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It was on our last day when we finally decided to explore and indulge in that famously Korean cuisine – The Korean BBQ! We walked around the narrow streets across Dongdaemun Design Plaza looking for a suitable venue. After almost circling the whole area we saw a fancy looking restaurant. It looked like a perfect spot and we went inside not really knowing what to expect. The restaurant had a homely feel to it and it wasn’t crowded, which suited us just fine. All the tables were large solid timber and had charcoal grills sunken into them at the center. Directly above the grills, range hoods hung from the ceiling giving the place somewhat odd, unusual look. The menus were on the tables, and yes, only Korean writing throughout. Not a single word in English.
We scanned the menu without getting any idea about what to order. There were just too many choices and we couldn’t figure out which one would be the best to try. After a while, a middle-aged waitress that looked and dressed like a typical Asian housewife came asking for our order. She spoke very little English so we resorted to sign language and talking in a slow-mo to help her understand us. Our efforts were not very successful and the situation seemed rather hopeless. The luck, however, was on our side that day. An elegantly dressed Korean lady dining next to us came to our aide. She said she was a frequent guest in this restaurant and praised the quality of the food there. She spoke very good English and assisted us in communicating with the waitress. She also helped us choose the best quality BBQ and place our order. The first stage of our Korean BBQ adventure was saved from a possible disaster.
For starter, we had Kimchi Jjigae – Spicy and appetizing. There was a generous amount of tofu, thick chunky pork belly, onion and kimchi that went really well with the savory and spicy soup. I was surprised I could handle the heat.
After a few minutes, we began to understand why the tables are so big! Dish after dish was arriving at our table. There were, soups, egg dishes, rice dishes and then came what traditional Korean food is so well known for Banchan – complimentary, horayyy! These Banchan is a combination of little dishes filled with all sorts of accompaniments to the larger dishes… But wait! There’s more!: The kimchi and fermented food come in, as well as pickles, vegetable dishes, seasoned sprouts, daikon radish, and garlic and loads more – all amounting to an entire orchestra of flavors. Honestly, it was hard to know what to eat first and in what order. I’m sure we wouldn’t have complained if there had been a few dishes less on the table.
Set of banchan dishes that goes with the BBQ meat and lettuce leaf.
Different types of dipping sauce.
Our range hood was switched on by the homely waitress and the grill filled with red-hot charcoal. She then started to grill the meat, probably assuming that not being Koreans we wouldn’t be able to do it ourselves. I assisted her for the sake of adventure and experience. But, to be honest, I preferred to have the time of my life consuming all the goodies placed on my plate, so I let her do most of the work. LOL!
Their barbeque was well-marinated and had significant marbling which always adds to the taste of the meat. It was a specially prepared beef recommended to us by our elegant next-table lady. She said she always orders that particular beef whenever she has a meal there. The beef was delicious indeed and we were delighted we ordered it… but that was before we saw the bill. The prices for everything else were reasonable for Korean standards, but the price of the beef was astronomical. Our elegant lady must have been rich… or maybe she was the owner of the resto. LOL!
They use charcoal briquettes in a table with a super-efficient exhaust system. You don’t have to worry about smelling like a BBQ after eating.
Well marinated meat grilled with an exclusive cutting technique that ensures the perfect texture and flavor.
Can you hear it sizzle on the hot grill? But one thing for sure, it smells so good. Yum!
While I enjoyed eating the grilled meat on its own, the best way to enjoy it is to wrap it with lettuce also known as “ssam” wraps. (Make sure your wrap no more than a single mouthful, otherwise, you might make a mess of it). I like to combine the grilled meat with bachan dishes, and there are endless options for mixing and matching ingredients. You can challenge yourself with funkier sauce and banchan until you find your favorite flavor combinations. And let me tell you that the lettuce is so fresh that you will hear a cracking sound when you bite it.
Fresh minty shiso and green lettuce leaves to eat along with the grilled BBQ meat.
The way to eat Korean BBQ – Ssam wrap!!!
Each time I look back at the table I can’t quite believe the variety of colors, textures and flavors. It probably wouldn’t have quite the same impact if there were just a few bowls with less imaginative ingredients on the table. And oh, these grilled goodies are the perfect partner for beer, so if you must, go grab a bottle or two and drink in moderation.
Bibimbap – Served with a runny egg yolk and of course Gochujang (red chili paste). The food attendant was nice enough to mix it for us and it was really good.
Doenjang Jjigae – Fermented soybean paste with vegetable stew. This is usually the best palate cleanser when you want a break from the Korean barbecued meats. The warm soup is soothing and the soft crunch of the tofu, celery, and white radish add character to the soup.
Our Korean BBQ experience proved to be more gratifying than we expected. We absolutely relished all the flavor combinations made possible by the wide array of different dishes and we also learned to appreciate culinary ideas different to those we’re familiar with. Lucky we didn’t miss out on this unique experience.
How about you? Have you tried Korean BBQ? Let me know in the comments!
QUICK TIPS: Korean barbecue is deeply communal—going by yourself is expensive, and honestly just not that fun. Even two people can feel sparse. If you’re going to hit up a Korean restaurant, bring at least three friends or more. The more the merrier.
You may also want to check my blog on: N Seoul Tower and Namsan Park, Gyeongbukgong and Changdeokgung Palace, Hanok Village, My First Impressions of Seoul,Budget Travel in Seoul , Korean BBQ Experience, 15 Must try Street Food in Seoul, 15 Must try food in Seoul, Places to Visit in Seoul, Lotte World