Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Chinese Bistro - Baljae Banjum

Q: How do you know if a restaurant is popular in Seoul?
A: Almost everyone has their camera out.

I prefer friendly Mom & Pop Korean restaurants when eating out but I hardly take any photos when eating at one. Traditional Korean cuisine, with the exception of royal cuisine, usually presents the meal in one setting; rice, soup, kimchi, meat dishes and various banchan (side dishes) all together. I find it pretty difficult to capture all that abundance with casual clicks of the camera so I hardly ever bother.

On the other hand, quite a lot of non-Korean cuisine comes in courses. There is a break in between - perfect camera opp and I usually take advantage.

It was a muggy day and someone wanted Chinese, so for dinner Chinese it was.

Chinese cuisine in Korea is very Koreanized. I usually compare it to Italian in the States. Unless you go to a traditional Chinese restaurant that blatantly advertises as such, you won't find certain Chinese dishes that are available in Chinese restaurants in other countries. There are also dishes that are unique to Korea; dishes you usually won't find in a true Chinese restaurant, jajangmyeon and jjampong are main examples.

Baljae Banjum is a Chinese Bistro in Cheongdam-dong, famous for its fried dumplings and jjampong. It has a solid reputation so we went to check it out.

I liked the high ceilinged entrance, the lanterns were welcoming. (I was suffering from shaky-hands-when-trying-to-capture-lights-with-point and shoot syndrome, so please excuse the quality.)

We started with a cold dish assortment - jellyfish and cucumbers, abalone, shrimp, meat slices. The seasoning was en pointe.

We had to try the famous dumplings. They came in an attached circle. You could tell right away they were in a different league than the greasy, fatty dumplings ordered from a Chinese delivery. They were as light as they looked, but the stuffing held its own with a lot of flavor.

Instead of simple soy sauce with vinegar, the dumplings came with a selection of condiments. Along with the standard soy, vinegar, hot chili paste and garlic, there was also balsamic vinegar and fermented tofu.
The dumplings were quite savory on their own, so after trying out the sauces I just ignored them.

I'm not that fond of shrimp. I like them in soups when they are used to create flavor in stock, but as a meat? There's something about the texture that doesn't suit my palate.
I haven't yet met anyone who shares this opinion, though. Even people who don't like seafood seem to like shrimp. Knowing this, and knowing that hot chili shrimp is one of the most popular dishes in a Korean Chinese restaurant I knew that this would be ordered.
The shrimp was fresh and well cooked, the sauce not too heavy. (Yes, I ate my share. "Not too fond" doesn't necessarily mean "I won't eat it, ever.")

Instead of the famous jjampong, we opted for Korean Chinese style naengmyeon (cold noodles) because it was such a hot evening. (Someone else ate the shrimp.)
The broth isn't that dark, don't know why my camera went wonky.

If you're not at a western cuisine restaurant where the dessert has to be baked, dessert in Korean restaurants - which is mostly fruit - usually isn't charged. We got frozen watermelon. A perfect natural sherbet.

I think I'd go again. After tasting the naengmyeon I would like to try their jjampong and the dumplings are definitely worth another try.

1 comment:

hellosteffi said...

this post left me hungry!