Shilla Tteokgalbi Chongshik
226 Nodong-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
On day two of this three-day visit to Gyeongju, we continued to mow through the list of restaurants that my local friend had created through his own research and advice from contacts very familiar with the area. Nestled in a building that was offset from the main street that we navigated through on this rainy evening was Shilla Tteokgalbi Chongshik. As we climbed up the stairs to the main entrance, we were quickly greeted by a gentleman who seemed to be the manager this evening. Occupying the entire second floor, it was quite spacious inside.
As mainstream Korean cuisine overseas is highly associated with beef, in particular barbecue, our visit on this occasion was to explore another meaty dish. Tteokgalbi is derived from the words for marinated meat and also those thin sticky rice cakes. But, there are no such rice cakes involved at all in this. In fact, I’d describe it as being more like a hamburger patty. In most cases, its made from a melding of beef short ribs and fattier pork to balance out together in a juicy meaty delight that young and old can enjoy. Plus, there is no killer spice to deter anyone who is sensitive to heat. Instead a drizzle of sweet tasting sauce usually completes the picture. I’ve seen these patties made small (tinier than the palm of your hand) or larger, and shaped in a square or circular like a disc.
Perhaps as it was late on a weekday on a rain soaked night, there were only a few other tables occupied. Where we were sat, I had a clean line of view into the window leading to the kitchen. The wheeled trolley you see pictured above was used to transport the many dishes that were brought to our low lying table.
The laminated menu sheet was quite simple. Clearly they are following the mold of do one thing well and serve only that. Unfortunately, its hard to do this specialized menu when transplanting the cuisine overseas – where you see more of the something-for-everyone kind of booklet.
Since we all ordered the same thing, we all received identical dishes so everything pictured below might be just my portion or a shared plate that was combined. Our opening volley was this small serving of hobakjuk (a pumpkin soup served cold). Bright, sweet flavors. Smooth in texture and just the right amount to get your appetite going.
I may have mentioned this in the past but I’ve not been much of a fan when it comes to chapchae – the stir fried cellophane noodles mixed with various vegetables. But there are times when after a few bites, I’m okay with eating more. This was the case here for some reason. Perhaps I was just more hungry?
Before the main course arrived, we decided to quench our thirst by having a bottle of makgeolli (Korean rice wine). I had an epiphany with these commercially produced versions on my trip to Korea, as I was surprised at the quality of them, the sharpness of flavors and the more refined aftertaste they left since I’d last had them years ago. This brand, Mimong, was slightly less exciting than the other label I’d had days before, but still quite delicious.
This was only half of our table, but you can see the large array of banchan that accompanied our meal. There were so many different ingredients and preparations that I’d never seen before in North American Korean restaurants. It was a true delight exploring each and every one of them.
The steamed rice had another twist, but looking back on it now, I can’t quite remember fully what was added to it (the colorful sprinkle).
Shifting over to the ice cold seaweed soup (the formal Korean name I can’t recall at the moment) was refreshing as I love this particular ingredient in just about any kind of broth – hot or cool. Koreans are keen on always having some kind of soup with their meals. Its a habit I’ve quickly formed myself when cooking at home now.
And lastly, a closeup shot of the main dish in question. I think this one was lacking a lot of the fat that comes from the inclusion of pork – so much so that I think this was straight-up beef only. It was thus on the dry side but had that rich beefy flavor to compensate. The sweet soy-based sauce was more subdued than I expected and while it added something to the overall dish, I’m glad that it was case of less-is-more, and it didn’t dominate the hot plate. On its own, it certainly wouldn’t wow, but in combination with all of the other dishes that covered our table, it became a side to the rice and soup as it should be, and looked at as a whole meal (and for just 8,000 won each), it was a fantastic deal.