Review: Dongin Dong – makgeolli and spicy galbijjim
Makgeolli joints are ten-a-penny in Seoul, many serving some variation on jeon (전), those lovely battered snacks that vaguely resemble savoury pancakes and which Koreans insist, endearingly but insanely, on calling “Korean pizza”. Dongin Dong (동인동) takes this formula and perfects it, and has long been a favourite among those in the know.
Dongin Dong basically does two dishes, and does them damned well. The first is the aforementioned jeon, which you can get in a number of varieties or as a set (modeum jeon – 모듬전), including courgette (zucchini), tofu, two types of pork and – many people’s favourites – oyster. They come to the table piled high on a big plate with a spicy soy sauce dip, and are best eaten hot, which is just as well cause they won’t last long.
The star of the show is the spicy galbijjim (매운 찜갈비) from which the restaurant takes its name (Dongin-dong is a district of Daegu where the best spicy galbijjim can be found). This fiery beef stew is brought out in battered pots like the one above. It’s served mostly off the bone and is succulent, tender and, usually, extremely spicy. After you’ve polished off most of the stew, ask them to mix up a mess of bokkeumbap (fried rice – 볶음밥) in the bowl with the remaining sauce and beef – make sure you leave a bit. This is a delicious and filling way to round off the meal, assuming you have any space left.
If you’re a group of foreigners they sometimes tone down the chili level in line with the usual “white people can’t handle spicy food” attitude of most Koreans – so if you want it as God intended, be sure to say so (“mepgae he juseyo” – “맵게 해주세요”).
Makgeolli is served in these funky little kettles and you’ll need it to defuse the chili bomb in your mouth. Drink plenty of it, just to be on the safe side.
The menu is printed on the wall and has no English translation, so a Korean speaker will come in handy. If none is available, I’ve translated the main menu items so you don’t have to:
[Menu photo with annotations]
The place used to be a real spit-and-sawdust joint, with people lining up out of the front door in all weathers. A recent refurbishment has seen it expanded a bit and tarted up, but it still retains an authentic feel. There are countless other spicy galbijjim and jeon places around the city, of course, but this is among the best and is well worth the trip to Sinsa, and if you are still thirsty afterwards (or, less likely, hungry), Garosu-gil is just a couple of blocks away.
- Category: Korean
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Spicy galbijjim (매운 찜갈비)
- Subway: Sinsa (신사역) exit 6
- Directions: Come out of Sinsa station exit 6 and walk along the road for 50 yards or so. Turn right just before Beans Bin Coffee and go down the road. Dongin Dong is marked by the blue sign above.