There are very few quality Korean restaurants in the Itaewon area with the recent explosion of international fare, and this even more true in the foreigner-friendly area called Haebangchon (HBC) and Kyungridan. However, there is one special place that I always make an effort to visit whenever I am back in Seoul: Damotori. This is a traditional Korean bar specializing in regional makgeolli (fermented rice alcohol) and terrific anju (food paired with alcohol). I’ve been coming here since they opened shop 5 years ago and they only continue to get better with each subsequent visit. This is positive news for people who love this rustic drink, which is gaining more and more popularity here and abroad
Before I forget, here are some things that stand out about Damotori:
- Offers a diverse list of makgeolli from all regions of Korea, often stocking artisanal and premium makgeolli from private purveyors across the peninsula.
- Each of their makgeolli is described in detail by origin, size, alcohol percentage, and price. Take a local or brush up on your Korean language skills because it’s in complete hangeul.
- The popular makgeolli sampler allows customers to taste test five different varieties for only 3,000 won, a must-order for those curious about the subtle differences in taste and texture of makgeolli.
- They serve aspartame-free makgeolli for those with a discerning, health-conscious palate. If you’re unfamiliar with aspartame, it’s the unhealthy artificial sweetener found in most diet drinks.
- The anju are top notch with their signature jeon (pancake) being cooked to crispy and savory perfection. Yukhoe (beef tartare) and galbi gui (grilled short ribs) are highly recommended as well.
- Interior is clean, quaint, and intimate, making it ideal for small gatherings or even a date night. Weekend nights fill up quickly, so be prepared for a short wait.
If you’ve been in Korea for a while, you probably know by now that makgeolli and pajeon are “rainy day” foods. There are quite a few theories why this combination takes center stage on rainy days. Here are the more popular ones: 1) Back in the old days when farming was common practice, farmers would gather after a hard day’s work to indulge in a few bowls of freshly made makgeolli and pajeon, the latter being one of the easiest and cheapest dishes to prepare. 2) It is believed that the sizzling sound when making pajeon is similar to the sound of rain drops, naturally provoking hunger and craving for Korea’s favorite anju. 3) Humidity increases on rainy days, resulting in blood sugar levels to drop. People seek out food such as pajeon to restore those depleted blood sugar levels. 4) Rainy days often have people feeling down and depressed. Flour-based foods and makgeolli will help since they both contain high levels of serotonin, a chemical that improves mood and emotion as well as appetite.
Rain or shine, this is one of my favorite combinations here at Damotori. And, honestly, I have yet to find another place that does it better—which is a testament to the passionate chef/owner who continues to amaze me and loyal patrons with top-notch food and drinks.
“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.” ~ Louise Fresco
Food ★★★★½ out of 5 stars
Service: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Ambiance: ★★★★½ out of 5 stars
Value: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
44-18 Yongsan-dong 2-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (용산구 용산동 2가 44-18)
Hours: 6pm ~ 2am every day
Directions via Naver map: http://me2.do/GUEf5b5Q