Galchi Jorim

Eating in Asia can be difficult for vegetarians. Communication, differing ideas of ‘meat-free’ and knowledge of the cuisine are all troubling factors for visitors with special diets. Korea has temple cuisine that fits the meatless bill, but other meals can be a minefield. The most common kind of fermented kimchi, made with napa cabbages (baechu kimchi, 배추김치), considered by many to be vegetarian, is actually often made with oysters, fish sauce or fresh fish. And even though they’re mostly vegetable only, you can never guess what’s lurking in the banchan.*

But if you widen the scope to include seafood, a wealth of Korean dishes become available. Recently dining with a pescatarian friend we bypassed 콩국수 (kongguksu, cold noodles in soybean soup (vegetarian!)) and 보리밥 (boribap, bibimbap-esque dish based on barley) for 갈치조림 (galchi jorim).

Galchi Jorim is a fish and radish stew, made with galchi (갈치, hairtail fish) steaks. They’re cooked the way I like my fish best, skin on, bones in. This restaurant is part of Galchi Jorim alley inside Namdaemun market, a sprawling mess of commerce. On Sundays many restaurants in this short stretch are closed, but we head to the busiest and are duly rewarded. It’s a kind of ramshackle place, customers on small chairs fidget across the uneven floor for more space. And, as expected in a place like this, everyone orders near the same thing. 생선구이 (Saengseon gui, grilled fish) and galchi jorim.


계란찜 (gaeran jim) a steamed egg dish common in BBQ restaurants, or places serving spicy food.

The pot arrives steaming, as they often do in South Korea. Bowls of rice and and inflated pot of 계란찜 (gaeran jim, steamed egg) proffer predictions about the heat of the stew. Galchi steaks bathe in a luscious sauce, red but not too hot and just the right amount of salty and fishy. Once the bones are removed, the fish is pleasant and not overpowered by the spice. Hiding at the bottom of the pot is a thick layer of chopstick-soft radish (무, mu), heavy and permeated by that rich red sauce. Potentially the tastiest radish I’ve ever encountered, possibly the best part of this dish.

By the time we finished, only fish bones and kimchi are left. Even the timid pescatarian, who ordered grilled fish as a buffer, was happily spooning up the red sauce soaked radish and mixing the spicy juices with rice. This is a perfect meal to demonstrate that despite the prevalence of BBQ and fried chicken joints, and expensive, mediocre foreign fare, food in Korea is interesting, affordable and, like that hidden slab of radish, surprising.

 

호남식당 (Honam Sikdang)
This is the restaurant I visited, but just stop by any in this alley that are bustling.
Grilled fish, Galchi jorim, rice, steamed egg (enough for three people) 20,000 won (~$17AU)

Location: Take line 4 to Hoehyeon Stn. and get out at exit 5. Turn left out of the station and keep walking. Take the third left, then turn right into the alley. Galchi Jorim is served in this tangle of streets. Or, just look at a map.

Opening Hours: 3 am – 9 pm apparently, though I have heard rumours of places open 24 hours.

Another Map
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*My advice to anyone travelling in Asia with any kind of food allergy or special diet is to learn how to inform food service staff in their language and get someone to write it down in the language and show this piece of paper every time you order. Then, expect that you may be served it anyway. At least this is my experience of travelling in China and South East Asia with someone allergic to peanuts.

Posted in Namdaemun, Seoul, Seoult and Pepper | 2 Comments

Gopchang

Gopchang (곱창). Even the word sounds unpleasant. That’s it, up there. A cow’s small intestine, all fatty and grotesque. Seoul has whole streets of restaurants devoted to these insides, simply fried table-side in their own fat. But I’d never eaten intestines in Korea, always opting for something a little less nauseating than an entire meal of greasy tubes. Despite my qualms, I wholehearted agreed to, and even pushed for, a visit to a famous gopchang joint in southern Seoul.

At 부추곱창 (buchu gopchang), a bustling greasy BBQ joint, there’s a short menu and a long line. Young couples and families wait to eat a few different sizes of intestines and a range of raw beef preparations. It’s in Sillim, a busy area, which I only ever visit to eat offal.

This is no cook-your-own deal. Sit, drink soju, eat 육회 (yukhoe, raw beef), shield yourself from sputtering fat with soju-brand aprons and let roving waitstaff address the bubbling browning insides.

Wait for the OK, then grab a piece of sizzling, caramelised and fatty gopchang with some softened green Korean leeks. These snippets of insides are a puzzling combination of unctuous and chewy, the shrill gamey flavour reminding you of what you’re eating with every bite. Each morsel is so fatty the act of eating it seems illicit, but somehow you can’t stop. The taste is pleasant and not overly strong, but I soon felt heavy with oil.

Bokkeumbap (볶음밥, fried rice) was the only cure. It’s a fried rice dish on offer at a range of Korean restaurants. When your table finishes the main shared food, be it gamjatang or shabu shabu or gopchang, the waiter fries rice in the same pan your meal was cooked in. They might add kimchi, bean sprouts, egg or anything else, here it was spicy sauce and more leeks. The rice absorbs the flavour from the cooking pan and becomes crisp and rich, pushing you down the path to utter gluttony.

I stand by my opinion that gopchang looks repulsive and although I can’t eat a whole pile of it, I would happily brave the slippery floors of Buchu Gopchang and eat it again. Though, maybe for 2nd dinner next time.

부추곱창 //Not the most wonderful website in the world

Gopchang 10,000 won. per serve (we ordered 3 serves, enough for 3-4 people).
Bokkeumbap 2,000 won per serve.

Posted in Korean, Seoult and Pepper | 2 Comments

Cheung Kee Noodle, Hongdae


Pork with hot and sour sweet sauce & wonton / with noodle 9,500w.

Prawn wontons and pork dumplings are few and far between in Seoul. Had I known this my stopover in Hong Kong prior to moving to Korea for keeps would have been even more of a wonton rampage than it already was. Because it’s these silken pockets of prawns dipped in chilli sauce and vinegar that are high on my favorites list and everything else can take a back seat.

Cheung Kee Noodle is the Seoul outlet of Hong Kong’s Mak An Kee Noodle. And while the food isn’t a perfect replication, it’s close and the best my deprived taste buds have found in Seoul. On offer is any conceivable mixture of noodles, wontons, dumplings, braised beef, spicy sour pork, and soup, with sides of oyster sauced green vegetables (choisam or kailan). The thin, springy wheat noodles have a hint of grease and are cooked a whisker short of al dente, so hold their own in seafood-scented soup. Pair with gelatinous anise scented braised beef and pork dumplings heavy with meat.

After countless visits, my order has settled to prawn wontons, served in peppery rich and lightly fishy broth and steamed kailan. The chilli sauce, a necessary dip or addition to the soup, is dark, oily and fierce, and on sale by the front door. The noodles are a delicious, novel eating experience in Seoul and I’m always sure to steal some of his. Often served dry, mixed with a fatty sweet, sour and spiced pork, or tender braised beef, always lifted by vinegar and that tremendous chilli sauce. Cheung Kee Noodle is pricier than its Hong Kong cousin, but worth it in otherwise wonton-less Seoul.

Cheung Kee Noodle
청키면가

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays) 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Noodle dishes hover around 9,500 won.
Welcomes solo diners.

Next to Hongdae playground.

Posted in Chinese food, Seoult and Pepper | 1 Comment

Ssam Bap

Korean meals overflow with opportunities to ssam (wrap). That package of 김 (gim, seaweed) bunged on your cafeteria tray, seemingly as an afterthought, isn’t really intended to be a postscript, like a salty dessert, you crazy white girl. It tastes way better if you envelop a bite of rice with each sheet. Do the same with your kimchi’d perilla leaf and what was a pungent, tough-stemmed mouthful of pain becomes lightened, bearable and, with time, pleasant. So long as your Korean chopstick skills are up to snuff.

Other times the opportunity to ssam is obvious. The basket of lettuce and perilla leaves cry out to be filled with hot pieces of fatty 삼겹살 (samgyeopsal, BBQ pork belly), sauces and any variety of banchan. But there is a slightly healthier meal where is it is essential to ssam, and this is Ssam Bap.

Last weekend we went on ssam bap adventure to Pyeongchang-dong, an affluent, quiet area, packed with beautiful houses and art galleries, unserved by the otherwise excellent Seoul subway. 강촌쌈밥 (Gangchon ssambap), a traditional-style Korean restaurant, has floor seating, a two-item menu, and an outlook that belies it’s Seoul address. Ssam bap has a reputation as being healthy, a meal of mostly vegetables, mostly raw, and is associated with the mountains. The ssam bap here (11,000 won per person) is an unexpected feast. A range of banchan, including wonderful whole cloves of pickled garlic in a sweet spicy sauce, and simply steamed bitter greens with garlic, rice, doenjang jiggae, bossam, and a prodigious variety of greens for wrapping.

The rice, cooked in a stone bowl, is crisp on the bottom and prettily topped with sweet potato, beans and gingko nuts. Apparently the custom is to remove the rice and pour tea into the bowl to loosen the stuck grains, though I preferred the untainted flavour that comes from a good effortful scraping.

So, how to eat? Take a variety of the greens, layered for flavour, and spoon on some rice and ssamjang, then eat. Ssamjang (쌈장), a thick tasty paste made of fermented beans (doenjang), red pepper paste (gochujang) and sesame oil, is topped with peanuts here and is the key to these green envelopes of deliciousness. Bitter, juicy, spicy, chlorophyllous or crunchy leaves don’t taste like a healthfood shop because of this wonder-paste. That, and the alternating mouthfuls of tender fatty steamed pork, sweet and spicy dried squid and the brightness of the fresh cabbage kimchi.

Really, this should be as boring as bat shit, a meal whose centrepiece is a heaving plate of raw leafy greens doesn’t sound exciting at all. But sitting there in the quiet, with a view of Bukhansan, this fresh, interesting and delicious spread was the salad I’d been craving since I landed in Korea almost two years ago. And despite what Homer Simpson has to say about it, salad doesn’t have to be boring. Ssam bap with its fermented depth and bright crunchiness, focus on vegetables and grains with minimal meat, is a big tick for the healthful claim of Korean cuisine, and all with the added fun of the ssam.

강촌쌈밥
(Gangchon ssambap)
Ssam bap 11,000 won per person.

460-1 Pyeongchang-dong Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Phone: 395-6467

Posted in Seoult and Pepper, South Korea | Leave a comment

Andong Jjimdak

Andong, a city south-east of Seoul, is famous for its chicken stew. Boiled bone-in chicken, vegetables and cellophane noodles in a sweet, garlicky soy sauce all helped along with a spirited ration of chilli. I’ve often passed by a popular jjimdak chain: white walls, dark wood furniture with the table settings housed in a big bowl in the centre of the table. People eating a dark stew off huge communal white plates. Identical, be it in Seoul or Cheonan. And like clockwork, every meal time wandering past one of these joints my queries were answered with “안동찜닭 (Andong jjimdak)” with the added disclaimer of “it’s very spicy”.

Important, really, because you better believe Korean spicy is no laughing matter.

But last weekend I was on the hunt for chilli. We got lost in the night-time exuberance of Yeonsinnae, a bustling tangle of narrow streets lined with shops and cafes and restaurants. With another layer of shops and cafes and restaurants if you’ll only look up. The kind of area so common in Korea, yet so surprising and lively to foreign eyes. We finally convinced ourselves to eat jjimdak as planned, not octopus from the place with fishtanks spilling out onto the street, or red-sauced and fiery chickens feet.

At 봉추찜닭 (Bongchu Jjimdak) the seats may be hard, but the food arrives almost immediately. A huge steaming dark platter of soy sauce chicken stew punctuated by anomalous rounds of crunchy cucumber. The salty and sweet sauce is gloriously pungent with garlic, but the chilli-heat fails to live up to expectation. This was no blow-your-head off experience, whether this is negative is debatable. Unfortunately, though, this jjimdak suffered the common fate of stewed chicken: overcooked, dry meat, Grandma-soft vegetables. What started as a dark viscous sauce, well suited for drenching a piece of wizened chicken breast, was rapidly absorbed by the noodles, which ended up tasting great, by the way.

Andong jjimdak has so much promise as a dish, and although I wouldn’t rush back to eat it at Bongchu Jjimdak this meal did provide a glimmer of just how good it could be. When the weather finally cools, I believe a visit to Andong to eat Jjimdak in its natural surrounds, is on the cards.

 

Posted in Korean, Seoult and Pepper | 2 Comments
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