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Gamjatang

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Korean Potato and Pork Stew

 

One of the dishes that came out of necessity is gamjatang or pork-bone potato stew. This dish is said to have its origins from the Incheon dock area where laborers that were working in construction wanted to have a cheap and hearty food after a long day of work. The soup consists of pork spine that is slowly cooked with potatoes and topped with sesame leaves. The result is a satisfying dish that goes great with a bowl of hot rice. This was often cooked throughout the day and then eaten at the end of the work day. The dish goes perfectly with a chilled shot of Korean soju.

After the first train line was built that would connect the Incheon area with Seoul, one entrepreneur decided that he wanted to make a restaurant focused on this dish. The first restaurant of this type was built near Noryangjin station, which was near the end of the Han River railway construction. The dish became a big hit and soon many copycat restaurants started popping up all over Korea.
The name gamjatang is a play on words. Gamja means potatoes, but the dish isn’t named because of the tuber. The name refers to the pork-spine bone which is also called gamja. It is this bone that adds all the flavor to the broth. The best restaurants simmer the broth overnight until golden globules of fat float on top. The broth is seasoned with bean paste, chili powder, garlic, and other seasonings topped with boiled potatoes. It is then brought to the table where it finishes cooking.

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The pork spine usually has some meat still attached and it is fun to pick and eat the meat out with chopsticks. As the broth cooks down, the dish gets even more flavorful. My favorite part of the meal are the potatoes. When they are finished cooking at the table, I like to put the potato to my bowl and mix in the broth, veggies, and meat to make a steaming-hot mashed potato. The unique flavor for this dish comes from the wild sesame seed which is round and darker in color than the normal, oval sesame seed. The seed has an earthy, anise-like flavor that melds well with the pork broth and potato. To add a bit of green to the dish, flavorful sesame leaves and green chives are also added.

The famous area for this dish is in Eungam-dong which is in the north-western part of Seoul. There is an entire street filled with these restaurants. These days, it is a popular meal among taxi-drivers and they will often visit this area because the restaurants offer free parking, car washes, clean bathrooms, free refills on rice, coffee, and friendly service.
If you are still hungry after eating all the soup, potatoes and meat, you can make a fried rice with roasted seaweed and veggies with the leftover broth in the pot. This dish is also a popular hangover cure so early in the morning, you can find these restaurants usually filled with people recovering from the night before. The popularity of gamjatang is not just a native thing. These restaurants are very popular with tourists. There are also restaurants that specialize in this dish in the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. If you happen to be in Korea, here are my top choices for this hearty and delicious dish.

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Dine with the Taxi Drivers at Songgane Gamjatang


Get a bubbling bowl of potato and pork stew with the taxi drivers at this local hotspot. If you see a restaurant with a lot of taxi drivers, you know it must be good because they can travel anywhere they would like. Taxi drivers work hard and they want hearty Korean food to eat―nothing fancy. Here, you can also get a plate of bossam (poached pork belly) with kimchi wraps and a side of fresh oysters. You’ll get a nice assortment of kimchi and other side dishes as well. If you’re feeling particularly hungry, you can get a side of the poached pork belly (bossam) with raw oysters.
Add: #258-3, Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul / Tel: 82-2-3141-6557 / Price 6,000 won for individual stew

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Pork Gold at Seobu Gamjaguk


My favorite place is called Seobu Gamjaguk and it is a bit far, up by the Yeonsinnae Station (on subway line 3). This place has the best broth that I have ever had at a gamjatang restaurant. The quality of bones they use is top notch and the broth is almost golden. The place is very rustic and has been around for a long time. There is only the one item on the menu in a large, medium, or small size. After enjoying your stew, get the bokkeumbap (fried rice)―it is amazing here.
Add: #181, Nokbeon-dong, Eunpyeong-gu, Seoul / Tel: 82-2-356-4555 / Price Small is 20,000 won


Fun for the Whole Family at Jamsil Gamjatang


This is a good place to go if you are over by Namyangju City and you’re looking for a good meal. This is a very large restaurant that specializes in gamjatang but they also serve pork belly and spicy baby octopus. The place even has a playground for kids inside which has a trampoline and slides. The unique feature of this restaurant is that they put mugeunji (aged kimchi) in the broth which adds a sour and spicy note to the dish. The broth here is quite rich and it goes great with a side of rice and steamed egg soup. I would recommend you check this place out.
Add: #194-1, Deokso-ri, Wabu-eup, Namyangju-si, Gyeonggi-do / Tel: 82-31-521-8677

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Reliable Gamjatang at Wondang


Even though it is a franchise, this restaurant serves up hearty portions of pork spine stew with plenty of side dishes. You can find these all around Korea and in Seoul. The menu is a bit more extensive than others so you can get spicy chicken, bibimbap, and many other Korean favorites. The gamjatang comes out in a hot pot and they have a great selection of side dishes with it. If you have a gamjatang craving, this is a reliable place to get some. / Locations throughout Korea

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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