I complain a lot about going to the same restaurants and eating the same meals (side-eyeing you, pasta) over and over again. But I never do anything about it because I’m not a big fan of drastic change.
But recently, I started thinking about the different Asian restaurants in Lagos that I’d like to visit — Chinese, Japanese, and Thai restaurants. I’d finished writing my list when I remembered that I hadn’t added any Korean restaurants. But I didn’t exactly know any. This made me wonder about the Nigerian K-pop community, how many people in Lagos have visited Korean restaurants and what their experiences were like. I only knew one person, and I decided to reach out to her.
Chidinma Igbokweuche, a writer, producer, director by day and a tech sis at night, is a lover of almost everything Korean. She’s so in love that she’s learning the language and learning about the country from Nigeria, and she’s hoping to go to film school there someday. But for now, she shares how she’s doing her best to experience Korea in Nigeria. One of those experiences was Korean food tourism in Lagos.
As told to Dammy Eneli
I always say that I’m a Korean who got born in Nigeria by mistake. I’ve loved K-dramas since 2009 and in 2018, I fell in love with BTS. I’ve seen several kinds of Korean food in their movies and series, and I’ve always wanted to try them. So, in 2020, when I randomly found a restaurant named Huahan in Ikeja, while Googling, I figured I might as well go and try the food of my real country.
I was ready to go there as soon as possible, despite the fact that I live in Victoria Island and the restaurant is far from my house. On one of the days when I felt I deserved good things, I called my fellow K-drama-obsessed group of friends and we all went to have a taste of the cuisine.
Getting there and falling in love with the ambience
I haven’t been to Korea yet, but from the many movies and series I’ve watched, I know that one of the most common trees in Korea is the cherry blossom. And while the cherry blossom at Huahan is artificial, it does enough to evoke that classic Korean ambience. There are many (many) other artificial plants on the ceilings, walls, and tables popping with bright and muted colours complementing one another. Korean restaurants and stores in Korea are very colourful; they always have many unique pastel colours all over the space and Huahan has exactly that. It’s as close to Korea as possible in Lagos.
The Food that made me feel like I was in a K-drama
In K-drama restaurant scenes, there’s this thing restaurant guests do where they grill meat themselves — an experience I was looking forward to. One of the things I ordered was the meat platter, which I grilled myself. The table my friends and I sat on came with a grill installed in the middle of it (this is how every table at every Korean restaurant is). The waiter brought the raw meat, and I began to grill it. The meat was thinly cut so it didn’t take much time to grill. I used the cooking tongs to move the meat around the grill till it was done. After, I made a lettuce wrap. Lettuce wraps are like tiny meat tacos; they’re made by adding a slice of the grilled beef to a small wrap of lettuce, alongside some garlic, onions and Kimchi. After adding everything, I wrapped up and dug in.
For drinks, I ordered Soju, which is a Korean alcoholic spirit, and it was quite strong. It’s like the Korean version of the Nigerian kai-kai.
The one thing that surprised me was the VAT (Value Added Tax). It was ridiculously high. The VAT was 22% of our total bill, and it dramatically increased our bill. While we were eating our food, we were also thinking about how high your bill was because of the tax.
But of course, I still go there as often as I can because I’m obsessed and I’ll always take any chance to eat Korean food. After all, better food, na money kill am. I went there for my birthday in 2021 and I also went there last month. This is a place that takes me as close to Korea as much as possible, so until I finally go to my true country, they can collect all my money.