▲ Bagdad Cafe’s warm and welcoming staff and delicious food make for a great meal out. Photos by Yasmin Aboelsaud
Steps away from Bagdad Cafe and the smell had already reached my growling stomach. I walked into the dim restaurant to the sound of jazz playing and the aroma of Indian spices. It may not sound typical of Jeju, but to many locals and foreigners, Bagdad Cafe is the ideal getaway for an authentic Indian meal.
Tucked in the back streets of Jeju’s bustling City Hall district, Bagdad, as it’s called by regulars, can be spotted by its unconventional exterior design on the street level of a small building. Inside, the restaurant’s cozy setup is pleasantly inviting.
The distinctive interior is part of Bagdad’s ambience, and something owner Hyun Ju Ryoung is proud of. But the comfortable design is only one part of Bagdad’s story. The food is definitely the main attraction here, with the authentic cuisine freshly prepared by Indian cooks. Bagdad uses locally raised chicken, purchased daily. It is also, Hyun said, the only Jeju restaurant offering Halal chicken, from the mainland, for Muslims visiting or residing on the island.
Although born and raised in Korea, Hyun’s passion for traveling took her to more than 20 countries, where she was introduced to different curry dishes. Her love of good curry was her inspiration to open the restaurant. With the help of business partner Maharjan Sarbagya, who traveled to India seeking the best curry chefs, Bagdad opened its doors four years ago.
Since Bagdad is a meeting place for many special occasions, I invited Nalae, a Korean friend, for her birthday lunch. We sat at the rear of the restaurant, where pillows warm the chairs and benches. Blankets are also provided during winter for additional comfort and coziness.
Samosas were our appetizer of choice as, for 3,000 won, you can’t go wrong. There were two spicy deep fried vegetable-filled treats per serving, with a side of sauce for additional spice. We followed with Chicken Tangri Kabab, which at 15,000 won may be severely overpriced for four chicken drumsticks, but the marinade of cheese, cream and mild spices was a treat. Each piece is cooked slowly over charcoal, and the ends wrapped in aluminum foil to keep your fingers clean. As we shared the chicken, which is served with a cabbage-onion-spiced salad, our Palak Panneer arrived with garlic naan.
The spinach-based curry was a delight, especially when we sopped up the sauce with naan. Hidden in the mild sauce were chunks of fresh cottage cheese, making it a vegetarian favorite for 10,000 won: the average price of Bagdad’s dishes. Cooked in imported tandoor ovens, the naan flatbread feels, looks, and tastes like India’s staple food. The ovens are also used for the Barbeque Tandoori Chicken, which is marinated overnight in traditional Indian spices then barbequed. It is one of Bagdad’s most popular meals to share.
After finishing our food, we tried a Mango Lassi and a Chai. Lassi is the second most popular drink in India, especially during the heat of summer. It is a yogurt shake, mixed with ice cubes, sugar and water. While most lassi are frothy and rich, Bagdad’s lacked body. The most popular drink in India is chai tea, which was a pleasant surprise at Bagdad. An infusion of spiced tea, milk and sugar, this was exactly what we needed after a delectable lunch. Both were 4,000 won, but I’d take the chai over the lassi any day.
Along with its mouthwatering curry choices, Bagdad serves a range of alcoholic beverages, including a house wine at 5,000 won a glass. The red wine selection includes Australia’s Yellow Tail at 35,000 won a bottle, and Italy’s Danzante Sangiovese at 48,000 won. The most expensive tipple on the menu is an 110,000 won Chablis Premiere Cru/La Chabisienne from France. The beer selection offers bottled Cass at 4,000 won, or Guinness at a pricy 10,000 won. Cocktails are available for 7,000 won.
I am half Egyptian and was surprised to find that Bagdad offers shisha pipes for 15,000 won. Flavors differ, but the range is mostly floral or fruit tobacco. Bagdad’s atmosphere is perfect for a drink and shisha session.
Speaking English and Korean, the staff were very attentive, and our food was served in a timely manner. During our hour and a half lunch, my water glass was constantly refilled without my having to ask.
Day or night, Bagdad’s delicious, delightful dishes make for a delightful dining getaway in a relaxed setting.
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