There’s something about cuisine that’s an experience that automatically makes it better to me.
Take me to a sushi joint, and while I’ll pick around the seaweed and seafood, I’ll dive into a lettuce and Generic Asian Dressing salad with chopsticks like you’ve taken me to an amusement park. I love eating with chopsticks.
The same is true with Ethiopian food. The goal is to eat with your hands; it’s not even an etiquette faux pas!
And then there’s Korean BBQ, the creme de la creme of experiential eating.
When I taught English in Japan, I lived as far south as you can get on the main island. I was so far south that I lived a shorter distance to Korea than to Tokyo or even Kyoto. I could hop on a ferry and be in Bhusan or Seoul in a few hours.
I visited Korea three times. Each time, I ate like a person who wants to weigh 800 pounds and be airlifted out of their house. I ate like a psycho. My favorite food was, naturally, the famed Korean BBQ.
The BBQ restaurants in Korea are colorful and bright. My favorite has murals covering the walls (Whoopie Goldberg stars in one!), grills sporadically placed on a cement floor and smoke-stained, flimsy plastic chairs. You’re given an expletive ton of “banchan,” or side dishes, including lettuce for wraps. Servers place large slabs of various meats on the grill and hand you scissors. You cut your own meat, and pick it off with chopsticks when it’s to your preferred temperature. It’s a feeding frenzy; the early bird gets the worm and all that. You can’t be shy!
When I moved back to the States, I missed Korean BBQ a lot. When I learned that Annandale, or “Koreatown” is only a 30 minute drive from D.C., I was chomping at the bit to try it.
It didn’t disappoint! Honey Pig, the most popular of the BBQ joints in Annandale, exceeds expectations. From the cement floors to Korean staff to funky decor and loud pop music, it’s a restaurant straight out of the Hongik neighborhood in Seoul. The only major difference I noticed is the servers cut your meat for you instead of handing over the shears.
I had the fun experience of introducing Zan to Korean BBQ when we first started dating (built in conversation starters + interactive dinner = a great date spot!). We went back this weekend with my friend John Michael, a veritable Korean food expert, and we introduced Matt to it. We ordered two cold noodle soups, pork belly, beef tips, spicy pork, pork & squid and rice. We don’t play around when it comes to meat! I can still taste the spicy sauce, garlic and kimichi, or fermented cabbage (that’s so good I swear they import it straight from Korea!).
When I ate out in Korea, I spent $8-10 on that exact meal (including alcohol!). Pretty nuts, huh? Here in the States I expected it to run a good $40-$50, so I was seriously stoked when, for all that food, plus a bottle of Soju (Korean-style vodka), we paid $25 each with a generous tip, both times I’ve been.
Honey Pig. It’s what’s for dinner.
Sutbol, a great locals restaurant in Hongik, Seoul.
Korean BBQ (galbi style) in Seoul. (photo is a friend’s – request for reuse)
My first galbi lettuce wrap (forgive that crazy face!)
BBQ at Honey Pig.
Ordering: Honey Pig has English and pictures on some of their menus. See their English menu online.