Jeongshik, Deluxe Korean Cuisine
What is Jeongshik?
Jeongshik(정식) is a hard word to translate into English. My favorite online dictionary says it’s called “table d’hôte” in English but what does that mean? I’ll have to try to explain. Those familiar with Korean food and the Korean language probably know what panchan (반찬) is, yet this too is inadequately translated as “side dish”. Panchan is basically anything edible on the table that isn’t rice or the main course. So, jeongshik is basically a meal with so much panchan that the main course isn’t quite recognizable.
Where can I go to experience jeongshik?
Well, if you aren’t in Korea, try going to a Korean restaurant in your city and ask them if they have it. If you are in Korea, there are many Jeongshik restaurants. I’ll tell you about one in particular I found.
It’s in Insadong.
Insadong is the
tourist trap district traditional district of Seoul located between Anguk and Jonggak subway stations. I’m personally not a big fan of this area at all, but I found myself there for some reason. More on Insadong later.
If you don’t like Insadong, how do you know about this place?
Well actually, I was in Insadong and I was hungry. I turned down an impossibly narrow alley and headed into the first restaurant that I saw. Suddenly two people walking past the restaurant said that it’s not a good place to eat, so I decided I’d follow them to see where they were eating. I followed them down one alley, then turning down another, and finally turning down a third alley in a network of tiny alleyways that would be impossible to explain, so I have provided a map. It was there that I found the restaurant called Ongdalsem.
Ongdalsem (옹달샘) means “spring” (as in the water flowing from a rock kind). And low and behold, once I stepped into the restaurant, there was a spring (albeit artificial) right outside the window. The restaurant had a very nice interior, constructed to look like a centuries old Korean house. Everything was made of wood. The atmosphere created by the flowing water and wooden interior was quite nice.
The place was also quite busy with the lunch crowd, and I think they were a bit understaffed. It took them a while to give us our meal, but it wasn’t because of bad service. As you can see from the pictures, there’s so much panchan that it’s difficult to see what the main course is. The idea of jeongshik is then to give you a taste of everything from pickeled vegetables, to meat, to fish, and also soup. The meal itself was very delicious, and at 10000 won ($8.7 US) per person, it’s not that bad of a deal.