by Michael Jones
On Sunday, I hiked Inwangsan for the first time, a beautiful mountain near Gyeongbokgung with fantastic views of Seoul. After reaching the peak, I was craving some food so we went to a small Korean restaurant on the way back to the station. The restaurant was a tiny mom and pop place sandwiched in a small alleyway. Like all good restaurants, I could smell the food before I saw the place. The smell of pork, duck, and stew filled the street outside. As I craned my neck to get a good look at the menu, a woman spoke out in perfect English and asked if we wanted to sit down. We said yes; it was an easy choice. The menu was small. This is the kind of place where they focus on the tried and the true. The owner spent 15 years living in Melbourne, Australia and her mother was busy cooking in the kitchen. In the back of the restaurant a small television was playing a Korean drama. The lunch options were: kimchi jjigae, doenjjang jjigae, jeyuk bokkeum, and ddukbaegi, usually a soup made with beef, but here they use duck. We decided to get one serving of jeyuk bokkeum and one serving of ddukbaegi. Jeyuk bokeum is basically thinly sliced pork cooked in a spicy sauce and mixed with onions; it is served on a hot plate. The ddukbaegi was filled to the brim with succulent duck meat and a large serving of green vegetables. The broth was a dark gray color and the soup came with a few toppings: salt, pepper, and diced green peppers. The woman told me that the soup takes 12 hours to prepare and after trying it, I don’t doubt it. The soup was incredibly rich and the broth took on the flavors from the roasted duck fat, the salt, and the pepper. It was delicious. The pork was also outstanding. The spice was perfect and not overpowering or tear-inducing. In short, it was actually enjoyable. The old lady in the kitchen watched us with a smile. She was happy watching us enjoy her food. She was clearly proud of her cooking. Her daughter told us that she has been making these dishes since she was a child. No matter where you are in the world, it is always great finding people that are passionate about the food they make and the culture in which it comes from. Korean food is incredible and Korean people are very passionate about the food they eat, and make. Whether you live in Korea, or you are on vacation, I encourage you to visit the less famous neighborhoods and eat at an authentic Korean restaurant. If you find yourself near Gyeongbokgung and you want to try a place off the beaten path, I strongly recommend trying 오리야 전야. The two dishes we bought were only 8,000 won each and the side dishes were delicious too. Embrace the authentic places and happy hunting.
Go to Dongnimmun Station and take exit 2
Walk about 15 yards and turn left down the alley
In about a minute the restaurant will be on your right
We're just a couple addicted to great food. We love Anthony Bourdain!