As you’ve probably noticed, it’s been raining a lot lately, to the point where traipsing around unfamiliar parts of the city hunting for restaurants has become a temporarily unappealing prospect. My Korean acquaintances urged me to take the weather into account and sample the traditional rainy-day fare of pancakes and rice wine, so I recently took a trip over to Insadong to combine the experience with some shopping and gallery tours. It may not be the most adventurous way to spend a day off, but you can’t beat it for coziness, especially inside the fragrant wooden cocoon of Bori Koge Choo Euk restaurant.
Pancakes are pretty much the ultimate comfort food, and Koreans do them better than just about anyone else, with the possible exception of latke-flipping Jewish grannies. There are endless varieties of them, both sweet and savory, but connoisseurs of Seoul street food will most likely recognize the green onion pancakes called pajeon, seafood pancakes called haemul pajeon, kimchi pancakes , and a cinnamon-filled confection called hotteok. Bori Koge Choo Euk offers solid versions of the standard savory varieties as well as a green bean variety and the potato pancakes for which the restaurant is famous. For the even more committed pancake eater, there is a basket of assorted small pancakes delicious enough to make even a monsoon bearable.
The assorted pancakes arrive stacked in a wicker basket, accompanied by soy sauce, sour kimchi, and in my case, a bucket-sized clay pot of dongdongju , a sweet-tart rice wine with grains of rice floating on the top. The signature potato pancakes are a good place to start this feast, because they are perfectly crisped around the edges and dense enough to provide a nice cushion for the rice wine, without being too heavy. There are also hefty chunks of fried tofu with hot peppers, but I resisted the temptation to fill up on them and moved on to the meat and seafood options. The ground pork patties are mildly flavored but have a nice texture, and go well with the kimchi. Thick slices of battered fish are tender and satisfying. The best of the meat dishes consists of a sesame leaf paired with a thin slice of pork just rich enough to remove some of the bitterness of the leaf. Less impressive is a skewer of ham, crab stick, pepper and daikon, which looks pretty but is cumbersome to eat and not especially flavorful.
The vegetables, of course, are delicious. Korean mushrooms and zucchini don’t need much more than a simple batter and a quick turn in the frying pan to taste gourmet. Some of the street versions of vegetable pancakes can turn greasy and hard to chew, but the cooks at Bori Koge Choo Euk are far too good to turn out a rubbery product. It took me a while to make my way through my order, and everything remained hot and tasty. The experience also inspired me to try my hand at reproducing the similar offerings, and the result was a pleasantly quick and cheap dinner. Though unfortunately Bori Koge Choo Euk doesn’t give away its culinary secrets, most Korean cookbooks offer simple pancake recipes. The Korea National Tourism Organization provides a recipe using ingredients that should be available in most locations, available at the Asia Society website. If you live in Korea, there are also decent pancake mixes available in grocery stores. Though the San Francisco Chronicle recommends pairing Korean pancakes with chardonnay, I would recommend taking the more traditional route and choosing a rice wine to go with them.
Bori Koge Choo Euk is refreshingly easy to locate and enjoy. The staff at the restaurant was busy when I visited (it was a rainy day, after all), but pleasant and accustomed to waiting on English-speaking customers. The restaurant has been at that location for some years and has menus in English and Japanese, as well as a comprehensive Korean-language website and clear signage on the main street. Prices are reasonable: ₩22,000 for a pancake basket big enough for three, and ₩8,000 for the whopping bowl of dongdongju. The restaurant is spacious enough for large parties and vegetarian options are available. All in all, Bori Koge Choo Euk is a great rainy day treat.
Kathryn Fidler is a gluttonous eater living in Seoul. She can be reached at <a href=”mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org”>email@example.com</a>.