Since I've never had North Korean food, and since I'm always excited by the prospect of trying new foods, I sent out a facebook message asking if anyone would try it with me. I actually got two different responses, one from my coworker John, and one from Jo and Steve Miller (aka the Qi Ranger), and so, last week, I made two trips to Pyong Ga Ok and, over the two visits, got to try a fairly wide selection of what they have to offer.
When you enter the restaurant, there is nothing that looks particularly North Korean, the interior looks like any other restaurant you'd enter. The menu too looks basically familiar at the first glance, but upon further inspection you'll see a few new things. A stew cooked in a 뚝배기 (stone pot bowl) called 온반 (Onban), naengmyon called "평양냉면" (Pyongyang naengmyon), and some large dishes cooked in the center of the table filled with a variety of things I've never seen mixed together in South Korea such as mandu, noodles, and sea food. I was really curious about the big dishes for sharing, but they were quite expencive so we just stuck with the normal 식사 menu.
First were to come out was the banchan. Kimchi, radish kimchi, white kimchi and pickles. All were quite nice, though we couldn't find a big difference between the kimchi here and the kimchi we're used to eating.
On the first visit we ordered these mungbean pancakes. They were quite nice. Similar to bindaedeok, but a bit less greasy.
We also got one 닭고기 온반 and shared it between the two of us. Between this and the pancakes, it was quite enough for two people. The soup bowl is a bit bigger than your average kimchi jjigae bowl. The soup was quite nice, but the best part was the giant mandu (hiding under bubbles in the photo above) in the soup. We just wished there had been two, we had to split the mandu two ways. Fortunately, it was easily the size of two small mandu.
On the second trip, later in the week with Steve and Jo, I brought along the boyfriend as well to help us understand the menu a little better. The boyfriend ordered the same 온반 that John and I ordered earlier in the week and agreed it was quite worth it. Jo tried the 소고기 온반 and she really seemed to enjoy it. The meat was apparently pre-fried in batter and they even put some of that mungbean pancake into the soup, too! Certainly nothing I've seen before.
I decided to order the 평양낸면 (Pyongyang naengmyon). Actually, naengmyon isn't my favorite food. It's one of those foods I will eat once every six months and not crave it again for another six months. But I decided to try it since it is basically the most famous North Korean dish in South Korea. If you ask a South Korean what they know about North Korean food, the first (and possibly only dish) they will name is this one. So, I figured I had to try it.
The noodles to me tasted softer. Usually when I eat typical naengmyon, I find myself struggling to cut the noodles with my teeth. These noodles seemed much softer, but perhaps it was just my imagination. I also really liked the 애호박 slices and beef thrown in. There was also half a boiled egg, but you can't see it in this photo.
As I was leaving I caught the mandu making table and snapped a photo. I'm still amazed by the size of these mandu! And they're all handmade too!
Pyong Ga Ok has six locations in and around Seoul, Samseong Station, Gangnam Station, Sincheon station, Yangjae-2-dong, Bundang Station and Gwanghwamun Station, where I ate. The Gwanghwamun location is just a short walk from exit 1 of Gwanghwamun Station. From Exit 1, cross the street and take the first left (across from exit 1). Walk down the street about 1-2 minutes and you will see the restaurant on the first floor of a building to your left. When I went, the building was under construction, but you could just make out the sign, written in the Chinese characters which are pronounced Pyong Ga Ok.
To read more about Pyongan cuisine, check out this fairly good wikipedia article:
Below, you can see Steve's video about our meal: