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Honke Ponga: Korea’s healthy answer to ‘yakiniku’

by

Special To The Japan Times

Can anything be more enjoyable than sitting around a shichirin (traditional charcoal burner) and cooking your own dinner — especially in the coldest season? Honke Ponga, a friendly South Korean grill just steps away from Meguro Station, does its best to answer that in the affirmative by adding a light, healthy quotient to the yakiniku barbecue experience.

The core of the menu is made up of an extensive selection of beef and pork cuts, several of them rarely found in standard yakiniku restaurants. But Ponga also prides itself on a wider-than-usual selection of vegetable dishes on its menu. You can order a platter featuring 15 types of sangchu lettuce for wrapping around your grilled meat. It also offers salads alongside the classic namul (vegetables dressed with fragrant sesame oil) and spicy kimchi pickles.

Unreconstructed old-school yakiniku fans are unlikely to be impressed by the spacious, light and almost totally smoke-free premises. But Ponga’s target demographic lies elsewhere. On any given evening, the majority of the seats along the counter by the open kitchen are likely to be occupied by solo diners, many of them women picking delicately at their bibimbap rice or chilled reimen noodles. But the chefs, all from South Korea, can whip up plenty of heartier fare as well, such as gomguk (beef-bone broth) or fiery jjigae stews of seafood and tofu.