Welcome to week 247 of Travel Photo Thursday. One of the things that I want to explore, now that I have moved back to Seoul, is where to find the best traditional food in the city. Restaurants serving up traditional fare are often literally tiny hole-in-the-wall establishments frequented by those who can manage to navigate Seoul’s maze of back alleys, and narrow windy streets. I was excited to find the meetup group Hansik, and quickly RSVP’d to a meetup to savor some old-school Korean food in the heart of the city. In Korean, Hansik means Korean food, and the Kimchi Jjigae (spicy Kimchi pork stew) ( (김치찌개) served up at Gwanghwamun Jip is purported to be the best in Seoul, and maybe all of Korea.
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We were met at the Exit 7 of the Gwanghwamun subway station by our hosts, and found ourselves in front of our hole-in-the-wall dining establishment within minutes. (These shots were actually taken as we were leaving.)
When we had entered earlier in the evening, this small area was full of diners. We navigated our way through the tiny kitchen, and up a very narrow flight of stairs to our own private dining area.
Seating upstairs is traditional on the floor style, and our meal of Kimchi Jjigae, gaeran mari (rolled egg omelet), and a variety of banchan (side dishes) arrived much quicker than I had anticipated. The trick is that the jigae is partially prepped before arriving at the table, so a quick boil was all that was needed before we could ladle it into our bowls to enjoy.
A traditional Korean meal always comes with a selection of banchan (side dishes). Most of the items are fermented, and a little (sometimes a lot) on the spicy side.
We’re all intent on filling our bowls, and experiencing that first taste of Kimchi inspired deliciousness. Most Korean style meals are communal, with everyone serving themselves from the same pot, or banchan dish.
According to the owner, the secret behind the sharp distinct flavors of their Kimchi jigae is definitely the Kimchi. The restaurant uses only super ripe Kimchi in their jigae. This means that it’s been fermenting for at least six months before finding its way into the pot, and is known as aka mugenji. This super ripe Kimchi along with chili flakes (gochugaru), Kimchi liquid, and fatty chunks of fresh pork are the key ingredients behind this distinctly flavored Korean meal-in-a-pot.
Was it good? I loved every slurp. Even though the flavors are sharp they do meld together perfectly, and I found the texture pleasing. Is it the best jigae in Korea, and all of Seoul? I’m not really a connoisseur of Kimchi Jjigae, but this was over-the-top delicious, and I’ll go out on a limb, and agree with the meet-up hosts to say…YES IT IS!
Here is an excerpt from the written description given to us before tucking the ladle into the pot…
“Kimchi Jjigae is a variety of jjigae, or stew-like Korean dish, made with Kimchi, and other ingredients, such as scallions, onions, diced tofu, pork, and seafood, although pork and seafood are not generally used in the same recipe. It is one of the most common jjigae in Korea. Kimchi is known to have been eaten as pickled vegetables, and only became the Kimchi known today in the mid-Joseon era (mid-1400s), when chili peppers were first introduced into the country. Kimchi jjigae is assumed to have developed around this time as well. Preparation and serving Kimchi jjigae is often cooked in Korean homes using older, more fermented and “ripe” Kimchi, creating a much stronger taste and containing higher amounts of “good” bacteria also found in yogurt. The stew is said to be more flavorful if prepared with older Kimchi, while fresh Kimchi may not bring out a full and rich flavor.”
While the Kimchi Jjigae may have been the star, the second dish on offer, gyeran mari (Korean rolled omelet), was also prepared to perfection, and a perfect complement to the robust flavors of the jjigae. This is one of my favorite dishes, and often served as banchan in Korean traditional restaurants. The portions are usually smaller than the healthy sized portion you see here, filled with finally chopped veggies. Leeks are popular in this dish. This was one of the dishes that I loved making when I took Korean cooking class. The rolling technique is a little tricky, but fun to try. I’ll have to try cooking at home one of these days soon.
Gwanghwanun Jip has been serving up this traditional Korean fare in downtown Seoul for the past 36 years. However, no one knows how much longer their doors will be open. Property development is rampant in this area of Seoul. The traditional alleys are being bull dozed and replaced with modern structures. If you’re in Seoul, or visiting soon, be sure to drop by for a taste of the real Korea.
Have you sampled Kimchi jjigae, gyeran mari, or any other Korean Hansik? Share your experience in the comments.
How to get there:
Gwanghwamun Jip (광화문집)
12 Saemunan-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울 종로구 새문안로5길 12)
Hours: every day 9am ~ 10pm
Interactive map: http://me2.do/5MlXeyn5
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