There is a little bit of a gray area between street food and restaurant food in Seoul when it comes to some of the very small restaurants located in market areas. This little restaurant in Namdaemun market, for instance, was actually just a handful of tables set up in the street in front of a small kitchen/store area. When I say tables, I should clarify that they looked a bit like metal trash bins (roughly the same size, a bit smaller) with a small table area around the top and a number of chairs clustered around each one. It was unexpected. But this design had a purpose and that purpose was barbecue. Each of the hollow metal table bases could hold a hot pot of coals and could be covered with a grill top that was perfect for a quick bbq.
That said, I was still a little reluctant to eat street bbq – until I smelled the delicious flavor of grilled food and saw how enthusiastically the patrons of the busy street-side restaurant were eating. Korean bbq, or bulgolgi, is pretty common here in the US. It’s generally made with thin cuts of beef and it can get pretty pricy. This particular restaurant had no actual menu and the staff spoke minimal English, but it didn’t matter because the only thing they served was daeji bulgogi, or bbq pork. I indicated I wanted the parts that didn’t include the still-hairy pig’s ear (although I was assured it was excellent) and sat down.
The food was fantastic. The thin cut pork grilled up quickly and the marinade was delicious. I loved how the restaurant owners did all the cooking and prep for you, including cutting up the meat into bite-size portions with a pair of sharp scissors. They also showed me how to dip the meat into each of three included sauces – no idea what they were with the exception of some ground ginger, but it was important to do all three in a particular order – and how to wrap the meat into lettuce cups in just the right way. I actually wanted to just eat the meat with the sauces and forget the lettuce entirely, it was so good. The pork came with sliced garlic, which was also grilled, and some spicy salad/coleslaw dish to garnish the lettuce wraps with.
I was completely stuffed when the meal ended, and completely satisfied. I didn’t come back to this place again on this trip, but I would definitely consider a similar eatery on a future visit. There were a couple similar spots I noticed on my way out of the market. Pick one that is busy and you’ll probably have just as good an experience with the food!