I don't like Insadong: it's touristy and gimmicky AF, and lined with price-gouging souvenir shops galore. Think Singapore's Chinatown, but several times larger and with even more artifice. The fact that foreign visitors outnumber locals wandering around Insadong says a lot about its trite attractions. BUT, we heard (from the wonderful concierge at the Four Seasons) that there was an awesome bibimbap shop, "the best bibimbap in Seoul" they'd said, so we thought to do our "foodie" rep justice and brave the hordes.
Located in the bowels of Ssamzie-gil, a distinctive mall right smack in the heart of Insa-dong, Jeonju Traditional Bibimbap Shop is so hidden away (it's located behind a bunch of children's art workshops), you would have to be looking for it to actually find it. There's hardly any foot traffic, but still the restaurant packs a full crowd, largely locals, during lunch. I suppose that's why Seoulites go to Insadong: just to eat aha!!
And, as it turned out, the bibimbap was indeed remarkable, in no small part due to the rice being cooked in beef broth for added oomph, a mark of bibimbap hailing from the Jeonju city. And we loved loved loved that delicious sauce, a proprietary gochujang-based blend. It was so damn good, we bought a few dozen jars of their teoteok gochujang, just to recreate it back home.
The Jeonju Dolsot Bibimbap (11,000KRW), was served sizzling in a hot hot hot stone pot, and topped with beautifully rainbow-hued julienned vegetables (zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, gosari, radish, seaweed, soybean sprouts, doraji, cucumbers), beef strips, and lashings of that wonderful sauce. At once sweet, spicy, garlicky and savoury, this was punchy yet balanced and nuanced.
The Japchae (17,000KRW) of clear potato noodles stir-fried with spinach, carrots, chilli, scrambled egg, and beef, was decent but forgettable.
The Haemul Pajeon (17,000KRW), seafood and green onion pancake, was a half-and-half. The pancake was delightfully toasty and crispy, but the squid was disappointingly overcooked.
I liked the potato jeon and green salad, we got seconds of those. The kimchi, both of the red and white varieties, was middling.
The shop front for reference.
The entrance is through those doors.
Jeonju Traditional Bibimbap Shop (Gogung Insa-dong)
44 Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu
Tel: +82 2 736 3211
Open daily from 11am to 9.30pm