Ddeokbokki, also known as tteokbokki or topokki (which is more similar phonetically), is a very popular Korean street food, which basically consists of rice cakes in a spicy red thick gravy. A variant is rabokki, which basically adds ramen noodles into the mix. Mukshidonna is a popular rabokki restaurant, with several outlets across Seoul.
We had this meal at about 3.30 pm, after a lunch of ginseng chicken followed by some pastry desserts (posts to follow), so while we could still put away a fair bit, we demonstrated restraint while ordering. However, this also meant that we avoided the crowds, and we didn’t have to queue. Even at this odd hour though, the restaurant was still about half-full.
Like a lot of eating places in Seoul, there wasn’t an English menu. Thankfully however, there were Mandarin translations! There are essentially 5 main blocks in the menu. The first basically determines the main ingredient of the dish, with options such as seafood, cheese, meat, ham/sausage and vegetables; with each option costing a mere KRW4,000. Our party of 4 had to choose a minimum of 3, so we opted for seafood, cheese and meat.
The remaining stuff are all optional, but it’ll be a waste to not order anything. The second block consists of 4 types of noodles, such as ramen, udon, glass or an identified/untranslatable item. Items chosen from the first and second blocks are fixed once ordered, which basically means you can’t choose to add on anymore noodles halfway through a meal for example.
The third block of ingredients is for extra stuff, such as eggs, ham, dumplings, fishcakes. A particularly interesting one we randomly chose was glass noodles wrapped in seaweed. Sadly however, spam isn’t on the menu. The fourth block (of one choice) is for extra cheese, whilst the last block is for rice and drinks.
The end result is a big steaming pot of spicy carbohydrates! Thankfully, the heat level wasn’t bad, and was definitely manageable by my Malaysian taste buds, even after 10 years of English acclimatization. The rice cakes were probably a little odd to our palate, being soft, chewy and sticky all at the same time, a bit like mochi I guess. The ramen however was really nice, and they really soaked up the thick gooey tasty gravy-like soup. The cheese sounds like a rather odd ingredient, but actually worked quite well.
I didn’t get to try the mussels, as they were polished off very quickly by my table-mates, but I heard they were fresh.
Altogether, the meal came up to KRW17,000, inclusive of a soft drink. For the sheer volume of food, as well as it being very tasty in a carb-intensive manner, Mukshidonna is very appetizing cheap eats.
Towards the latter end of our trip, with stamina flagging, we became more loath to travel for our food. Thankfully, we were staying in Myeongdong, which is a veritable tourist mecca and therefore has lots of eating options. Obviously, the caveat to this being the concomitant presence of tourist traps.
So in the end we opted for Yoogane, a restaurant chain which has several outlets scattered across Seoul itself. The menu has got pictures (always useful I find, regardless of foreign language or not) as well as English translations, but communicating with the staff proved much trickier. We had to order at least 3 of their main dish choices, which was invariably chicken, octopus, vegetables and a variant thereof, but there were some limitations as some options couldn’t go with others (they’re not on good terms I guess), and some were sold out. In the end though, we took their flagship marinated chicken, as well as some octopus.
Basically the cooking concept is quite simple, marinade some sliced deboned chicken with some incredibly tasty gochujang sauce, mix it with some octopus (ok that’s slightly random) and vegetables in a giant skillet, and cook it in front of hungry customers on a gas stove. Erecting a metal wall around the cooking ingredients help prevent splashes, and there are also complimentary aprons to be used by the customers.
However, that’s all just protein and vegetables, and everybody craves for carbohydrates. Adding in some extra rice or noodles is a great idea, of which we had one each. When the chicken was nearly finished cooking (all done by the staff), a quarter of the ingredients on the pan was set aside to be fried with the rice, and similarly with the ramen noodles.
The end results were pretty damn good, with lots of intense flavours from the chicken embedded into the rice or ramen. The chicken actually came with a mild or spicy option, of which we took the milder one, and had no problems with the spiciness.
Backtracking a bit, while waiting for the food to prepare, the free salad bar was available. The options were rather limited though, with either yellow pickles (the sweet one found commonly in sushi), a soup-like kimchi thing, and shredded cabbage (with salad dressing). Kimchi was of course available, but hidden away in a corner.
Altogether, the meal cost KRW28,000, and we left pretty full and satisfied, although some may prefer to have another portion of rice or noodles.
Jeonju Jungang Hoekwan 전주 중앙 회관
During our university days in London, not too long ago really, we used to eat Korean food relatively frequently. It would almost always include a bowl of bibimbap, which is essentially a bowl of rice with a variety of seasoned vegetables on top, some of it cooked, with gochujang mixed in. We tended to for the dolsot bibimbap version, whereby the mixture is served in a hot stone bowl, cooking the egg (and usually raw beef slices on top) and giving a crispy rice lining at the bottom.
After our happy experiences in London, we were naturally very excited to try some (hopefully) authentic versions in Seoul too. One of the better reviewed placed from the PigPig’s research is in Myeongdong itself, so off we trotted on a fine balmy evening.
The restaurant also served other typical Korean food such as grilled meat and ginseng chicken, but we stuck to our aims and ordered only the bibimbap. Still, they had a couple varieties on offer, and we opted for 2 bowls of beef and an abalone version. It was perhaps reasonably tasty, but a bit lacking in gochujang (possibly because we were tourists?).
Altogether, the 3 bowls of bibimbap and a drink or two came up to KRW64,500, making this one of the more expensive meals. Admittedly, one of the bibimbap bowls did come with abalone, but the prices of the beef and abalone versions were very similar (KRW18,000 versus KRW20,000 if I recall correctly), and to be frank, the abalone was quite small. To put it in perspective, of the 4 barbecued meat meals in the previous posts, 3 of them were cheaper than this meal.
I hesitate to put a label of “tourist trap” on this place, but it’ll be highly unlikely for me to choose to return here if/when I go back to Seoul.
- Of the two Mukshidonna and Yoogane, Mukshidonna is probably the more “interesting” choice, and I also find the taste better. So logistics aside, if I had to choose only one, it would be Mukshidonna.
- Mukshidonna is only a short 5-10 minute walk to Ssamzigil, which is a good walk after a heavy meal to a tourist spot.
- Neither restaurant is a good place for people on a diet, but then dieting people probably aren’t reading a food blog anyway.
Add: Samcheongdong seoul jungno-gu, anguk dong 17-18
Directions: Subway line 3 (orange), Anguk, exit 1.
Operating hours: 11am-8pm closes every first and third sunday of the month
Add: 66-6, Chungmuro 2-ga, Jung-gu
Directions: Subway line 4 (blue), Myeongdong, exit 8.
Jeonju Jungang Hoekwan (전주 중앙 회관, a.k.a. 全州中央會館, a.k.a. Jeonju Central Clan House)
Add: 24-11 Chungmuro 1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
Directions: Subway line 4 (blue), Myeongdong, exit 6. Look for Uniqlo, there’s a smoothie king next to it. Walk into the alley.