April is not, in fact, the cruellest month, that honour must go to joyless January. A bleak, penurious and hopeless expanse that we measure in minutes rather than days. So, rather than squatting amidst the debris of your ineluctably broken resolutions you might consider pulling yourself together and availing of some soul-bolstering cheap eats in an Asian supermarket. It’s a relatively new wrinkle in Dublin and one that I very much approve of, even if it means crossing the river. All menu items sampled are priced between six and nine euros, some are worth more, some less.
We begin with the Northside outpost of Oriental Emporium, located right by the Jervis St Luas stop. This is no frills dining, frills were never considered. Staff who dreamt of frills woke up and apologised. We eat from take-out containers. Sticks are provided, along with plastic ‘cutlery’ for round-eyed goofballs. This place has only 12 seats and they give you 45 minutes to eat. There are three sections to choose from, Chinese barbecue and hot and cold counters. The cold counter should please the hard core sinophiles – pork tongue, Sichuan spiced tripe, tendons, gizzards, boiled chicken’s feet. An interesting looking seaweed salad. We were too cold to even consider these options. You should certainly consider the barbecue. Seven bucks buys you a mix of chopped duck and pork belly (with killer crackling) served over rice and Pak choi. It could feed two and it’s textbook. Ditto a stew of beef slow cooked with cumin and chilli.
Next up is Han Sung Oriental Market. This is ostensibly a Korean joint, although some forays are made into Chinese territory. This one boasts about 40 covers. We ladle out steaming bowls of miso from the self-serve cauldron and I’m feeling good. Kimchi-fried rice is an exemplar of the dish. This is a mountain of hyper-savoury grains, shot through with shredded pork and fired up with superb Kimchi. A fried egg blankets the summit. Sea-food Noodle is similarly vast – a turbid ocean of miso-based broth that has been married with a fish stock of impressive power. Although the Udon noodles are too soft I lose myself in its murky depths as I go fish for fat mussels and taut little shrimp. I’ll revisit this as a john does a hooker. Yukgae Jang, a traditional beef hotpot rounds out the order. It’s hot and sour and incendiary with Gochujang.
We conclude our sweep with a visit to The Brothers Dosirak, at the back of Super Asia Foods on Capel St. I saved this one until last because the joint already has something of a following and I was anticipating something special. I’m tired of hearing the words hidden gem from people who have no business posting their thoughts about food and I should know better than to ever anticipate anything special. It’s a pleasant enough space with room for about eighteen hungry souls and even features some notional branding. We choose to sit at the counter to watch the food being put together and immediately notice the plastic catering jars of garlic and onion powder littering the work surfaces like indictments or warning signs. I decide to pretend that I haven’t seen them. I have though. The best thing I can say about their free egg soup is that it’s hot and free.
We also order Chopped noodle with mussels to see how it stacks up against that bowl from Han Seng. The answer is not so well. I enjoy watching the chef flaming off the shiny, clattering bivalves in the wok but the pleasure diminishes from this point. A very generous mound of mussels (from the excellent in-store wet counter) sits atop a mush of noodles surrounded by a yellowish broth. The broth displays none of the complexity of the former dish, principally because it tastes like seawater. There are Dead Sea levels of salinity going on here. I shotgun a (smuggled-in) beer to stave off desiccation. Spicy wings were only one of those things. Also, don’t sit at the stool nearest the store proper. The left hand side of my body was practically paralysed by the George Raft. I emerged from the place like a stroke victim. Finally – I would like to extend hearty New Year’s wishes to my many readers. You know who you are. You may well even know one another. May we all live to see the Spring.
Words: Conor Stevens
Photos: Killian Broderick
Oriental Emporium – 30/32 Upper Abbey St, Dublin 1
Han Sung Asian Market – 22 Great Strand St, Dublin 1
The Brothers Dosirak @ Super Asia Foods, 27 Capel St, Dublin 1.