▲The new Bangkok Express in Jeju City - Photo by Jenie Hahn
As the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears shows, not everything is to everybody’s tastes.
Take Thai food for example. This international cuisine is beloved by many diners - unfortunately, Jeju seems to have been an exception.
While the island boasts an array of fantastic local dishes, it has, in my opinion, been sluggish in catering to an increasingly growing demand for cosmopolitan food.
I have commiserated with fellow food connoisseurs over the availability of authentic Thai cuisine.
Unlike Goldilocks, who eventually found exactly what she wanted, it was either too localized or too expensive - never just right.
I was therefore excited when I stumbled upon a sign that advertised the opening of a new Thai restaurant in Ido-2 Dong, Jeju City.
When I finally went there sometime after it opened I was surprised to find no other diners inside. As their only customer, I soon became friendly with the restaurant owners, a couple from the mainland.
▲ Inside of the restaurant - Photo by Jenie Hahn
They came to Jeju hoping for a slower pace of life and settled in Seogwipo where they opened a bakery. The husband Lee Sung-woo had been a baker for nine years.
The business wasn’t as successful as hoped and that’s when they decided to carry out market research in Jeju for something a little more unique.
They did the legwork by going to the existing Thai restaurants in Jeju and trying the various dishes.
After much deliberation, they opened May 4, 2016, with the help of their friend who had launched the Bangkok Express franchise in the trendy neighborhood of Hongik University in Seoul.
▲Lee Sung-woo, the owner of the restaurant - Photo by Jenie Hahn
The restaurant unfortunately had a bad start because on the first day it opened, a huge typhoon struck Jeju. This meant food supplies from Seoul couldn't make it to the island due to flight delays and cancellations.
Differing cultural expectations have brought another obstacle, with some local customers demanding kimchi in their restaurant.
Lee Hye-hyung, the wife, told me the turning point was when I ordered the much anticipated tom yam koong soup and proclaimed I was ‘in bliss’. I hadn’t eaten Thai food for a long while, but it was certainly more authentic compared to any I had in Jeju before.
She said it was a testament that they had made the right decision to open the restaurant and that they could make the people happy with their Thai style food.
Word has gotten around and it’s now really hard to find empty tables for both the lunch and dinner hours. In fact, they have gotten so busy now that Mr. Lee has told me that they decided to close shop between 3pm to 5pm to take a much needed break.
I’m a regular diner and often I find myself having to make reservations before I visit, but the service is still unfailingly impeccable.
The food may be slightly less flavorful than what die-hard Thai aficionados want - I certainly could do more with cilantro. But the prices are reasonable and I am pleased there is now an affordable and pleasant Thai alternative available within the Jeju City vicinity.
My favorite dish is the tom yung koong served in a single portion (rice is optional) but I also favor the green curry and the phad Thai. Meanwhile, the pineapple rice seems to be popular among Jejuites.
▲Tom Yung Koong - Photo by Kim Tae-hyun
▲Pineapple Rice - Photo by Kim Tae-hyun
As for beverages, The Thai Singha beer seems to have hit the spot for a friend of mine while I am very partial to the exotic Thai tea selection.
The bottomline is, I urge you try everything on the menu and like Goldilocks, eventually find something that suits your palate perfectly.
Everyone I have taken there so far has been happily satiated.
Perhaps there might be a fairy tale ending for the new Thai restaurant on the block after all.
Bangkok Express is open Mon-Sun 11.30am-10pm. Closed for break-time on weekdays only from 3pm-5pm. Phone: (064)900-0225
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