Continuing the theme of restaurants that have withstood the test of time, here’s a special place that’s perfected one of my favorite anju called jeon, which are pan-fried, pancake-like dishes usually consumed with alcohol and/or served during the holiday season. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the more notable ones served in many Korean restaurants/bars are pajeon (green onion pancake), nokdu jeon (mung bean pancake), and kimchi jeon. Regardless of choice, you can’t go wrong with any of them because they’re absolutely terrific when cooked the right way.
Here at Wonjo Nokdu (literally meaning “Original Mung Bean”), they cook them the right way (30+ years of experience will do that), and they don’t discriminate, serving over 10 delicious varieties of jeon in a humble setting that’s harder to find these days in Seoul. My girlfriend and I sampled three of their signature offerings – haemul pajeon (seafood pancakes), nokdu jeon, ddongeurang ddaeng (pork patties, or “round thing”) – and they’re all delicious despite looking somewhat plain at first appearance. I personally enjoyed the nokdu jeon (aka bindaetteok), which was generously packed with tender pork and kimchi to give the jeon a mild yet savory taste. As these were traditional anju, we washed them down with Jangsu Makgeolli, Korea’s bestselling makgeolli that can be found practically anywhere in Korea. If makgeolli is not your thing, soju and beer are available as well. Note: There’s no harm in grabbing extra drinks or side dishes without asking. In fact, the elderly waitresses like it when regular patrons make themselves at home while they attend to newbie customers who have no clue.
This is one of the few places in Seoul that does jeon the traditional way, with their nokdu jeon being the main attraction as it’s hand-ground on a stone mill. I was fortunate enough to catch the aging halmoni (grandmother) on a slow Sunday afternoon (see pics) to see firsthand how much care and love that’s put into making some of the jeon. And it’s very impressive. So, not surprisingly, after 40 years of repetition and devotion to craft, this little place has flourished amidst all the changes in Seoul. The elderly couple, who just happen to hail from Jeonju (the mecca of Korean food), have deteriorated in health recently so only the halmoni makes an appearance from time to time. If you’re a big fan of jeon and makgeolli (a perfect combination for rainy days), make sure to give this place a try before it’s too late.
“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.” ~ Anthony Bourdain
Food: ★★★★½ out of 5 stars
Service: ★★★½ out of 5 stars
Ambiance: ★★★½ out of 5 stars
Value: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Wonjo Nokdu (원조 녹두)
272-8 Ipjeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul (서울 중구 입정동 272-8)
Hours: Open 4-11pm on weekdays and 1-11pm on weekends
Click here for an interactive map: http://naver.me/GBV08CNc