We could almost say that Nangam is a hidden away eatery in Sunnybank, but it is just across from the Sunnybank train station, so that description is not quite accurate. Still, if you head there in the evening for dinner, you will understand what we mean as you peer along the barely lighted residential street to pick it out.
The little standalone building houses just it, and another Korean eatery, Ye Dang (post on that yet to come). On a weekend dinnertime, the clusters of people standing outside waiting for a table at either of these venues may be a helpful location marker, as you are unlikely to see the unlighted signs in the dark.
Korean food has become better known and more popular in recent years, particularly items like Korean fried chicken (the other KFC), bulgogi, and bibimbap. There is, however, an even wider range of cuisine beyond that, and Nangam specialises in something we have not found at other Korean restaurants in Brisbane, jokbal.
The eatery is a compact space, with room for only about eight tables. It is quite simply done up, with a somewhat raw, industrial feel. The deep grey walls and ceiling and the concrete floors make it all quite dark. Bare bulbs hang down from the ceiling, providing a low, warm light. Continuing the industrial styling, wooden shelves with trinkets on one wall are connected by metal pipes that may or may not work (the staff probably won’t appreciate you testing them). Pastel coloured strips of cloth serve as a curtain that divides the kitchen from the dining area. You do, however, get glimpses of the staff hard at work. Speakers played laidback jazz, then hip hop, at not too intrusive a volume.
The menu is printed on a one side of a single laminated sheet. As mentioned, Nangam specialises in jokbal, or braised pig’s trotters, so there are a few variants of that. They also have braised pork belly, and chicken feet. You can also get combinations of the meats in sets, or a limited variety of hot pots. Unfortunately, you won’t find Korean fried chicken here.
Wanting some variety, but not wanting to over-order, we opted for the half and half set, picking the bul jokbal and bossam as the components. They also have a couple set that offers jokbal and options of different chicken feet, but we were really there for the pig’s trotters. (We couldn’t read the other set menu options beyond that as they were in untranslated Korean.)
A bowl of fresh green leaves and a partitioned tray of sauces were brought to the table. In those compartments were sliced chilli and garlic, a fruity and spicy sauce, a salted shrimp sauce with lots of tiny dried shrimps floating in it, and a dark sweet sauce. We were also given black melamine bowls and the traditional flat metal chopsticks.
The Bul jokbal part of the set was brought out first. The pieces of grilled pork hock were heaped on the plate and topped with melted cheese. Accompanying them on the dish were shoestring fries, a fried egg, and a slaw of shredded cabbage.
The meat was tender, and covered in a marinade that was smoky, salty, and sweet. It also had a deceptive heat to it that seemed almost mild, but built up as you kept eating, and became quite fiery. The meat was served in pieces that amounted to a few bites each. While not exactly dainty to eat, they were easy enough to manage with chopsticks and spoon. Some sections of bone served with it reminded you that you were eating solid cuts of meat. The cheese melted over it had good stretch.
The shoestring fries were crisp and well seasoned. The slaw was covered with a zesty, fruity, creamy dressing. It was fresh and cool, and countered the heat of the spicy pork hock.
The bossam was served in thin slices on a separate plate, with batons of radish kimchi, and pieces of just-braised cabbage leaves.
The bossam, braised pork belly meat, was more mildly flavoured than the bul jokbal. This was all about the texture. There was the gummy, chewy surface layer of skin, then the jelly-like fat layer, and the tender meat. It didn’t taste gamey. After eating the punchy bul jokbal though, it was hard to actually discern what flavours the jokbal on its own carried, as our tastebuds were still buzzing. The sauces that had been brought out earlier imparted their own flavours to it.
The bossam could either be eaten on its own, after a slick of sauce (or a combination of them), or layered with one of the pieces of radish kimchi and wrapped in a cabbage leaf. The crunchy radish kimchi delivered salty, pungent umami notes, with a little heat. The braised cabbage leaves also had a juicy crunch, providing a textural contrast to the soft pork belly. Alternatively, either of the jokbal meats could be wrapped in the uncooked leaves and eaten with those. They will provide you with more leaves if you run out.
When we went another time, they had run out of bossam, so we had the bul jokbal and the proper jokbal instead. The jokbal is the pork trotter, but it was sliced up, rather than the chunks the bul jokbal was in, so texturally different. It was a tender braised meat which had a little more savoury flavour than the bossam. With the jokbal and bul jokbal on the same plate, it was interesting to see how differently the same cut of meat could turn out.
Nangam is an unassuming little gem of a place to go for delicious Korean food that is a bit different from what you get elsewhere. One can see why you really need to go to a place that is dedicated to preparing the pork trotters to have them done well. This clearly is not a destination for vegetarians, and a big group of people might be hard to squeeze in, but if neither of those is the case, then this is worth tracking down. Note though, that they are only open in the evenings on weekdays, so lunch then is not an option. They are open from noon on the weekends though.
Price point: Half and half set $44. You get a lot of food for that. It will feed two hungry people with leftovers.
Value: Very good.
Address: 43A Dixon Street, Sunnybank
Phone: 07 3705 2117
Website: They don’t seem to have one yet..