▲ Left, strawberry and mango lassi, a yoghurt-based drink. At right, a Rajmahal salad. Photos by Tracie Barrett
As Jeju Island attempts to become more international by catering to foreign visitors, one benchmark is the number of different cuisines available. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough choices to satisfy my eclectic palate, so I’m always pleased to see another restaurant offering something beyond the usual options of Korean, generic Western (usually with an American flavor) or the often misjudged fusion of the two. Learning of a second Indian restaurant in Jeju City was of particular interest to me as, although no expert on the regional variations, I love the spices, aromas and flavors of Indian food.
Rajmahal owner B.J. Kamal hails from Nepal, but his chef is from India and offers a huge choice of dishes on the menu. I quickly counted 16 different curries and a dozen hot and spicy offerings, plus tandoori and biryani dishes.
The restaurant opened in June 2009, although Kamal has been in Korea for four years and previously owned a Japanese restaurant. He met his Korean wife when they were both studying in Japan and she is often also in the restaurant with their 2-month-old baby, the younger of two children the couple has. The venture is obviously a family affair and the warm welcome and attentive service Kamal gives both regular and new customers makes one feel almost part of the family.
Rajmahal serves lunch and dinner seven days a week and is open from 11:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. For those wanting a quick, healthy selection at a great price, the restaurant offers a lunch special of salad, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Curry, Dal Makhani (creamed lentils), Nan, rice and dessert between 11:30 and 3 each day for only 15,000 won. Kamal said almost half of his customers are foreigners, a healthy percentage when one considers how few there are on the island. The restaurant itself has an elegant yet comfortable ethnic feel with walls hung with richly embroidered tapestries. Situated on the second floor above a main street of Sin Jeju, the cozy window alcove seating appears most popular with customers as it allows them to watch the passing parade of pedestrians while sinking into the cushioned seating.
My friend and I began with a lassi each – the refreshing yoghurt-based drink popular in India and Pakistan. I preferred the slight tartness of the strawberry flavor while Ji Su liked the sweetness of the mango, but both were ideal complements for the spicy dishes that followed. We started our meal with a salad comprising of fresh greens, thin slivers of onions, tomatoes and homemade cheese in a tasty tomato-vinaigrette dressing.
We followed this with Lamb Sag – boneless lamb with spinach, herbs and Indian spices – and Prawn Curry, accompanied by Basmati rice and Garlic nan. The tender cubes of lamb came in a flavorsome sauce that had an unexpected spicy kick mellowed a little by the spinach. The Prawn Curry had a rich, creamy sauce that verged on being too sweet for my taste but which Ji Su loved. I was fortunate that other friends were also dining while I was there and I sampled the Butter Chicken they had ordered, which had a velvety richness that tasted almost sinful.
When speaking with Kamal prior to our meal, I asked why chutneys and pickles – accompaniments I consider an integral part of an Indian meal – were not on his menu nor available at most Indian restaurants I have been to in Korea. He said that Koreans find Indian chutneys too salty and too sour, a comment that surprised me in a country where two popular fast food choices are fried chicken served with a dish of salt and pepper and pizza accompanied by pickles. I think he said that chutneys were available at Rajmahal but on that and subsequent visits, I’ve been so overwhelmed by the food when it arrived that I’ve forgotten to ask for any.
Rajmahal offers a wide range of vegetarian options, some featuring the restaurant’s homemade cheese, and has such a comprehensive menu it would take many visits to sample it all. Beer, wine and cocktails are also available, with the impressive selection of wines on the list changed regularly.
I have returned to Rajmahal a number of times since my first visit and am very happy to find another Indian restaurant bringing more variety to the food choices on the island. Now if we could just get a few more options, Jeju might seem more truly international.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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