Sodamgol (Sinbong branch)
Sinbong-dong 582, Suji-ku
Youngin City, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea
Korean royal court cuisine (in Korean, gungjung yori) is an elaborate affair that involves the presentation of numerous dishes in an extensive meal that originated in one of the golden eras of the peninsula’s lengthy history and is steeped in Confucian traditions. The dining style that was for the ruling class of the Jeseon Dynasty has been adapted in the modern era and can be found served in many restaurants in Korea today for those wishing to adventure into a culinary time machine. Fortunately on this recent visit to the Asian nation, I was presented with the choice of indulging in this branch of the country’s cuisine. Actually, I was given a choice between two locations: one described as being more upscale in a fancier setting but with weaker food, and the other in more homey conditions but with better food. I chose the latter and thus we ended up at the Sinbong branch of Sodamgol.
With various set meals (priced per person), our group of six opted to all get the same, making it much easier for the restaurant to handle. At the different price points, the items would differ. What follows below is a summary of what was included in the 16,000 won/person listing (so about C$14 each). Also note, the portion sizes are representative of what was served to each table of three, aside from the rice and chigae that we each received our own bowls of.
This was the first dish that arrived, called haepari-naengchae; thinly sliced jellyfish and cucumbers served cold with a vinegar-mustard dressing. The crunchiness of cooked jellyfish is perhaps an acquired taste or preference, but its a winner in my mind. I’ve been stung countless times swimming in the Pacific over the years, so its nice to have these creatures dressed up on a plate where I have the upper hand.
The 2nd dish was this hwal-eo hoe (or raw sliced seafood) of a fish variety I cannot name. It had a slightly smoky flavor, and the texture was a bit “meaty” as well. For its interesting flavor, I would say I liked it and had my share of slices.
Third up was this tangpyeongchae. Soft in texture and not really strong in terms of savory or spicy flavor. I’d say more bland than anything else, so I could pass on this dish if it came around again. It is usually made by mixing julienned nokdumuk (mung bean sprouts), watercress, stir-fried shredded beef, thinly shredded red pepper and gim (Korean seaweed). Tangpyeongchae is usually seasoned with a sauce made with ganjang, vinegar, sugar, sesame seeds and sesame oil.
Dish four was this bulgogi. Normally I am not a huge fan of this popular item as its so sweet, but the sugariness of this variety was held back and balanced, thus I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It tasted and looked more refined than what I am used to with this commonplace dish, so was pleased with seeing this different take on it.
The fifth round featured this milsam (meat/veggie wraps). I love most food where its varied and you wrap it up in some kind of envelope and eat the whole vessel. So this got thumbs up from me.
Dish six was this soup, who’s name I can’t remember, I suppose a close cousin of nurungji. It was unique for its ground beef and crispy rice cake submerged within it. I quite enjoyed its contrasting textures and deep flavor profile. And despite the sweltering heat outside, I found myself having two bowlfuls of this broth.
Our table was next joined by this simplified dish of chapchae. Normally its not something I order on its own nor eat much as a side dish.
These lightly breaded and fried fillets of white fish, drizzled with a sweet tangy sauce made up dish number eight in this course. Not much different than something I’ve eaten in countless Chinese restaurants, so this didn’t really stand out, for other than being the first cooked fish dish in our meal to this point.
Steamed shrimp served on top of fresh tomato slices and a runny mayonnaise dressing. Again, nothing spectacular.
I don’t think this could be called the dish bossam, as it was more braised than simply steamed I thought. Served with some sides of refreshing daikon slices, and a carrot/zucchini slaw. Again the “wrapping” came into play with all of these ingredients melding together to form an impactful mouthful.
Steamed rice but not just any ordinary steamed rice, as it was made in these individual pots and included some beans and sweet potato. Cooked in a special vessel, it added to the fullness of each rice kernel and the edges with a crispy texture were of course there.
This thick, fragrant bean paste stew (daenjang chigae) is similar to Japanese miso but is much more pungent and powerful. Daenjang chigae is wonderfully hearty and can be made with almost any vegetables you have on hand. Although this is one dish where I actually prefer the more common zucchini, potato, and pepper combination of vegetables, it is delicious with carrots, other squashes, and turnips as well.
In addition to all the dishes in this course meal, there were at least these 8 banchan (sides) to go along with it. If you don’t get full, I don’t know what’s wrong with your stomach. One can see why this was a meal fit for Kings.