A “mom and pop” restaurant is a simple dining concept across America. Buy fresh ingredients prepare food from scratch provide a delicious menu, give spectacular “homey” service and cater to regular customers. When traveling this same experience is essential to living especially when you don’t speak the language. South Korean foodie tip numero-uno, look for the dirty orange awning with the white lettering on it. This is the trademark awning for all “mom and pop” Kimbap Chongu locations throughout South Korea. You wont be disappointed.
The indistinguishable markings on the doors and windows denoting the arrival at Kimbap Chongu. The decor is old and worn out. The tables are made of a yellow and white formica wood table top with brown aluminum legs ready to bend towards the ground at any moment a heavy customer leans the wrong direction on it. There are always four fans hanging on opposite sides of the walls just above two grey sound buffering panels. A few posters of food dishes have been on display since the shop opened, never changing, never taken down.
At the rear of the restaurant is the open kitchen concept with a self-serve water cooler, a sterilizing cupboard for plastic drinking cups, an older color television tucked back into the far left corner and a pair of bookshelves covered with dirty old magazines. On the opposite side of the room is a short counter with twin commercial forty-liter rice cookers, a cupboard for bowls, plates and cups along with a small side table for prepping banchans (side plates) of kimchi, pickled radish and anchovy-seaweed salad.
Walking back towards the front of the shop is where all the Kimbap making action takes place. A single person stands in front of a sandwich counter with ingredients of pickled radish, ham, egg, cucumber, tuna, shitake mushroom, kimchi, cheese, seaweed and of course rice! Each Kimbap is hand rolled into a tightly rolled cylindrical batch of ingredients then sliced, usually into ten pieces, set on a plate and served. It’s even possible to have the Kimbap roll served wrapped in a thin egg crepe! The everyday regular Kimbap roll consisting of seaweed, rice, pickled radish, mushroom and cucumber will cost you 1,000 won. All the previous plus a splattering of tuna fish 2,000 won. Wrap it in egg, call it Kalimara and the charge is 2,500 won, roughly two dollars!
Every meal comes directly out of the kitchen pipping hot to prove it has been cooked fresh for you at that moment. Each dish you order comes with a pair of banchans (side dishes). The typical dishes are sliced pickled radish and homemade kimchi. A few of the highly recommended items on the menu are Kimchi Jjigae. Jjigae meaning stew comes served in a hot stone bowl with a boiling broth straight from the oven. Consisting of spicy red pepper paste broth, chunks of tofu, cabbage, sprouts, sliced pork and a bowl of rice. This meal will set you back 4,000 won. Another favorite on the menu is Kimchi Mandu. Mandu or dumplings are filled with diced pork, shrimp, vegetables or a combination. (3,500 won) Any bowl of Ramen ordered will both be delicious and inexpensive coming in under 3,000 won.
Being a foreigner living in South Korea can be stressful enough when it comes to everyday living. Everyone needs nourishment and Kimbap Chongu is a safe bet, every hour of the day. With gentle kindness from the ajumma’s serving food to the friendliness of the patrons in the eatery. It’s an absolute must for any occasion when the stomach needs a home cooked meal at a reasonable price! Highly recommended by ESL Teachers at Gyeonggi English Village, in Paju:
~ “My favorite dish at Kimbap Chongu hands down is the Kimchi Jjigae!” Shauna J.
~ “When your short on lunch time, two Cheese Kimbap rolls are the perfect answer, every time!” Jacquelyne N.
~ “It is a local favorite. Everyone there treats you like family. Personally I enjoy the Mandu Ramen.” Bob R.