Ever since moving to Seoul, I gained the joy of visiting old restaurants in my neighbourhood. To be more specific, old hanok restaurants. Jongno, the heart of Seoul, is a forest of modern skyscrapers but among those, in the back alleys, are the old hanok (traditional Korean architecture) structures waiting to be discovered.
I was happy to find a North Korean restaurant right across from my work, and then I was even more thrilled to learn later on that the restaurant was built by renovating the owner’s personal hanok home. Park Hye-sook, the lady who owns the place, is from Pyeongyang, the capital city of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Park opened the restaurant about 30 years ago when her children grew off and left the nest. She renovated her hanok home and turned it into a restaurant where she started to serve her childhood favourites–soul foods like homemade dumplings and cold kimchi & rice soup. The restaurant is so successful now that apparently even though it is completely hidden in a back alley the waiting line is insane for lunch hours.
I was fortunate to step over to the restaurant at around 3pm, after my lunch classes were done. I struggled at first but eventually found the rabbit hole and was led down to the secret alley in which I was greeted by a classy hanok gate. The place was completely empty and after a few “yeo-gi-yo” I managed to wake up the ladies who were taking nap in the corner. I felt really bad that I barged in on their break time. I asked if I should come back later but they got themselves up firmly stating that they’re open and operating.
When my friend suggested this place, it was actually recommended that I should order kimchi rice-soup, a common North Korean meal that I assume could be somewhat equivalent to kimchi jjigae. But because it was still chilly outside instead of going for a cold soup I decided to go with the dumpling soup. After all, the place was named after their famous dumplings.
Five giant dumplings in a huge bowl. My first thought was ‘there’s no way I can finish this myself.’ The first sip at the beef bone broth was warm and flavourful. I love sagol broth especially on cold days. Back in Canada, I would buy some soup bones and boil them for hours to mimic the hearty flavour of sagol soup. The soup here at Libuk was thicker and more flavourful. Guess I’m adding too much water at home? I’ll never know.
There was not much special about the dumplings but just that they taste like homemade. The giant ball of minced meat and chopped veggie wrapped in rolled-out dough. Just like what my family used to make at home on holidays. With a bit of a soy sauce the dumplings tasted like childhood. Sometimes simple things are the best things.