For Koreans, gimbap brings about memories of childhood when it was often part of packed lunches or served as a tasty snack. Still a widely enjoyed snack food in Korea, new takes on this classic Korean dish using premium ingredients and unique recipes are becoming increasingly popular. In the following column, we tip you off to five of the best gimbap restaurants in Seoul that offer unique gimbap dishes such as gimbap stuffed with delicious wild greens, spicy mixed nuts, grilled pork, fried tofu or even wrapped in an omelet.
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Joseon Gimbap is situated in a back alley behind the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul. The gimbap made here is equal parts unique and delicious as the owner and chef spent more than 10 years researching royal Korean cuisine. The results of his research are shown in dishes like Odeng Gimbap that uses horseradish and odeng (fish cakes) boiled down in soy sauce.
But the most popular dish on the menu is the restaurant’s namesake, Joseon Gimbap, which is made with pickled radish, burdock, carrot, ham, kkotnamul greens and canola greens instead of the usual spinach. Given the unique ingredients, the gimbap is also known as Kkotnamul Gimbap. Kkotnamul is a wild green whose name is even unfamiliar to Koreans. The vegetable, which is typically grown in May, is not tasty when eaten fresh. So, it is dried and stored away until a later date when it will be soaked in water for 12 hours and then boiled for about two hours. It is then left to soak again and fried in the evening for use the following day, taking a full two days to prepare. The green is fried in sesame seed oil, so it goes well with the other ingredients in Joseon Gimbap. The unique taste of Joseon Gimbap is popular among all ages causing this establishment in Samcheong-dong to always be bustling with people. The gimbap here is served with a few side dishes like pickled squid and jangajji (pickled radish).
Lee’s Gimbap in Apgujeong offers a wide variety of tasty gimbap. The Spicy Mixed Nuts Gimbap with its combination of almonds and walnuts has an excellent taste and texture pairing nicely with its accompanying ingredients of fried anchovies, fresh cucumber, and hot and spicy Cheongyang chili pepper.
The Super Veggie Gimbap is a favorite among those who are watching their weight as it is full of fresh cucumber and carrots. It is made by rolling the rice to a thickness of 2mm on a sheet of dried laver, then lots of cucumber, carrots, burdock, and pickled radish are placed inside before it is rolled together. The disproportionately large amount of vegetable filling is what makes Lee’s Gimbap so special.
However, the standout item of the twenty or so gimbap varieties at Lee’s Gimbap is the Edam Cheese Gimbap, which is packed with Dutch Edam cheese, mushrooms, and paprika. The paprika goes well with the excellent flavor of the Edam cheese, offering a one of a kind gimbap experience.
Situated at the end of an alley in Namseong Market in Sadang-dong, Bangbae Gimbap is so good you won’t want to bother with the other treats the market has to offer. The secret to Bangbae Gimbap’s 30 years of success is their yubu, or fried tofu, which is boiled down in soy sauce, pepper, and sugar in a cast-iron cauldron for two hours. The rich flavor of the boiled-down yubu is as good as it gets.
The Yubu Gimbap is served along with pickled radishes that are soaked in water to remove any color. The young restaurant owner makes sure he preserves the originality of the restaurant’s gimbap by using select soy sauce and sesame seed oil, aiding in each dishes’ distinct flavor. Despite being busy, there is hardly a wait as family members work together making, cutting, and packing each gimbap. The gimbap is available for take-out only, and the restaurant offers door-to-door delivery in the Seoul and Gyeonggi-do area. The Gochu Gimbap, which is made of hot and spicy Cheongyang chili peppers marinated in a vinegar soy sauce, has a seriously spicy and addictive flavor.