There was so much food I wanted to eat in Seoul, but one week just wasn’t enough. There was the dduk I wanted to eat from the nice old ladies in the subway station (1 styrofoam tray for KR ₩1,000/US $00.84!), more street ddukboki, jajangmyun (자장면, noodles with black bean sauce), sweet potato fries, more samgyupsal (삼겹살, pork belly)… the list goes on and on. Fortunately, there was one thing on my to-eat list I made sure to eat before take-off to Beijing: my favorite, gobchang (곱창, small intestines). Well, not exactly but close enough, I ate daechang (대창, large intestines).
When Joo Hyun and Soo Hyun said we were going to go eat daechang, I was excited, but also apprehensive. The thing with large intestines is that it’s usually funkier than small intestines, and I mean funkier in a bad way. A little irony funk is nice, but too much and you need another bottle of soju to make it enjoyable. That’s been my experience so far in New York at least. However, when we got to Yeontabal (연타발), immediately I knew it was going to be different. First of all, the restaurant is strictly charcoal (숯불, sootbul). Meat always tastes better when it’s cooked on charcoal as opposed to a gas grill. Second, all the meat brought to the table was fresh. You could tell just from looking at it. But of course, even with the best intentions, food can be royally f*cked up. Happily though, with the help of Joo Hyun, I can report to the contrary.
We started off with two orders of Tuk Yang Gui (특양구이, grilled beef tripe, pictured two photos down behind the darker colored meat in front) and one order of Daechang Gui (대창구이, grilled beef large intestines, pictured above). (The total with one bottle of soju was around $90.) Once cooked through with some beautiful sweet char at the edges, we each got a small plate of tangy sweet soy dressing for dipping. The yang was chewy with a little snap at the surface that I liked. The daechang was also chewy, but unlike the lean tripe, it was deliciously fatty. There was hardly any funk. It was the best daechang I ever ate. I now see that all the daechang I had in the past were just simply bad, consistent, but bad.
We also had an order of cow heart, but it came at a certain cost. I mentioned everything was beautifully charred, but it didn’t seem likely to happen at first. When the burner was initally brought to the table, Joo Hyun felt there was too much charcoal inside. As a result, the center became too hot and some of the precious meat started burning. Joo Hyun asked for some charcoal to be removed, but the waitress instead tried raising the grill higher with some pieces of cool charcoal. Not too safe in my opinion. After a few more requests, the waitress finally acquiesced when she realized her precarious contraption wasn’t working.
A few intestines were lost in the mini battle between Joo Hyun and the waitress, but at the end, most of the meat salvageable. As an apology, the waitress gave us a free order of heart. I accepted her apology. I’m not sure Joo Hyun did. She’s not one to be crossed. In any case, the heart was fresh, like the tripe and intestines, but had more of an bloody richness. I liked it, but my favorite was the daechang. Next time I plan to order twice as much.
Supposedly, Yeontabal makes a great tripe fried rice after you’re done grilling, but we decided to skip it because I wanted to go to a pojangmacha (포장마차, an outdoor bar/restaurant). Not too far away, there was a pojangmacha called Juju Tent Bar (주주), on the grounds of a former garage amid a street full of car dealerships. We ordered the Ohdolbbyumuchim (오돌뼈무침), a stir-fried medley of leeks, spicy green peppers, red pepper powder, and chopped up pork with lots of cartilage (made with meat near the spine area). There wasn’t too much meat, and the little there was was hacked up so small it was hard to pick up, but it had a nice greasiness in a divey Korean bar food kind of way. Also, they could have held back on the peppers. Each bite brought tears to our eyes.
To drink, we ordered a bottle of Maehwasoo (Korean plum wine by Jinro). Normally I don’t like plum wine because it tends to taste like cough syrup, but I decided to try it anyway since I’d never had a Korean version. It was OK, not as sweet as most plum wines I’ve had, but I don’t think I would ever order it again. Paired with the fiery ohdolbbyu, the wine tasted cloyingly sweet. We saw the table next to us order a bottle of wine and a bottle of soju to mix together in a kettle. I think that’s the way to go if you want to make plum wine palatable. Soju, like pork, cures all.
Later we went for some patbingsu and coffee, like we did every night, and then sadly parted ways with my promise to return soon. This visit took twelve years to make, but the next I’m positive won’t take as long. I have a list after all to finish, and wonderful friends to help me with it.
629-32 Apgujeong Shinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu
Seoul, South Korea (map)
Juju Tent Bar (주주)
1-1 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu
Seoul, South Korea (map)