I’m continuing my Korean food discovery posts today with 녹두빈대떡 NokDuBinDaeDdeuk (bindaeddeuk for short), savory pancakes made with ground mung beans. To try “one of the originals” I went to 종로빈대떡 Jongro Bindaedeuk, a place that’s been around since the 50s and is still incredibly popular. I think there are multiple locations in Seoul and I don’t know whether the one in my neighborhood is the original shop (located next to Sejong Center), but it’s always buzzing with activity day or night. On some evenings there is a long line of people waiting to get in for their famous bindaedeuk. On a side note, I find that in Korea waiting for a table is not very common like in New York or other places in the U.S. I think most Koreans are impatient and would rather find another place to eat than waiting around for a few minutes. I wonder whether that’s why I see everyone rush and eat so quickly (food comes out really fast, too) here?
Anyway. We went to Jongro Bindaedeuk on a cloudy Sunday afternoon and almost had the whole place to ourselves. I didn’t know going in but at Jongro Bindaedeuk the minimum first order is two pancakes, and after that you can order one more or however many. I don’t think they would turn away a single diner but I’d say you have to be very hungry to finish off these giant pancakes… I’m sure you can take home what you don’t finish though.
My friends advised me that with bindaedeuk you must drink makgeolli, unfiltered Korean rice wine. Apparently that combination works better than any other beverage. That’s another thing- Koreans say there are certain combinations of food & drinks that go together, like fried chicken & cold beer, pajeon & makgeolli or dongdongju, etc. But that’s for another day. The white cloudy drink Makgeolli, is what’s on the table in the photo below, along with the basic set up for our meal (MulKimChi (literally “water kimchi”), KkakDuGi (radish kimchi), and raw onions in soy sauce sprinkled with hot pepper flakes). By the way, makgeolli is never served in clear glasses. I’ve had it in metal bowls, plastic bowls, and ceramic bowls, but never in cups or glasses.
Another famous place to try these mung bean pancakes is 광장시장 GwangJangShiJang, Gwangjang Market, where you can see mung beans for bindaeddeuk being ground by heavy porous stones like they did in the old days.
You can pick any one of the stalls to try one but the most famous shop selling bindaedeuk at GwangJangSiJang is this one, 순희네빈대떡 SoonHee’s BingDaeDdeuk. This place is written up in Korean guidebooks as well as foreign ones, and has been featured in a ton of Korean TV food programs. People line up all day everyday for them; you can get some to eat in their small dining area or take it away.
There are a lot of other eateries in the market selling everything from spicy rice cakes, bibimbop, raw fish, blood sausages, and what have you. This place called 마약김밥 Mayak Gimbop (literally means “drug” gimbop because they’re so addictive-ly delicious) is also quite famous and people usually queue up to try their mini rolls of rice.
When K and P were visiting Seoul two weeks ago, I took them there to see what all the fuss was about. We did takeaway bindaeddeuk and gimbop to snack on. Our verdict? All three of us thought there was nothing special or particularly addictive about what we had. Aside from the fact that the gimbop came with some Chinese mustard, there wasn’t anything interesting. I think it could be the atmosphere and the energy of the open market that provide the extra oomph, and without it the food didn’t really didn’t stand up. The mung bean pancake was dry and greasy, and the gimbop was just that- gim (dried seaweed) bop (cooked white rice). Perhaps bindaeddeuk needs to be eaten when it’s piping hot?
I would return to Jongro Bindaeddeuk if I want mung bean pancakes but probably won’t go to the market for that. Gwangjang Sijang itself is worth a visit for the “scene” and maybe for the experience of eating amongst the chaos. I did it when I first arrived in Seoul; I can’t say that the food was memorable but it was fun to see what happens in a market like that.
종로빈대떡 (website in Korean) Jongro Bindaeddeuk (their sign actually does say JBD): 서울시 종로구 당주동 15-7; 15-7 Dangju-dong (21 Sejong-daero 23-gil), Jongno-gu, Seoul (map). Multiple locations in Seoul, this one is next to Sejong Center. GwangHwaMun subway stop exit 8.
* Last three photos courtesy of P. Merelis