It was about June of last year that I began to feel home-sick for Korea. I’d been back in Australia for about eight months and while my life was the best it had ever been, I found myself missing a bit of my old life as a teacher and general layabout in South Korea. I missed the cheapness of Poju (powerade + soju), missed the convenience of galbi (Korean BBQ), and the wild nights that I spent with my friends back in Gwangju.
Having spotted a Korean BBQ restaurant on Liverpool Street during one of my many Shark Bar forays, I organized to meet my house-mate Grant one evening for a bit of a man-date. Dinner and a movie. I believe it was Inception. But if I’d been expecting 4000 won ($4) galbi and 1000 won ($1) soju, I was sadly mistaken. And while BBQ City (116-120 Liverpool Street) did look, smell, and taste exactly as I’d remembered it – the dent in my wallet was substantially higher. Still, it was fun to bust out a bit of my limited Korean and shock the staff by requesting more gochu (spicy pepper) and kimchi.
While Sydney’s Chinatown district is quite well known, most probably aren’t aware of Sydney’s growing Korean subculture. Liverpool Street and its surrounds are littered with Korean and Korean fusion restaurants; Korean markets selling everything from samjjang (mild bean paste) to Hi Chew to Pocari Sweat to milkshake in a bag; and even a few noraebangs (Korean singing rooms). It’s not quite the same as bouncing from a Ministop to the German Bar to one of hundreds of seedy noraes in the back alleys of Gwangju or Busan – but it’s still a nice little slice of ‘home’ on the far side of the world.
BBQ City used to boast a very good noraebang (Live Karaoke was the name) above it, but I’ve since had to find alternatives. Around the corner (above Hungry Jacks) is Sydney Karaoke – which sells $20 bottles of soju, provides free snacks in true Korean style, and is always super busy on a Friday night. I have developed the embarrassing habit of striking up conversation (in broken Korean) with just about every Korean I see in the place. And the occasional Japanese person.
Chatswood on the north shore also boasts a healthy Korean population and there’s a rather well reviewed Korean restaurant by the name of Soban in Chatswood Westfield that I’ve always intended to try. There’s also a liberal spattering of Korean BBQ joints all around Town Hall station in the very heart of the city. Noraebang/karaoke wise – the best reviewed places in Sydney include the seedy Ding Dong Dang in Surry Hills, Echo Point on Pitt Street, Mizuya (expensive as hell, but very flashy) on George Street, and Strike Bowling Bar in Darling Harbour. Strike and Mizuya aren’t at all Korean, but do boast pretty fantastic facilities.
If you’re reading this and wondering what the hell noraebang is, here’s the low down. It’s karaoke in a smaller, private room. You’ve got a TV, some microphones, a selection of (mostly Korean) songs mixed in with a bunch of chart toppers, and some fancier things such as disco balls if you’re lucky. The mikes are extra echoey – which means the bad singings sound better and the good singers sound a little worse. It can be a tad frustrating if you’re a Prima Donna. But when you’re three sheets to the wind and want nothing more than to lewdly gyrate to Electric Six while shoveling unrecognizable Korean snack food into your mouth – you won’t much care that nobody can fully appreciate the haunting beauty of your rendition of Mariah Carey’s ‘Heartbreaker’.
So while you might not have flown halfway around the world to visit Sydney and experience Korean culture, it’s sometimes a nice reprieve from dimly lit night clubs and big screen TVs showing the latest AFL or NRL to just kick back and embrace a small slice of Australia’s multicultural style. After all, a Korean Australian is every bit as Aussie as the thong wearing beach bums or the moleskin sporting farmer’s sons.