I’m a massive fan of the food scene in Birmingham, but there are still so many places I have yet to visit. I hear about all the openings, I read other people’s reviews, but there are literally tonnes of places that have slipped through the cracks and I’m completely unaware of, let alone having visited.
Luckily, there are plenty of people far more in the know than me, including the lovely Laura Creaven, whose blog Full to the Brum is exactly what people like me need to discover all the places in Birmingham that we might not otherwise hear about. So on one of our rare catch-up dates, she took me to Modu, a Korean restaurant claimed by many to be the best in Brum and tucked away beyond Southside and far away from the glitzy lights of the Bullring and Grand Central.
Modu is a simple affair and we sat on utilitarian furniture in the tiny front room of the restaurant with just a small counter separating us from efficient kitchen where the magic happens.
I’ve got to confess, I haven’t eaten at a Korean restaurant before, but I was fairly sure I’d like it. And Laura is a chicken wing aficionado so we were definitely in the right place for her. The great thing about going out with another food blogger is they do the same things I do. That’s the stuff that my friends and family tolerate, but find slightly annoying. Ordering ALL the food, waiting before touching it while photos are taken, asking embarrassing questions of the staff over exactly how it was made.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my nearest and dearest and the patience they have with me for my little blog, but I’ve written before about the relief you feel as a food blogger when you’re surrounded by other people with all the same little habits and idiosyncracies that you have.
With that in mind, a quick perusal of the menu and there was no question that we would order a four-course banquet. Priced at only £15 a head (yes, you heard it, 15 quid for four courses!) to try all sorts of things we may have never had, we’d have been fools to do anything else.
As we settled in for a lengthy catch-up over some food treats, we started off with a light pretty little salad that was slightly reminiscent of a prawn cocktail, though far more delicate. I may be wrong, but I’m not actually sure this was on the menu. Either way, it was a rather refreshing start to the meal.
Next up were seafood dumplings with soy sauce. Delicate little parcels that looked a bit like miniature Cornish pasties, yet far lighter and filled with finely diced seafood. I love food like this, perfect for sharing over a social evening out together, and small enough to enjoy a few tastes without getting full up before the main event.
Following this came a dish of JapChe, which are apparently sweet potato noodles. Glass-like, they made for a pretty pile with delicate slices of sweet peppers exactly the same width as them mixed in and all topped off with some sesame seeds. It came served with a small bowl of Kimchi – a traditional Korean side dish of vegetables and seasoning.
Next up was the eagerly-awaited fried chicken, or Mr Jjang as the dish was described on the menu. Now, I’ve never had Korean fried chicken before. I know I love fried chicken in general (yes, you can read ‘KFC’ there, along with several other less well-known purveyors of said greasy snack), so I was fairly sure I’d like it but I wasn’t great prepared for how different this could be.
Crispy, sticky outsides covered in crunchy sesame seeds. Tender inside. And not a hint of grease either in or out. In fact, they almost tasted dry. The whole thing was a lovely mix of savoury and sweet thanks to the sticky coating. And again, not too big a portion although I could clearly have devoured a whole Bargain Bucket of these.
We probably could have left it there (well, maybe with a few more wings thrown in) but there was plenty more. This course was described simply as ‘rice with a choice of meat’ . The choices were between Bulgogi (beef marinade) or Jeyuk (spicy pork) so I went for the former.
Delicate strips of beef with peppers, onions and chillis laid in a delicate ring around a mound of simply-cooked rice with a scattering of sesame seeds. Again, no thick sloppy sauces laced with sugar and MSG. Just a sense of simple food, simply prepared, and allowed to speak for itself.
These dishes came with a few side dishes of vegetables that were, again, light and delicate. They included wilted greens with a sauce that reminded me a bit of Sriracha and crunchy, finely sliced carrots. These stuck to what had become a running theme through the meal – food that just somehow tasted ‘clean’. Not clean as in ‘clean eating’ or deprivation or rigorous dieting, but clean as in good for you. The kind of food you can almost feel your body actually sucking nutrition from.
After the meal, the chef – a small-but-perfectly-formed whirlwind of a Korean lady – came to check we’d enjoyed our little feast. It was during this chat that I learned that Korean food’s about far more than just the taste. According to her, none of the pairings we’d enjoyed among our four courses was accidental. Neither were they based solely on flavour combinations. In fact, the main focus of the menu is about health and nutrition – not because it’s the latest trend or food fashion, but because that’s how (according to her) Korean food works.
From what I understood from this remarkable Tour de Force of a woman, Korean food is about an age-old view of food and nutrition – that your body and your health, whether that be mentally, physically or emotionally, is all down to what you put in it. She spoke passionately about the way food can effect you, and the way good food can help you. And for her, this is why her food is important.
Take the noodle and the Kimchi. Not an accidental pairing apparently, but a deliberate combination. The Kimchi comes with noodles because it helps break them down in your body. And that’s how Korean food works – yin and yang, different elements that complement each other nutritionally, not just when it comes to taste. And so food is not just about satisfying your desire for ‘nice stuff’ but about being aware of what you put in your body and the effect it might have.
I was poo poo’d by some of my friends the following day as I raved about this approach to food. ‘Oh come on, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. And anyway, life’s too short, stop stressing about it’. And yes, I know it probably seems a bit hypocritical, someone like me who spends a lot of time scoffing yummy food, getting all hyped up about health and nutrition. But actually, I’ve always been a big fan of health, balance, and moderation. And I do think that if you’re going to put certain stuff in your body, you should be aware of the effect that can have.
Of course, despite this enthusiasm my lack of discipline and general greed means I might not follow this kind of Korean healthy approach myself to the tee. I like nice stuff, there’s no secret about that. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea and something we should perhaps bear in mind once in a while. After all, we only get one body so perhaps we should look after it. You only had to take one look at Modu’s chef to see how good living can benefit you.
And let’s not forget – it tasted bloody good too!
Laura and I paid in full for our meal at Modu and they didn’t know we were bloggers. I think they just thought we were two bonkers, nosy women who like taking pictures of food and asking impertinent questions.
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