WITH the fervent popularity of Korean culture in Cebu, it’s not difficult to find a decent Korean restaurant nowadays. But despite the steady sprouting of Korean food joints in and around the metro, Maru firmly stands out from the rest with its authenticity and commitment to serving legit Korean flavors.

One of the 10 dining outlets in Jpark Island Resort & Waterpark Cebu, Maru is the only authentic Korean restaurant located in a five-star resort in Cebu. Considering how vibrant Korea’s culture is and the distinct beauty of each of its four seasons, the team behind Maru made sure that this is reflected in its equally diverse menu. Maru, which is Korean for “wooden floor,” is an integral part of Korean dining culture. Traditionally, Koreans sit on wooden floors when partaking in a meal.

According to executive Korean chef George Park, “Maru serves Korean cuisine that is modern but still retaining authentic tastes and flavors.” Prior to working behind Maru’s kitchen, Park worked in restaurants around Asia. His exposure to different cuisines and flavors translates into the food he prepares for Maru—traditionally Korean but subtly injected with worldly flair.

Sixty-five percent of resort guests are Korean, as disclosed by general manager Jonathan Charles Newell, which means it is only apt that Jpark have a dining outlet that serves food familiar to the foreign tourists but also warmly embraced by Cebuanos. The restaurant has a 148-seating capacity with private dining rooms should a party prefer a more intimate set-up.

Although there are already a number of Korean restaurants in Cebu, albeit not exactly authentic but rather fusion, Maru sets itself apart by staying true to its roots—all the ingredients used are sourced directly from Korea, which means guests are guaranteed that they are tasting uncompromised genuine Korean food.

The East Asian country is known for its piquant eats, with chili paste or gochujang infused in a lot of its food, which can be intimidating to others especially those who are not fans of sweat-inducing grub.

But Maru proves that although Korean cuisine is known to have a little kick, people who prefer food sans the chili can still enjoy it.

For those who can’t take the heat, fret not. One can request to adjust the spice level of most dishes according to his liking, like the Korean barbecue—who doesn’t love samgyupsal? Chef Park also recommends the bulgogi, sweet marinated slices of pork or beef; and bibimbap, a mixed rice dish that consists of meat and an assortment of fresh vegetables served on a bed of rice. For those who relish the heat, the stir-fried pork will sate your love for chili.

To spice things up a bit (pun intended), Maru has monthly specials that are sure to delight loyal patrons. This month, Maru serves up East and West with a Korean Surf & Turf—a combo of a perfectly grilled slice of mackerel and a tender and juicy slab of rib eye—a dish palatable to Westerners and Asians alike.

Last Aug. 8, members of the media were invited for a casual seven-course lunch at Maru. Curated by Chef Park and his team, lunch started off with a smooth and creamy pumpkin porridge, followed by Marinated Fresh Tuna on Deep Fried Seaweed & Vegetable Pancake and Stir-fried Glass Noodles with Vegetables or japchae. Next up were the meats: Grilled Mackerel, Braised Beef Short Ribs and a favorite, the Ginseng Chicken Soup, which is served in a hot stone bowl and with dried anchovies, fish cake and Maru’s delightful house-made kimchi on the side. Finishing off the meal, guests washed it all down with a glass of rich Cinnamon Punch.

The gastronomic tasting menu was representative of what Maru stands for: straight-forward Korean cuisine, doing away with all the unnecessary froufrou and focusing on quality, taste and authenticity. We may not be in Seoul or any other town or city in Korea, but a taste of Maru’s exquisite and carefully prepared dishes transport any guest and his or her senses to The Land of the Morning Calm. Whether one is new to the cuisine or already an avid fan of it and all other things hallyu, Maru makes one long to experience Korea—or even just a taste of it.

Maru Korean Restaurant is located in Building F of Jpark Island Resort & Waterpark in Mactan, Cebu. Operating hours are noon to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and 6 to 10 p.m. for dinner.