Cycle 4 – Item 215
16 (Fri) August 2013
Wonjo Bindae Ddeok
at Yeolcha Jib
-Gongpyeong, Jongro, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
That’s rights, folks! GMTD’s Number One Swedish Fan GK is in town! All the way from Uppsala! This evening, the first time ever meeting someone face-to-face that I came to know through the blog, we had (i) dinner, (ii) postprandial potation, and (iii) night cap! What a trip! Hence the exclamation points!
For dinner, we ate mul naeng myeon at Pyongyang Myeonok. MNM seemed like an appropriate first-date kinda meal given our history. He seemed to like it, especially the noodles.
Towards the end of the meal, he sampled the kimchi and remarked that it tasted very salty. The kimchi at Pyongyang Myeonok wouldn’t generally be considered as such. But it is more heavily spiced/seasoned (i.e., southernized) compared to the rest of the relatively mild (i.e., northern-style) items that we had ordered. Just goes to show how foods can come across so radically different when compared in immediate juxtaposition.
In the midst of my current obsession with the dish, I was floored to learn that GK would be visiting Pyongyang on his way here. I asked him to engage in some culinary espionage on his trip. He complied – more on that in a future post.
Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (Part 8 of 11) (see also OKRKL)
This project is to review restaurants featured in the book Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (한국인이 사랑하는 오래된 한식당), which includes 100 restaurants (28 in Seoul) that are least 50 years old and/or have been owned by at least 3 generations.
Yeolcha Jib is a Korean restaurant. More of a bar/pub. According to OKRKL, it was founded in 1956, the 19th/20th oldest restaurant (tied with another) listed in Seoul. Initially, the business didn’t have a name, but the long queue of tables and chairs on the sidewalk outside the popular eatery supposedly prompted regulars to call the place “yeolcha (train) jib (house).” Then, in 1976, the founder supposedly gave away the restaurant to a couple who’d been running a small store nearby, just because he thought that they were solid people who could be trusted to carry on the business. Yeah, right.
The writing throughout OKRKL doesn’t indicate either way whether the book is presenting these stories as reliable facts or as unconfirmed claims made by the current owners. Korean composition, both stylistically and syntactically, can be vague/ambiguous (e.g., optional subject pronouns, no articles, no plurals). However, in a discourse on the country’s oldest beloved restaurants, where the line between historical record and urban legend may be difficult to distinguish, the authors should’ve been more careful, if only to distance themselves from all the apparent bullshit. Frankly, the whole book is beginning to read like a poorly executed blog, both in craft and content, but I’ll keep at it for now.
On the menu, a few types of jeon, a clam soup, and a couple dubu dishes. Nothing that would be considered proper fare for an actual meal. Indeed, the selection reflects what may have been offered at a small watering hole in an marketplace alley back in the day. Old school.
The establishment is most famous for bindae ddeok. Minimal to the extreme, nothing but ground beans and some sliced pork, salt. To make them crispy, lard instead of vegetable oil; the lard rendered in-house for that very purpose, reportedly. Three versions available: wonjo (basic), kimchi, and meat (pork). Served with spicy fermented oysters and onions/chilies in soy-vinegar sauce for extra kick.
Personally, I’m not a fan of maggeolli, but its nuttiness pairs beautifully with the earthiness of bindae ddeok.
Too bad the food was so lousy. The wonjo bindae ddeok were bland, even with the punchy side dishes. As suggested in the photo above, the pancakes appeared to have been fried in vegetable oil out of a bottle, not lard – indeed, they weren’t at all crispy. I wondered if perhaps this is what the dish used to taste like back before taste was an important factor.
For the final stage of the evening, we had a few more drinks and food at a tent bar. Specifically, it was a huge hangar-sized tent housing several dozen smaller quasi-permanent establishments. MtG joined us.
The food was crappy, and the booze was less than cold, as it tends to be at such places. But good times nevertheless.
(See also BOOZE)
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)