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4.223 OKRKL/8 Yeolcha Jib: Wonjo Bindae Ddeok

-Cycle 4, Item 223-
16 (Fri) August 2013

-Korean-
OKRKL/8 Yeolcha Jib: Wonjo Bindae Ddeok

1.5

at Yeolcha Jib [열차집]

-Gongpyeong, Seoul-

with Gustaf K

That's rights, folks!  The blog's Number One Swedish Fan Gustaf 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!

Given 100 landmark restaurants listed in the book Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (OKRKL) (한국인이 사랑하는 오래된 한식당) (see generally 4.173 OKRKL/1 Woo Lae Oak...), I'm taking it upon myself to visit and review as many as I can.  For obvious reasons, I'll start with the 28 restaurants in Seoul, which I hope to complete within this cycle.


This is the 8th restaurant, in no particular order, to be reviewed (see previously 4.219 OKRKL/7 Koryo Samgye Tang...).  

Yeolcha Jib would appear to be more of a bar/pub than a restaurant.  On the menu, a few types of jeon, a clam soup, and a couple tofu 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, shredded cabbage, salt, according to OKRKL.  To make them crispy, lard instead of vegetable oil; the lard rendered in-house for that very purpose, supposedly.  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 (rice wine), but I must admit that its nuttiness pairs beautifully with the earthy quality of bindae ddeok.

In fact, Gustaf and I went there for stage (ii).  I was thinking that it'd be nice to have a regular reader share the experience for this on-going project.  

That third side dish (top) is danmuji (단무지), a cheap-ass Japanese daikon pickle knockoff that's ubiquitous at cheap-ass Chinese restaurants in Korea.

Not crispy in the slightest.

Too bad the food was so lousy.  We ordered the wonjo bindae ddeok for starers.  The pancakes were bland.  Even with the punchy side dishes.  I didn't see any cabbage in the mix, just a mash of beans topped with dry stringy pork.  Indeed, despite the supposed lard, they weren't at all crispy.  As suggested in the photo below, the pancakes appeared to have been fried in vegetable oil out of a bottle.  Similar to the substandard food at some of the other places in this series (see most recently 4.215 OKRKL/6 Myeong-Dong Halmae Nakji...), I wondered if perhaps this is what the dish used to taste like back before taste was an important factor.  If so, I'd rather take the updated/improved versions now available elsewhere (see for example 4.071 Mul Naeng Myeon3.007 Nokdu Bindae Jeon).  We didn't order anything else and left in search of better eats.



According to OKRKL, Yeolcha Jib 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 prompted regulars to call the place "gicha jib (기차집) (gicha = train, jib = house)."  Upon moving in 1960, it was officially named "yeolcha jib (열차잡) (yeolcha = train)."  Doesn't make much sense, having built a perfectly good name by reputation, why replace it with a synonym, only to confuse customers, especially in the wake of relocation?  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.  Right.  

As shown above, the second location was in the famous food back alley Pimagol (피맛골), which once ran the length of the old city, now mostly razed due to redevelopment, except for a couple of surviving blocks (I really ought to go see what's left before it's all gone); Yeolcha Jib was forced to move to its present location when its section of Pimagol was destroyed (OKRKL doesn't provide a date).

The writing throughout OKRKL--not just here, also in several other dubious cases (see for example 4.219 above)--doesn't indicate either way whether the book is presenting these stories as reliable facts or as unconfirmed claims made by the current owners.  Granted, Korean composition, both stylistically and syntactically, can be vague/ambiguous (e.g., optional subject pronouns, no articles, no plurals).  However, in a purportedly definitive 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.

Again (see for example 4.215 above), is this place really loved by Koreans?  During the time that we were there, around 20:00 to 21:00, we saw a total of 8 other customers.  That's Gustaf ogling two female customers who entered just as we were leaving.

Address: Seoul Jongro-Gu Gongpyeong-Dong 130-1 (서울시 종로구 공평동 130-1)
Phone: (02) 734-2849
Hours: open 10:00 - 23:00; closed on holidays
Parking: none
Menu: Korean
Wingspoon Rating (as of this writing): 5.74 (19 reviews)

At Pyongyang Myeonok (see most recently 4.170 The Pyongyang Myeonok MNM...).

Earlier, for stage (i), we ate Pyongyang style mul naeng myeon (MNM).  In the midst of my current obsession with the dish (see generally 4.184 The Eulmildae MNM...), I was floored to learn that Gustaf would be visiting Pyongyang on his way here; perfect timing, I asked him to engage in some culinary espionage on his trip; he complied--more on that in a future post.  Anyway, MNM seemed like an appropriate first-date kinda meal given our history.  He seemed to like it, especially the noodles.  

Funny, 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.  Then again, 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, including mandu (see generally 2.201 Mandu Guk).  Just goes to show how foods can come across so radically different when compared in juxtaposition, why northerners can't stand southern cuisine and vice-versa, why I can no longer stomach the idea of Hamheung-style MNM now that the PYS standard is so indelibly imprinted on my sensory pathways.

In person, Gustaf looks somewhat less sinister; in fact, he's quite a nice guy.

Later, for stage (iii), 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--never seen anything like it.  We discovered it wandering around the neighborhood.  (If ever I have the time someday, I'd like to do a full post on the subject.)  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.

Soju with complimentary odeng soup, cucumber + carrots + gochujang.

Semi-scrambled/fried egg with ketchup streaks on a sizzling platter (1.5), also never seen anything like it, also complimentary.

The chicken gizzards with sesame oil + salt (1.0)--Gustaf's choice, excited to try something new; I'm surprised that he'd never had them during the year that he'd lived in Seoul--were slightly undercooked.

4 comments:

  1. the all-important question is whether gustaf brought you lingonberry jam? or should i make an ikea trip?

    ReplyDelete
  2. the whole world is waiting to hear whether gustaf brought me the jam. the answer will be revealed in an upcoming post.

    regardless, if you happen to be at ikea (gustaf tells me that the proper pronunciation is "ee KEH ah," closer to the Korean way than the American), i wouldn't mind another bottle (oops)--it's awesome!

    i'm wondering whether i should now start saying "ee KEH ah," even though "ai KEE uh" still sounds ok to me, especially when talking to americans. it'd be like how james used to say "JA gyoo ahr" instead of "JA gwar," which used to annoy me, but now i'm used to it, especially since koreans here say it that way.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh man, that was a really good night! Thanks for making me look like a total creep in the picture from that bindae ddeok-place btw ;)

    I'm still wondering if the kimchi at the PSY MNM really was more salty than usual or not... Maybe it was just the juxtaposition that caused me believing that, as your write...

    Even though the food was so-so, the last place still tied with the PSY MNM place as the best place we went to during the evening. Just shows what some booze can do with my opions about a place (hell, I probably should cut down on drinking...)

    The next time I'm in Korea, I should re-visit that PSY MNM restaurant. I hope the food will be as good as the first time...

    ReplyDelete
  4. 1) yes, it was a great night. maybe it's the anchorman shirt, but you do for some reason look kinda evil.

    2) not at all salty. on the milder side, in fact, being a northern restaurant. it was the juxtaposition, believe me.

    3) the food at that last place, and the middle place, was terrible. but, for both, i'm glad to have gone there (i might go back to the tent place if ever the opportunity comes up again).

    4) i drank more during your visit than i have in years. so yes, please cut down for both of us.

    4) Pyongyang Myeonok is always good. i'm glad that you liked it!

    ReplyDelete