Things to Do

18 amazing places to experience South Korean culture in the UAE

As South Korea goes global, here are the best places to get your beauty, bibimbap and BTS fix.

Korean culture has gone well and truly mainstream – we’re talking South, of course. The boyband BTS have topped the US Billboard charts, Taylor Swift was caught dancing to BLACKPINK at the MTV VMA’s, Squid Games is one of the most popular shows on Netflix, Parasite won Best Picture at the Oscars, and To All the Boys I Loved Before is a New York Times bestseller. Oh, and a constant stream of K-pop festivals keep coming to the Middle East. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re new or a novice to all things South Korean, there are plenty of ways to show your appreciation to the country. The UAE sure loves South Korea – just recently, there were cool events, from a K-Market pop-up in Jebel Ali to Hyperound K-Fest. So, whether you’re after K-pop or kimchi, here are the best places to experience South Korean culture in the UAE.

Bon Ga

Abu Dhabi’s Bon Ga is all about healthy Korean food, and it prides itself on its authentic dishes. The menu includes rice, noodle, soup and stew dishes, which range from yook gye jang (spicy beef stew) to glabi tang (beef rib soup). Plus, when you want to indulge, there is K-pop chicken. If that isn’t enough, it’s across the road from the Korean supermarket, Hanarum K-Mart.

GO: Visit https://bongauae.com for more information.


BTS Pop-up: Space of BTS

Warning K-poppers: this is only temporary, so don’t get emotionally attached. The much-anticipated pop-up is in BurJuman Mall, Dubai, and runs until 8 December. The shop is a homage to South Korea’s greatest export: BTS. Not only does the store boast a mind-boggling 400 different types of products, but exclusive products are released every two weeks. Plus, the BTS-themed photo zone is probably the closest you’ll get to the boys.

GO: Follow @burjuman on Instagram for more information.


Family Mart

If you want to try cooking Korean cuisine, head over to Family Mart in Barsha. Established in 2015, the Korean supermarket is packed with authentic goods, which have been imported straight from Korea. The products include kimchi, ramen, noodles, sauces and powers. Plus, it sells South Korean beauty products from brands including Cell and Boryeong. The shop offers free delivery on orders over AED 100.

GO: Visit www.familyk.ae for more information. 


HYU Korean Restaurant 

A favourite with the locals and a taste of Korean culture in the UAE, Dubai’s JLT restaurant serves value for money Korean food without compromising on flavour. The menu includes pan-fried dumplings, kimchee pancakes, crispy seafood pancakes and galbitang (beef short rib soup). Best of all, you can go for a full Korean barbecue and have dishes cooked at the table’s grill. 

GO: Follow @hyurestaurant for reservations and more information. 


Kaffe Bloom

Nestled in The Greens in Dubai, you’ll find the hip Kaffe Bloom. The Korean café serves a cool range of drinks including matcha bubble tea, dalgona coffee and affogato. A great spot for a pick me-up, the desserts span black cacao basque cheesecake, sea salt truffle brownies and mango bingsoo – a Korean shaved ice dessert topped with fruit. 

GO: Visit @kaffebloom on Instagram for more information.


Kimpo Dubai

We know that wine and cheese complement each other, but fried chicken and beer – while not quite so sophisticated – is one of life’s great pairings. Conrad Dubai’s Kimpo Dubai has perfected the combo, and we have South Korean chef, Sung Choul Lee, to thank for that. The vibe is all Brooklyn meets Seoul, as it has live music by DJ Aika, neon lights and K-pop art. The menu includes pokes, prawns and pizzas, but the chicken is the crowd pleaser. Once you order the chicken wings, drums and breast strips to share, you’ll understand the joy of Kimpo Dubai. 

GO: Visit www.conraddubaihotel.com for reservations and more information.


K-SECRET 

The secrets out: South Korean beauty products are exceptional. The beauty products have gone viral and K-SECRET is where you can stock up on them. Whether you want cleansers or creams, they’ve got it all. K-SECRET is one of the biggest distributors of South Korean beauty products in the region, as it has more than 1,000 products and 50 brands. In the UAE, K-SECRET can be found in Arabian Center, Ajman Al Rashidiya, Al Ghurair Centre, Ibn Battuta Mall and Circle Mall. 

GO: Visit www.ksecret.com/en for more information.


Korean Cultural Center 

Located on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, the Korean Cultural Center promotes a cultural exchange between South Korea and the UAE. This is a great starting point for immersing yourself into Korean culture in the UAE, as the centre regularly hosts exhibitions, concerts and film screenings. Films screenings include classics such as The Housemaid, Breaking Dogs Never Bite, and A Hard Day. Plus, you can learn your annyeonghaseyo from your gamsahabnida, as it offers language classes. (If you’re wondering, the phrases translate to hello and thank you.)

GO: Visit https://uae.korean-culture.org for more information.


K Pop Chicken 

Don’t be fooled by the name, this isn’t an all singing, all dancing restaurant. Instead, the Korean food – the chicken, of course – is very much the star of the show. Take your pick from tongdak chicken, kokodak boneless chicken and a Korean BBQ special. Leave room for the authentic Korean desserts, too. 

GO: Follow @kpopchickenuae for reservations and more information.


K SPA 

Dubai’s only five-star Korean Spa and beauty salon makes a bold impression with its vibrant neon signage and welcoming reception. The spa is contemporary, chic and almost clinical while offering a somewhat funky approach to the spa experience. K Spa Dubai prides itself on its Korean expertise, and offers everything from massages to micro-blading and spray tans.

GO: Follow @kspa.dubai on Instagram for more information.


Kung Korean Karaoke 

When you want to let out your inner K-pop star, head over to Kung Korean Karaoke in Barsha, Dubai. Come for the Korean food and stay for a singsong. Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself in front of other diners, as the karaoke takes place in private rooms. All you have to do is brush up on your Korean, though, so you can sing the songs.

GO: Visit https://bybloshoteldubai.com for more information.


Mandang Korean

Grab those chopsticks and make your way to Abu Dhabi’s Mandang Korean. Cook your meats the way you want, thanks to the grills that are brought to your table. It’s all on the traditional side, from the shoji screens to the horigotatsu seats – those are seats that have a recessed floor underneath them. Make your way through the menu, which includes grilled duck, fried long arm octopus, and beef belly with vegetables. Oh, and it’s pet friendly. A true celebration of Korean culture in the UAE.

GO: Follow @madanguae on Instagram for more information.


Madang Mart 

Madang Mart is your friendly neighbourhood Asian grocery store. Located in Abu Dhabi, it has seafood, seasonings and sauces, so you can whip up your own dishes at home. The South Korean cosmetics, BTS and BLACKPINK merchandise draw the crowds. Plus, there is fun to be had on the claw machine, as it has soft toys that are, well, up for grabs. 

GO: Visit https://madangmart.com for more information.


Mukbang Shows

When you rock up to Mukbang Shows, don’t be fooled by the brightly lit, kitsch exterior. Inside, the restaurant does everything it can to make you feel like you’re in Seoul. The lanterns, shoji screens and cherry blossoms trees all add to the I’m-not-in-Abu-Dhabi-feel. We’d recommend taking full advantage of the grills on the table, and ordering the popular unlimited Korean BBQ, which includes beef, chicken, squid and shrimp. 

GO: Visit https://mukbangshow.ae for more information. 


Oppa Spa and Beauty Center LLC

Oppa Spa and Beauty Center LLC have bought traditional Korean beauty practices into the heart of Abu Dhabi. The venue offers a range of spa services, which include Korean-style facials with imported beauty products. The Oppa Korean Glass Skin Facial is inspired by the latest South Asian trend, where glass is pushed against the skin to create a poreless look.

GO: Visit https://oppaspa.com for more information. 


QKO Asian Market

QKO Asian Market is a one-stop shop for South Korean (and Japanese) products. While it is primarily a supermarket selling noodles, rice, teas and condiments, there are some real gems. Topokki, the South Korean equivalent of Pot Noodle, is available. Plus, there is stationary, beauty products and K-Pop memorabilia. BTS plushies, anyone?  

GO: Visit www.qkoasianmarket.com for more information.


Sarang Bakery

Embrace Korean culture in the UAE with rice doughnuts, milk cakes and roll cakes whihc are just some of the brilliant baked goods you can find at Sarang Bakery. Located in JLT, Dubai, the shop is all very twee with white doilies and lace tablecloths, while the shoji screens add an Eastern touch. If you want to linger, there are a few tables and it does delivery. 

GO: Follow @sarangbakery on Instagram for more information. 


Sonamu

After Sonamu set up shop in Expo Dubai 2020, it garnered new fans and helped put this casual dining spot on the map. The Deira diner serves classic South Korean food including grills, hotpots and soups. If you’re having a party, book yourself one of the private dining rooms.

GO: Follow @sonamudxb on Instagram for more information.


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Kohinoor Sahota - Deputy Editor
A sucker for a good story, if you invite Kohinoor to a gallery, comedy night, new restaurant, hiking trip, cycle ride, pool day or just about any activity, preferably with the promise of wine, she’ll probably say yes – that is if she isn’t busy planning her next adventure.

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