I tend to assume that regular visits to Gimbap Cheonguk are a staple for any foreigner living in Korea. During my two and a half years I’ve visited some variation of this ubiquitous Korean eatery at least twice a week. Still, I occasionally run into people who avoid it. Some people are intimidated by the untranslated menu, others have just had the misfortune of visiting a particularly bad location. It’s true they can be hit or miss on food quality and sanitation, but if you find a good one, these ten items will keep you happy and help you avoid starvation during your time in Korea.
While these are my dishes of choice, I’m no expert. If you’ve got some favorites, please add them in the comment section.
For info on how to order and some more generalized tips check out the always interesting grrrltraveler’s website. For in depth analysis on what’s on the menu, have a look at the ‘mary eats’ blog.
*Many of these pictures vary greatly from the actual gimbap cheonguk items. I wasn’t hungry enough to order all of them just to get some pictures, so these are the best wikipedia public domain has to offer. It’s just meant to give a basic idea of what you’ll get.
**After a stern talking to from the transliteration police, I have updated this using the ministry of culture approved system of transliteration. I have personally always found this system very confusing to read (much more so than just learning to read hangul), but if everybody starts transliterating however they want, that’s gonna lead to anarchy. Anybody else have any opinions on the romanization of Korean? Here’s some info on wikipedia. Interesting topic!
1. Chamchi Gimbap (참치김밥): This is kimbap with tuna. It usually cost 2,500 won and it’s pretty filling. This is my go-to takeway food because they make it quickly and it’s cheap. I’ve had it as my twice a week work snack/dinner for the past year.
2. Goguma Cheese Donkkaseu (고구마 치즈 돈까스): This one can be a bit pricier, usually around 5,500won, but it’s also very filling. It’s a fried pork cutlet with sweet potato and cheese cooked into it. It usually comes with a small salad on the side and a pile of rice. It’s greasy and generally unhealthy and usually tastes best when either drunk at night or hungover in the afternoon. Or if you’re just really hungry. Regular donkkaseu and cheese donkkaseu are also good.
3. Cheese Omurice (치즈 오무라이스): This is the best straight up breakfast option if you haven’t adjusted to the Korean breakfast of the same stuff you eat for lunch and dinner. It’s a large omelette stuffed with rice, cheese, and usually bits of ham and vegetables. The kimchi omurice is also really good.
4. Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개): This one might be an acquired taste for some. But if you keep eating it, you learn to love it. During extended periods away from Korea, Kimchi jjigae is the cheap food I miss the most. It consists of spicy red broth, kimchi, and some pieces of pork. It comes in a hotpot. I sweat profusely while eating it, both from the spice and from the heat of the bowl. Use the rice to dilute the spice a bit. I find it a decent hangover cure, and a good smaller lunch option.
5. Dolsot Bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥): This was the only food I knew when I first arrived in Korea. I ate it for lunch and dinner everyday for about a month. I didn’t want to taste or smell it for the rest of the year after that. For those who don’t know, it’s rice and vegetables and some spicy red sauce served in a hot pot. You take a spoon and mix and mash everything together. It’s good for vegetarians (though beware some places do add meat, so ‘gogi opseyo’ is still a necessary clarification) and just a good filling lunch food. If you don’t like the hot pot, just order plain old bibimbap.
6. Kimchi Mandu (김치만두): While the mandu at Gimbap Cheonguk is rarely great, it’s reliably good at least. The kimchi stuffed dumplings work well as a snack or a third item to share between two people, rather than a standalone meal. It’s worth it to seek out a good mandu restaurant and get the real thing, but until that’s possible, kimbap changuk can fill the void.
7. Tang Su Yuk (탕수육): I’ve had this sweet and sour pork dish at a few locations, though most I’ve been to don’t offer it. It’s pieces of fried pork soaked in sweet and sour sauce with some vegetables. It’s not exactly the same as the American style chinese dish, but it’s close enough and different enough from the other menu items to make it worth your while if they’ve got it.
8. Cheese Ramyeon (치즈라면): I don’t particularly like ramyeon and I rarely choose to order it. But as far as the ramyeon at gimbap changuk goes, this is my favorite. It’s ramyeon with…. a slice of cheese! Slightly milder than the spicier options it makes for an okay snack or small lunch.
9. Bulgogi Deop bap (불고기덮밥) : This is a kind of beef and vegetable stir fry. It comes with a pile of rice. It’s good if you’re hungry for meat, but want to avoid the fried donkkaseu options. There’s one that comes on a hot plate as well. It’s a good general lunch or dinner option.
10. Galbitang (갈비탕): This is the bone-in pork soup. It can be really good at specialized restaurants, but can also be an okay option at gimbap cheonguk. It’s broth, pork and noodles. You will have to cut or gnaw the meat off the bone after it’s boiled for a while, but it makes for a decent meaty soup option, if that’s what you’re in the mood for.