Zen Kimchi’s Ultimate Korean BBQ Experience
When I found out that our Aunt Kathy was coming to visit us in Korea, I knew I wanted to plan some special things for us to do — not just your regular ‘hit the tourist spots’ trip. I wanted it to be a good balance of the famous tourist spots (after all, they’re famous for a reason) and a look into our everyday lives. The first thing I thought of was to do a food tour with Zen Kimchi. We went on Zen Kimchi’s Dark Side of Seoul tour earlier this year, and since we had a great time we knew we wanted to try one of their food tours. But, because it was Chuseok weekend, they didn’t have any tours planned. Thankfully, Joe (founder of Zen Kimchi) agreed to organize one for us!
We showed up on the day to a good sized group of foreigners from Australia, China, and America. After introductions we took a walk down Mapo Food Street, which isn’t all that impressive in and of it self, but it was interesting to see! The street does house a restaurant that was featured on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods, 해물나라 (seafood country), where Andrew ate the deadly blowfish.
After a bit of walking and a few anecdotes from Joe, we reached our first stop, and the main attraction! A restaurant on Galmegi street called Jeong Daepo 정대포 serving pork skirt meat and salt rubbed pork belly in the Mapo-style with a trough of egg, kimchi, and green onion surrounding the meat. It’s by far my favorite style of Korean BBQ, and this restaurant is probably the best I’ve had!
We gorged ourselves on meat and beer, without really thinking about our next stop. It may have been a mistake, but it was a delicious mistake! The next stop was a famous chilled buckwheat noodle 메밀막국수 restaurant, one of my favorite summer dishes. I have to say I did not go into this restaurant expecting to be blown away by chilled noodles, but I was. The restaurant is called Bongpyeong Memil Makguksu 봉평메밀막국수, and they have THE BEST BROTH EVER. Noodle dishes are all about the broth, and the chilled noodle dishes usually have a very one-note broth. But this broth strangely makes you think, it’s so good. We sat around with the tour group speculating about what could be in the broth, but unfortunately we were still pretty full so we didn’t eat that much of the noodles! The broth was totally worth it though. Did I mention the broth was good? Another specialty of the restaurant is their 메밀꽃술 Memil Ggot Sul (Buckwheat flower makgeolli rice beer). As Joe explains in the video, unique flavored makgeollis are a recent trend in Korea, and I definitely approve. This one was really smooth and flowery, and not as dirty-tasting as normal makgeolli.
At this point we were really feeling all the food and booze, so of course off we went to a third place! We walked over to a famous jeon (korean pancake) market near Gongdeok station, where crowds of people were making their Chuseok purchases, jeon being one of the main food eaten during the holiday. We fought through the crowd and into an alley that led to steep, wooden stairs going up to a restaurant above the market! They were insanely busy and it was hard to even order, but the wait was well worth it. I know I keep saying this, but the assorted plate of Korean pancakes was by far the best I’ve had in Korea. In case you’re confused, Korean pancakes refer to anything fried, like tempura, if you’re more familiar with the Japanese term. The batter was crispy, but not too oily, and fried to perfection. It was a far cry from the chewy, cold fried shrimp I’ve had at a few street food stalls. There was fried pumpkin, fried shrimp, oysters, scallops, fish, potato, kimbap, you name it! We also had a variety of alcohol here, starting with dongdongju 동동주, a more rustic rice beer, baeksaju 백새주, a medicinal wine, and apple makgeolli. Amazingly we ate and drank most of what we ordered despite it being our 3rd dinner, and it was a great way to end the tour.
If you are living in or visiting Seoul, I highly recommend one of the food tours with Zen Kimchi. A lot of research goes into these tours, and Joe is a great guide to the neighborhoods and the food. Not only is the food delicious, the tour also gives you a chance to learn about the food you’re eating and the proper way to dine in Korea.
Have you done any food tours while traveling? This was our first one. Let us know in the comments!