Just a few minutes walk from 송정리 (Songjeong-ri) station in 광주 (Gwangju) is a street filled with some of the most delicious food in Korea. 떡갈비 (Ddeok-Galbi) is the traditional Korean alternative to the burger. There may be no buns in sight, but the charcoal grilled minced meat patties are incredibly tasty and very moreish.
Every time we visit Gwangju I make a point of heading down to the 떡갈비 street if I have time and I fill up on this fantastic food. Last month through bad planning and coincidence I ended up going two days in a row to two different restaurants and I wanted to offer you an insight into the competitive world of minced meat.
The first night I went to 이조정통떡갈비. I've been here three or four times and have never been disappointed. The place looks a little shabby, but don't let the rundown feel deceive you. They produce top-notch food at a very reasonable price. 9,000 won gets you the 떡갈비 set, which starts off with a bowl of pork bone soup.
It's up to you to dig in with fingers or chopsticks and prise out the precious meaty jewels that are tucked into the ragged bones. It takes a little effort, but it is worth the struggle. Usually the bones at 이조 are very meaty, but the night I went they seemed a little lacklustre, with only a few globs of meat to feast on. Perhaps it was because I came alone, or perhaps it was bad luck, but certainly a disappointing start compared to other visits.
Though the meal got off to a rocky start, it soon got back on track with the arrival of the star of the show. The 떡갈비 here is a mixture of pork and beef and is beautifully grilled. The sweet sauce works well with the seasoned meat and leaves you wishing for another portion.
How you eat it is up to you, leaves are provided for the making of little green parcels and I recommend taking advantage of the raw garlic to give your 쌈 a real kick!
A bowl of rice will set you back 1,000 won or you can try out various 비빔밥 (Bibimbap) for 3,000 - 6,000 won.
You can call 이조정통떡갈비 on 062 944 9592. It's about the fourth restaurant down the street and is on the left hand side.
Onto the next night and the whole of our team from "Shadow Thief" made their way to 빛고을 떡갈비 명가.
It's right next to 이조정통떡갈비 and is much flashier. With two floors they've got space for much larger parties and we were able to have our own private room.
Once again we went for the 9,000 won 떡갈비 set and once again we were presented with bowls of pork bone soup.
These bowls were far superior to the previous night, large chunks of tender meat hung off the bones and the portion was much more generous. So far so good.
The 떡갈비 came out and looked delicious. A lot more saucy, these patties looked more manufactured than handmade.
They weren't quite as rough around the edges as the other restaurant and looked a little processed. Not to worry though they still tasted good... But not as good as 이조. There's a big difference between the two. For 9,000 won at 이조 you get a pork and beef patty, but for the same price at this place it's all pork. You have to fork out 17,000 won if you want the beef 떡갈비 experience. Such a shame. The combination of pork and beef is one of the things that gives this food its depth of flavour. When you just have a mouthful of pork, it's not the same, a shallower experience. I feel the same way with spaghetti bolognese, when you mix pork and beef together it lifts the dish to a whole different level.
As our theatre company was graciously footing the bill we all partook in a second course and got our pick of noodles and rice dishes.
I went for the 육회 비빔밥 (raw beef bibimbap - 6,000 won). It looked incredible and the beef seemed very fresh.
Unfortunately the large amount of red pepper paste overwhelmed everything. I'm fine with spice and usually the bibimbaps I have are well seasoned with just the right amount of red gloop, but this one was spoilt by excess chili.
You can call 빛고을 떡갈비 명가 on 062 944 6670.
So where to go? It has to be 이조정통떡갈비. Their 떡갈비 win on texture and flavour and their pork bone soup is usually spot on. They are also a lot friendlier and the intimate atmosphere of the restaurant adds to the enjoyment of your meal. While 빛고을 떡갈비 명가's presentation is superb, some of their preparation seems sloppy and their staff are to busy to give you much attention.
If you find yourself in the Gwangsan area of Gwangju then I hope you get a chance to try out one of Korea's tastiest dishes.