthusiastic about Asian dishes and their spice tolerance has gone up accordingly. At the same time, especially here in the southwest, the expectation of good quality ingredients is remain. So while the potential market is there, I see no reason to trade off on the quality. I would be grateful to have a menu with no Korean dishes and instead have one a quarter of the existing one at Lotus for the best pho or bu thit nuong this side of the Atlantic. Lotus is now just over a week old so we’re hoping that they figure out which dishes their kitchen produces best and stick to these.