3.110 Wonjo Gimbob


24 (Tue) April 2012

Wonjo Gimbob


at Kimbap Cheonguk

-Sinsa, Gangnam, Seoul, Republic of Korea-

with W and DJ

Kimbap Cheonguk (김밥천국) is a Korean restaurant chain.  Millions of branches across the country.  Specializes in gimbab – the name of the chain means “gimbab (kimbap) heaven (cheonguk)” – as well as other cheap quick-fix items.

The original restaurant had failed to secure trademark protection for its brand, allowing copycats to open businesses under the same name.  When the original owners filed a series of infringement suits against the copycats, a court dismissed the claims on the grounds that the name had become genericized through common use.  Eventually, some branches were consolidated under various corporate ownerships, as identified by secondary logos.

Gimbab enjoyed a period of several years around the mid-00s when the price of a roll dropped to just 1,000 won each.  Before then, the going rate had been 2,000 won or more.  What began as a pricing gimmick – attributed by many observers to Kimbap Cheonguk – suddenly set the standard throughout the country.   Kimbap Cheonguk – or Kimbap Nara (김밥나라) (Kimbap Nation) or Kimbap Sarang (김밥사랑) (Kimbap Love) or some similar alternative – would soon pop up on virtually every street corner, sometimes literally next door to one another.

The idea had been to offer cheap gimbab as a price leader, tempting customers into the  restaurant so that they’d order other, more expensive items from the menu: for example, ramyeon for about 3,000 won, sundubu jjigae for about 4,500 won; most prices have since risen 500-1,000 won across the board.

Unfortunately, with many customers opting for the gimbab alone, the owners found themselves making rolls, literally all day – open 24 hours – for little profit.  Stories started circulating, some probably true, that the only possible way to maintain the 1,000-won price point was by using downmarket ingredients barely fit for human consumption, like eggs cracked during processing or rice at the limit of expiration.  In any event, the prices inevitably crept up here and there, until they stabilized at the current 1,500 won, which seems reasonable enough that it wouldn’t invite skepticism.

For some reason, as evidenced by the menu in English-Japanese-Chinese, something that I don’t recall ever having seen in any restaurant anywhere in Korea, this particular establishment appears to be a popular destination for tourists; we saw 2 groups of Japanese women that evening.

The wonjo gimbob (original gimbab), presumably  in reference to the original 1,000-won gimbab that started it all, is described on the menu as follows:   

It is the basic GIMBAP.  Put fried egg, ham, carrot, steamed spinach, pickled radish, sourced burdock into the boiled rice.  And then roll around them with dried seaweed like circle shape.

NOTE: The name of the business uses the spelling “KIMBAP,” while it’s listed on the menu as “GIMBOB” but described on the same menu as “GIMBAP;” the official transliteration is “GIMBAB.”

DJ’s favorite dish is tonkatsu (5,000 won), which is Japanese, but a staple in these types of restaurants.
Ddeokbokki (3,000 won) pairs nicely with gimbab.

On the eve of W’s discharge from the postpartum recovery center where she’s been staying for the past few weeks, MIL authorized a meal off the premises, even if it didn’t involve seaweed.  She still doesn’t know about the secret burger excursion a few days earlier (see 3.106 Dry Aged Hanwoo 1++ Fielt Mignon Burger).

When we gave DJ the choice of venue, he didn’t hesitate to select Kimbap Cheonguk, which has many of his favorite dishes, and he can check off the boxes for what he wants on the order form, and he’s allowed to get whatever he wants because everything’s so cheap.  The food was okay, pretty much the same as at any other Kimbap Cheonguk/Nara/Sarang that I’ve even been to.  We had a good time.

(See also FOODS)

(See also PLACES)

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