Instead of getting the all-annoying question, “I am coming to Seoul and staying in Myeongdong, can you recommend any restaurants for me?”— a few people were sensible enough to put some thought into their message, telling me what Korean food meant to them and how they didn’t want to waste their time eating at “tourist” traps. I, by no means, expect a lengthy message, but the least anyone can do is introduce themselves if you want any type of reply. I’m doing this as a passion project of mine, which means I have no interest in commercializing this account to attract visitors or customers. Anyways, here are a few questions that got my attention: “Where would your last meal be at if you left Korea?” “What authentic food should I eat that I can’t get Stateside?” “Where are your five favorite places to eat?” I have no qualms answering these types of questions.
Besides Imun Seolleungtang 이문설농탕, I think this historic restaurant in Hanam City (about an hour drive outside of Seoul) deserves a special trip for anyone visiting or living in Korea. The place is called Mabang Jip and it’s a living museum spanning over 100 years. Originally opened as a horse stable 마방 with accommodations in 1918, it started serving traditional set meals a decade later, all within a spacious hanok compound. Tons of relics and tools from the past remind you what Korea used to be like before all this modernity. Most notable is the mini jangseung 장승 (Korean totem pole) that’s given to each customer as they’re led into individual rooms. Jangseung (like “dol harubang” in Jeju) served several important purposes back in the days, warding off evils spirits in the village and acting as a signpost/marker. Impressed with the phallic-like figure, I asked if I could purchase one as a souvenir of sorts and got a stern look in response.
In such a stunning atmosphere, you expect the food to be just as good—and it was. The recommended hanjeongsik (15,000 won) filled with 18 (?) or so green, leafy, and veggie sides + two soups + rice was not only visually appealing, it was clean and hearty whilst being flavorful and delicious, all thanks to the jangs (sauces) that are made in-house and chilling in the back in large onggi 옹기 (earthenware pots). The doenjang jjigae, in particular, packed a super savory, umami punch, complimenting the lightly seasoned namul banchan that’s turned into a vegetarian bibimbap to one’s liking. The charcoal-grilled bulgogi (18,000 won), although decent, was nothing special because it didn’t have any smokiness as the name implied. If I had to it again, I would’ve just ordered the hanjeongsik because that was way too much food for one person.
Overall, this was one of the better meals during my time in Korea. Excellent atmosphere (inside and out), friendly service, and a perfectly balanced meal fit for a king. Highly recommended and definitely worth traveling for.
Food: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Service: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Ambiance: ★★★★½ out of 5 stars
Value: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Mabang Jip 마방집
Chunhyun-dong 428-4 Hanam City 천현동 428-4 하남시 경기도
Hours: Open every day 11:00 am ~ 9:30 pm
Click here for an interactive map: http://naver.me/5UXRvuoc