During the lunch hour rush, the place is packed. Look past these people and you’ll see a clean and modern interior with stone veneer walls, small glossy tables, and narrow counters along the wall and the prep area. The space feels like a trendy Korean fast food restaurant, and that’s what I’d call it – the food is even served on those familiar orange trays.
The menu is limited to a handful of appetizers, soups, and entrees; not nearly as many options as you would get at most Korean restaurants. I’m sure the limited menu helps facilitate a speedy lunch that desk jockeys demand. Also, don’t expect a plethora of complimentary banchan (small Korean side dishes) that you normally get at more formal sit down restaurants. There’s no way to eat a speedy lunch if you have ten side dishes. Plus, they wouldn’t fit on the orange tray!
My favorite appetizer, kimbap, was not on the menu. Kimbap is Korean sushi – thinly sliced rolls filled with pickled daikon, spinach, carrots, and egg. Why it’s not on the menu, I don’t know.
My favorite entree, bibimbap, was on the menu. Bibimbap is basically a large bowl of rice with many types of vegetables, meat, and a fried egg on top. This all ends up getting eaten mixed together with kimchi, and kochujang sauce – a spicy, ketchup-like condiment. For $8.50, I ordered the vegetarian bibimbap without an egg, instead of the $9.50 bibimbap with tofu.
The rice bowl came out topped with cabbage, carrots, lettuce, red peppers, seasoned greens, seasoned mushrooms, and shredded nori. Kimchi, kochujang, and seasoned mung bean sprouts were on the side. The vegetables were fresh, but either not seasoned or lightly seasoned. Where were the more exotic fern stems, pickled daikon, and other pickled or fermented vegetables I normally get at Korean restaurants? I felt like Giwa’s bibimbap had been dumbed-down for the masses.
I dumped the kimchi, bean sprouts, and hot sauce in the bowl, then shoveled the rice and vegetable mixture in my mouth. It was “simple, good Korean food,” even if it was not the most authentic bibimbap I’ve ever had. If I could get paid to take a lunch break, I’d be back for my Korean fast food fix.
Giwa, 1608 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, 215-557-9830
Mon.-Fri., 11am-8pm; Sat., 12pm-9:30pm; Sun., closed.