Looking back on my blog I realize that it’s been months since I’ve posted any restaurant reviews. To make up for this oversight, I hope this will be the first in a series of reviews that focus on restaurants both unique and accessible to tourists.
To start off with, I have to mention group a of “Ssam-bap” (쌈밥) restaurants just east of the Daereungwon (대릉원) parking lot. If you’ve not had “Ssam-bap” before, it is a culinary force to be reckoned with. Any Ssam-bap joint worth its salt will bring out no less than 20 plates of Korean side dishes: all known manners of kimchis, veggies, fermented fish, spiced squid, marinated tofu, pickled eggs, and peppered salads along with a couple of dishes of soup and pork or beef.
But where the real fun comes in is with the big plates of leafy greens and soggy seaweeds. The proper way to do ssam-bap is to layer a few different greens in your left hand, dump on a bit of rice and then throw on whatever side dishes suit your fancy. After that, dribble on a dollop of Ssam-jang (삼장) hot pepper paste , wrap that puppy up like a leafy burrito and stuff the whole dang thing in your mouth. Usually, I make mine too big, so I have to bite it in two, which can get a bit messy. Of course, it’s also perfectly acceptable to dig in with just your spoon and chop sticks.
Of the half dozen or so ssam-bap restaurants just east of Dearuengwon park, most serve great food. That said, there’s one restaurant in particular I’d like to mention: Sam-po Ssam-bap (삼포 쌈밥). Not only does it serve excellent food (at about 10,000 won per person), the place is practically a museum! From the moment you walk down the entrance corridor, the place is literally lined with antiques: farm equipment, a phones and electrical appliances, pre-war newspapers and currency, not to mention old army helmets and antique tea sets. They’ve even got a diving suit and a samurai suit of armor around back! It’s well worth taking a few minutes to poke around and explore the place after eating. The other patrons shouldn’t mind as they’ll probably do the same.
Most of the ssam-bap restaurants are strung out along the road running along the east wall of Daereungwon tombs park, that connects Cheomseongdae Observatory (첨성대) to downtown. Sam-po Ssam-bap is about half-way down on the right. Just look for the door sized reproductions of the goblin roof tiles and the entrance is just on the left. One word of caution though: this neighborhood has been in the process of being slowly demolished over the last five years. Word is that after doing archeological excavations, they’ll be rebuilding some of the old Shilla Palaces on this site. However cool that may be, I’m afraid Sam-po Ssam-bap’s days are numbered. The neighborhood already looks like it got hit by a tornado. It could just be that the next time I drop by there for dinner, it’ll be gone, so I recommend you give Sam-po Ssam-bap a try sooner rather than later.
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