The name might suggest a raucous karaoke pub or a seedy bar, but Big Mama is just a no-frills Korean eatery on the fringe of the rapidly gentrifying Tiong Bahru estate.
Named after the bespectacled and matronly Korean lady boss, Ji-young Nam Gung, Big Mama is all about homey and MSG-free Korean fare cooked with gusto — exactly the stuff a Korean mother would cook.
“I came to Singapore years back to learn English and to supervise — and cook for — a group of Korean students,” says Nam Gung, a former Mathematics tutor who hails from the Korean metropolitan city of Busan. She soon mastered the English language and her Korean restaurant leverages on her years of experience cooking for the students. It’s is clearly paying off: barely a month after opening, the minimally embellished eatery with garish, dull-grey interior — the equivalent of an air-conditioned tze char in Singapore — is luring an equal mix of Korean expats and locals in droves.
It seems the diners frequent Big Mama for two signatures dishes: dak galbi ($15 per person, minimum order for two) — diced chicken stir-fried with sweet potato chips, onions, rice cake and bits of cabbage on a hotplate with home-made chili pepper paste; and samgyupsal suyuk (small $25, large $40), a dish of steamed sliced pork belly served with sliced fresh cucumber and celery with two dips of garlic-lemon and black bean sauce.
We adored the former for the novelty of tableside cooking (by Big Mama herself nonetheless), but the shine wore off after a few mouthfuls: subsequent bites delivered diminishing returns when every chunk in the plate was enrobed in a quickly-monotonous sweet and spicy sauce that drowned the mixture.
On the other hand, the tiles of still-fatty suyuk dipped in the sauces with accompanying vegetables were refreshingly savoury, as were the petite servings of six different types of panchan (Korean side dishes), which included a miserly but pungently delicious serving of kimchi.
Big Mama is no one trick pony — her menu teems with heaps of Korean signatures. The dwaeji moksal yangnyum gui (grilled pork collar with a Korean fermented soy sauce made, $18) beamed with a mildly sweet and addictive flavour, and was a perfect companion with rice; as was the haemul kimchi jeon, a generous disc of doughy fried pancake peppered with a riot of chives, prawns and squid ($15).
The kimchi soup ($14) left us underwhelmed with a fishy stench that the accompanying onions failed to hide.
Not that it will steer us away — prices at this mid-tiered Korean joint are attractive enough to lure us back for another try; we will be back for Big Mama’s kimchi fried rice.
Must eats: stir-fried chicken with sweet potato, steamed pork belly, grilled pork collar, seafood and chive pancakes
Big Mama | Address: 2 Kim Tian Road | Tel: 6270 7704 | Opening hours: Daily 11:30am–2:30pm, 5:30–11pm; closed two Mondays a month