A SURASANG is a meal fit for a king. In my case, I became like a member of the Korean royal court when I partook of a 15-dish dinner at ShabuNiku Korean Restaurant in Bacolod City.

Tagged at P399 per person with a minimum order of two, I understand now why you can’t do this alone. First of all, with all those dishes to eat, you’ll feel like a glutton tackling them solo. You can skip dessert but remember even pigs do, you know.

The next reason is that you’ll get by with a little help from your friends for this dining experience. It’s really fun sharing everything with someone.

ShabuNiku’s Korean proprietor Zest Cho remarks that his restaurant is probably the only Korean restaurant that serves this spread. His version contains the following: japchae, bulgogi, eggroll, fishkatsu with coleslaw in kiwi mayonnaise, pajan, kimchi, sliced boiled French beans, sautéed bean sprouts, garlic cloves to be wrapped in lettuce, kimchi chige, mandu, boiled potato strips, raddish strips, and two other side dishes.

The bulgogi is very tender and flavorful, the eggroll delicately seasoned, the coleslaw crisp and refreshing, the fishkatsu (breaded cream dory) non-greasy, the pajan or Korean pancake’s blandness interrupted by slices of sweet jujube, the kimchi chige or kimchi soup was taken away and replaced by the more interesting samgyetang or chicken soup. All vegetables were done just right and never overcooked.

At a Seoul dining hall three years ago, I had my first surasang. The dishes were rolled in on a square tray with side grooves that the waitress deftly heaved and fitted onto my table. Voila! A quick and efficient transfer of everything in one movement. Just imagine how frustrating it would be to a famished customer to have all 22 dishes transferred one by one from tray to table while the smells and sights taunt him. This number excludes the rice pots cooking on their own little stoves. Other surasangs can have as much as 34 dishes.

ShabuNiku’s version has rice served in rice bowls. It would be difficult to find someone to make rice pots of the same quality here. The thing here is, in Korea, the rice is transferred to the plate and water is poured on the rice stuck at the bottom of the pot. Drink this like a soup. Sounds familiar? Yes, it is just like our hinumaw. My Korean friend Min said that this is healthful.

Distance and cost can keep me from getting a similar fare at any Korean restaurant in Bacolod but I am bent on enjoying whatever we have here.

Zest had prepared a samgyetang for me and my friends. The chicken is boiled whole sans salt for two hours with jujube and ginseng and is a very healthy soup. The result is a whole chicken that flakes apart when pierced with a fork and is so tender that even small bones give with just the slightest chewing.

The soup holds all the flavor of the chicken so that the meat needs to be dipped in salt and pepper to season it if it is too bland. Enjoy this with a shot of soju. Samgyetang is a hot soup meant to be enjoyed on hot summer days. These are known as sambok days which are three distinct days of the lunar calendar i.e., Chobok, Jungbok, and Malbok.

With the tenderness of the chicken so appealing to the palate, be careful or you will eat everything and become tambok. Order this dish at least two hours in advance.

We wrapped up the dinner with a huge goblet of patpingsu (P60 for 1 person). This is Korea’s take on our halo-halo – shaved ice, red beans, fruit cocktail (ShabuNiku’s version) and condensed milk. It was just what we needed after dining on hot pepper-heavy dishes that set our lips on fire.