seoul eats: a royal feast

When you think about traditional Korean food, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Probably kimchi, right?  I bet you would’ve never thought “17-course meal that the royals used to partake in regularly” (but if you did, kudos to you, smarty pants).  I suppose I’m not that in-touch with my roots as to know that this is how royalty feasted way back in the day, so it was part cultural experience and part mega foodie experience to dine at Jin Jin Bara, a restaurant that specialises in all things traditional.

This place was sourced out by Jason so I don’t have a whole lot of information on it.  What I do remember is that the lunch feast is 17 courses, and we get to choose from two different main options.  I tried to visit their website, which is all in Korean, so besides the fact that my Korean language interpretation skills are about as good as my archery skills (read: non-existent), the site was loading incredibly slow.  But if you’re interested, you can visit here to learn more.

The restaurant itself is beautifully appointed.  I didn’t have time to take any pictures, but they have a gorgeous foyer that features a water fountain with several koi fish, along with comfortable lounge-style seating serving as the waiting area.  We had a reservation, so we were quickly ushered into our semi-private dining room by our traditionally-garbed server.  We were informed that another party may join us in the room, but we ended up having it to ourselves in the end, which was great.

tablesettingThe table setting was done very tastefully.  We settled in and didn’t have to wait too long for the first stream of courses to be served.  Fair warning, I still, to this day, have no clue what half of what we ate was, so forgive me when my comments are limited to, “I don’t know what this was, but it tasted good” or “I don’t know what this was, but I thought I wouldn’t like it, so I didn’t try it and made Mark eat my portion.”  This is more about showing you just how epic a traditional, 17-course Korean meal looks in real life.

pumpkinsoupWe started off with a pumpkin soup.  It was creamy and slightly sweet.  A really lovely way to start off a meal.

ricewineMark and his sister were the drinkers of the group and wanted to partake in some Korean-style alcohol.  What you see above is a big bowl of dongdongju (동동주), a drink that is very similar to makgeolli, which is a fermented rice and wheat drink.  I find the smell of it off-putting, but Mark and his sister managed to finish this bowl between the two of them.  It doesn’t look like much in the photo, but that was one big bowl of booze.

saladThis salad seemed to have a creamy, black sesame-type dressing on it.  I found it quite pleasant and not too overpowering on the crisp lettuce and other random goodies.  A pretty solid salad, although quite unique.

appiesI think those noodle looking things might be jellyfish, but I could be wrong.  The bowl contains a pickled radish drink that’s supposed to be a palate cleanser (I think?).  Not being a fan of pickled things in general, I passed.

wrapsThis one was quite interesting to me as we had no idea what those pink wraps were made of.  They kinda look like bologna, but tasted just like normal wheat pancakes.  They might’ve been normal wheat pancakes laced with some red food colouring, but we’ll never know.  The assortment of goodies to put in the wrap were quite delicious and we all enjoyed making our own wraps.

lettucecupsThese little lettuce cups contain something that I didn’t try.  It looked too creamy for my liking (I have texture issues), so I gave mine to Mark.  He seemed to like it.

shrimpnoodlesI really enjoyed this dish, whatever it was.  It had a nice helping of shrimp and came with nicely chewy glass noodles.

beefnoodlesI really can’t tell you what this was, but I remember having several servings of it.  So yes, this tasted good.

sashimiSashimi!  I didn’t try it.  I’m a wuss when it comes to sashimi when I don’t know what the fish is.

japcaheNo traditional feast is complete without Japchae, which was quite tasty. I’m excited that I actually know what a dish is.

shrimpI think about halfway through, we were all thinking, “oh man, there’s still so many dishes to come!”  I was starting to get pretty full, even though I was pacing myself.  These giant shrimp were quite interesting to eat.  We were trying to figure out what those various toppings were, but had no idea.  It was actually a bit bland.

neurungjiI don’t quite remember when this came, but it’s some type of toasted rice soup that’s meant to help with digestion.  I’m not sure if it really helped, or just made me feel fuller.

soup1I have to admit, this soup was really funky.  It was straight up like eating what the ocean must taste like.  It was laced with the strangest seaweed-type green stuff that had the slimiest texture.  I was not a fan of this at all.

beefandporkPictured on the left is the main that we chose – tteok galbi (the other option was galbi jjim). It’s essentially galbi meat that’s been ground and shaped into a patty.  I found it a bit tough and chewy, but the accompanying salad was really good.  On the right is pork belly. I adore pork belly but I found this to be bland.

spicyseafoodThis was hands down my favourite course of the meal.  It’s a spicy seafood stirfry that was beautifully seasoned and just the right amount of heat.  By the time this came around, I was SO full, but I kept picking at it because it tasted so good.

pancakesWe also got these three varieties of pancakes.  From left to right, a sweet corn pancake, kimchi pancake, and zucchini dressed in egg.  I gave my kimchi pancake to Mark (naturally).  The other two were pleasant.

soup2
banchanBecause the last several courses weren’t enough, after the main comes the rice, side dishes, and another soup.  I could hardly get another bite into my mouth.

tteokAnd of course, we ended with dessert, which was tteok with a sweet bean and nut filling. It came with a really sweet, pink-hued drink (not pictured).  I can hardly remember what this tasted like because I was lamenting about how full I was.

The most surprising part of this meal was that it only cost about $40 per person.  That’s incredibly cheap for the sheer amount of food we consumed.  I think the portions were enough to feed at least 8 people.  Although it was a bit much on the stomach, I enjoyed taking part in a cultural experience, and got a taste of how royalty ate back in the day.  I have to wonder though, did they really eat that much food, or did they have much smaller portions?  I can’t imagine eating huge meals like this day after day.  I would probably balloon to at least 500 pounds.

I definitely recommend trying this type of dining.  It’s thoroughly Korean and you get a heck of a lot of food for an incredible price.

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