Yeolchajib is not just an ordinary pancake place, it is one of the few surviving restaurants from pimatgol, a lost alley in Seoul. Pimatgol is the name given to a narrow back alley in Jongno back in Joseon Dynasty. Back then, the nobles would ride their horses or carriages on the main Jongno street. The peasants, reluctant to pay respect each time they face the nobles, avoided using the main road and took a detour through pimatgol instead. The back alley eventually thrived with small eateries selling affordable food and drinks to hungry bypassers. The name pimat literally means “to avoid horses”.
The tradition carried on to the modern days until in early 2000s when the government began tearing down the historic structures of pimatgol in the name of city redevelopment project. Many stood against the destruction of one of the city’s oldest streets but it was no use. The government and city planners promised the pleading owners of the decades-old shops that a new location with similar look and feel will be provided for their business. The reality was that some of these restaurants ended up crammed on first and second floors of a hideous high-rise tower that replaced the old back alley. Most of the restaurants never re-opened. Pimatgol was gone forever.
Yeolchajib was a rare case. Instead of moving in to the brand new high-rise, the traditional pancake house relocated near Jonggak, not too far from its original location on pimatgol. Although they were forced out of their beloved alley filled with memories, the owners are still frying up the same pancakes by the window and the loyal patrons are still finding their way here as they have been for past decades.
The name of the restaurant is derived from the old tables and chairs they used when the business first took off in pimatgol. The previous owner placed long wooden table and bench to accommodate customers, and thehe line-up of tables appealed as a train. Eventually people started calling the little hut selling pancakes the “House of Train (yeolcha)”.
Unlike western pancakes, Korean pancakes are not quite a breakfast item, although they could be (why not). The mung bean pancakes are popular anju to have on the side with a bottle of makgeolli. Back in the days of pimatgol, the workers and students of Jongno would seek a place to have a drink with little pocket money they had. The pancakes made with ground mung bean were perfect as an easy, affordable meal. The batter is fried in lard and served with salted oysters and soy dipping sauce. An impressive list of regional rice wines from all over the country convinces you that the pairing of makgeolli with bindaeddeok is a match made in heaven.
Nowadays, Yeolchajib serves five different kinds of pancakes: original mung bean, extra pork slices, kimchi, green onion, and oysters. They also have clam soup and tofu with kimchi. The most popular item on the menu is probably the assorted pancakes. You can order a plate (two each of original, pork, and kimchi) or half-a-plate of one of each kind. The makgeollis are delivered from different regions of Korea. Just like wine, there are different rice “wineries” in different areas of the country. The little map of Korea on the wall shows where each makgeolli is from. A fun opportunity to try variety of rice wine along with traditional pancakes.
130-1 Gongpyeong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Assorted pancakes 모듬빈대떡 W25,000 (6), W14,000 (3)
Pancakes with oysters 굴전 W13,000
Seafood pancake with green oysters 해물파전W13,000