Here’s the thing about me living in Korea, guys: I don’t know shit. I live in an almost profound state of ignorance on this peninsula. But, day by day, I endeavor to lessen the intensity of that ignorance.
My big life lesson of the night came in the form of a steaming sweet potato at a restaurant named 화로구이. Our server had just brought the sweet potato out from the kitchen and when I got it I looked at Jessye, shrugged, and dropped it in my soup. I then picked it up on my spoon, posed for this picture, and then went to take a bite out of it. While I was face-diving towards the sweet potato two things happened simultaneously: the waiter sprinted for me from across the room and the table next to us screamed “No!!!” Within seconds the potato was whisked away from me and returned sans the skin.
The other lesson I learned is that BBQ joints in the middle of nowhere are pretty tasty.
How did we get to the middle of nowhere? Well, Jessye and I walked felt like exploring a bit so we walked through the forest of tall, grey apartment buildings that fill up a lot of space in Korea. Although the buildings might look a bit drab compared to traditional Korean houses, these high-rise apartments are an economical way of saving space in a very crowded country.
After wandering through the concrete jungle we came upon this two story barbecue joint on the side of the highway. Decorated with charming motifs of traditional peasant life from the Chosun period, it almost struck us as the Korean version of a truck stop.
The first thing I noticed when we walked in was this impressively giant piece of ginseng.
The second thing I noticed is that the restaurant included a butcher — a sign that the meat was going to be high quality.
We could not read the menu very well so we just ordered samgyeopsal (삼겹살), or pork belly. Directly translated the word “samgyeopsal” means “three layer meat” which refers to the three different layers of fat and lean meat. It is often called Korean bacon and like bacon it is cooked until crispy.
From out back they brought burning firewood to barbecue our meat. Most Korean barbecue joints use coal and this was the first time we saw wood being used. The waiter pulled a tube down from the ceiling to suck up the smoke.
He then brought out a copper grill with white bread on the sides and two large slabs of pork belly on a wooden board. He cut one up the first one and threw it on the grill.
The meat was some of the best we have had, and the banchan (반찬), or side dishes, were hardy and filling.
Near the end of our meal the pieces of bread had become crisp and full of pork fat.
The memorable sweet potato incident then occurred. When the waiter brought the freshly-skinned potato back he suggested that I eat it with kimchi. He lingered for a few minutes to make sure I didn’t endanger myself in any other way.
When we went up the counter to pay and were then ushered into an annex of the restaurant to enjoy soft-serve vanilla ice-cream and coffee to the soothing soundtrack of the Beatles greatest hits.
Our experience at 화로구이 was definitely different than anything we have had in the city. So, if you are able to find a way outside of Seoul for some barbecue we highly recommend it!