85, rue d’Hauteville, in the 10th Arrondissement. 09 83 07 29 96.
Open Mon–Fri, noon–3:30 p.m.
There is no lack of eateries in the rue du Faubourg Poissonnière quartier. The street itself is a long row of bistros (notably Richer and Albion) and cozy sandwich joints, as well as Big Fernand and Little Fernand, with their tantalizing burgers and hot dogs. Now you can add updated Asian eateries to the list of Paris restaurants. In addition to a few Vietnamese restaurants, the (almost) newest kid on the block is Ma Kitchen, which offers Korean bibimbap, bento box–style.
Bibimbap (literally, “mixed rice”) is Korean comfort food, the equivalent of the Japanese donburi. Think of a big bowl of rice topped with a mix of fresh/cooked/pickled vegetables, meat (usually beef sliced thinly) and a generous dollop of gojuchang, a chili paste. An egg, its yolk still runny, crowns the mound, and everything is vigorously mixed into a big orange-colored (from the gojuchang) mess before it’s wolfed down. Fancy plating has no place in bibimbap.
Ma Kitchen offers a repackaged version. Gone are the bowl and the mound; instead you have a neat recyclable paper box with the components placed bento box–style. Thus, each bibimbap comes with a bed of mixed rice, five servings of vegetables/legumes and one meat serving atop, and one sauce on the side. On the day I went, the vegetables were a colorful mix of diced raw red cabbage, julienned carrots, steamed cubed zucchini and pumpkin, bean sprouts, green beans, green lentils and one floret of broccoli that had somehow made its way in. In other words, almost the recommended daily intake of greens. I went for the traditional beef bulgogi, but other meat choices were steamed chicken with soy sauce and herbs, chicken in a light curry sauce, five-pepper sautéed prawns and fish croquettes.
If I sneered at the flat, mostly vegetarian landscape before me, thinking it would fill only half of my stomach, I had to eat my words. It was more copious than it looked, thanks in part to the generous serving of beef. Everything tasted very fresh and freshly made, the beef was delicious and the vegetables were not overcooked and limp. I managed, with difficulty, to finish, but was left with no room for dessert. A pity, because the desserts (not made in-house) looked like they could give the mains a run for their money. Pretty but not fussy, they appeared as though they came out of someone’s kitchen, and there was an impressive range. I counted at least 10 options, including matcha pound cake, mango panna cotta, apricot tatin, canelés and a berry entremet.
All the food except the desserts is prepared on the premises, and offerings change regularly, with vegetables varying according to the season. Service by the three Korean ladies is also very friendly, and they clearly have their regulars. They were not kidding when they said business was good. At 12 p.m. on the dot, customers started filing in almost nonstop. There are only three small tables, so either go early or plan to order takeout. Service is very efficient, however, so you won’t have to wait long.
The only thing that I wish would change is the sauce. Currently there’s a choice between three sauces: sesame soy, mint soy and honey chili. I don’t know what came over me, but I asked for mint soy, a weak and strange mix that I hardly used. In any case, I couldn’t imagine drowning everything in soy sauce, as that would only have created a soggy and oversalted mix. I suppose the honey-chili sauce would be the closest to the real thing, but c’mon folks, what’s bibimbap without gojuchang!
In a nutshell: Fresh, tasty and healthy Korean bibimbap. A very good lunch alternative to the sandwich-dessert-boisson menu.
Price check: Bibimbap, 9.50 euros; bibimbap and a drink, 10.50 euros; bibimbap and a dessert, 11.50 euros; the works, 12.50 euros.
If you like the sound of Ma Kitchen, you might enjoy Nanashi. Read the review.
31, rue du Paradis, in the 10th Arrondissement.
01 40 22 05 55. Mon–Wed, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.;
Thurs–Fri, 9 a.m.–midnight; Sat, noon–midnight.