Thursday, January 10, 2013

김밥나라 (Kimbap Nara)

They're everywhere. Chances are if you've stayed in Korea for any extended period of time you've eaten at a kimbap joint. There are many different types, or rather brands if you will. There's 김밥천국 (Kimbap Chunguk), Apple Kimpab, and of course my personal favorite 김밥나라 (Kimbap Nara), but they're all pretty much the same, with slight variations on dishes. Some are significantly better than others, and in my neighborhood, 시흥 (Sihueng) in southwest Seoul, 김밥나라 rules.

They all look like little mom and pop joints. On your first arrival to 김밥나라 you might think you've stumbled into a nice Korean family's kitchen. Worry not, you're welcome.

가라 or 'nation' in English, caters to everyday people and if you've a tourist visiting Seoul, you won't find any kimbap places on any suggested itinerary--and that's a shame. 김밥나라 is Korean sit down fast food. Never have I waited more than a few minutes for my grub.

With a massive menu and most, if not every item under 6,000₩, you cannot go wrong. It's doubtful you'll ever find one of these places with an English menu, but a quick Google search will lead you to a nice blog where every item has been translated and accompanied with a picture.

As mentioned before these kimbap places all seem to differ in quality from place to place, neighborhood to neighborhood. Your local 김밥나라 may suck kimchi, but that's for you to find out on your own. Given a choice though, always seek out a 가라.

Of course in you're in a hurry, there's no better quick meal than a roll of 김밥 (Kimbap). I prefer the 참치김밥 or phonetically, Chamchi (tuna) Kimbap. Other great types are the 쇠고기 김밥, Soegogi (beef) Kimbap; 치즈김밥, Chijeu (Cheese) Kimbap; or the traditional 김치김밥, Kimchi Kimbap. At the local 시흥 김밥가라 the Kimbap rolls are so big the seaweed can barely contain all the rice, fish cake, radish, ham, imitation crab goodness without busting.

치김밥 Chamchi Kimbap
Another solid bet is going for the 돈까스 (dongkas), or pork cutlet. I prefer either the 치즈 돈까스 (Chijeu Dongkas), a deep fired pork cutlet with a melted cheesy filing, or the 카레 돈까스 (Curry Dongkas), a pork cutlet covered in a curry mixture with potatoes and carrots. Or course the original 돈까스 is great too if you're not looking for cheese or curry.

치즈 돈까스 (Chijeu Dongkas)
카레 돈까스 (Curry Dongkas)
Along with Kimbap and Dongkas, you'll also find a variety or other dishes. A couple personal favorites are of course the 비빔밥 (Bibimbap), a mixture of rice, seaweed, various vegetables and an egg; 철판소고기덮밥 (Cheolpan Sogogideo Bap) a Japanese style Teppen style beef and rice dish with cellophane noodles; or 제육덮밥 (Jeyugdeo Bap) a spicy-pork rice dish; get some street-food indoors by ordering the 떡볶이 (Tteokbokki), a famed Korean snack food with rice cake, fish cake, cabbage and an egg; or finally the 치즈오므라이스 (Chijeu Omeu Laiseu), a cheese omelet covered in the 독까스 sauce.

비빔밥 (Bibimbap) Before
비빔밥 (Bibimbap) After
철판소고기덮밥 (Cheolpan Sogogideo Bap)
제육덮밥 (Jeyugdeo Bap)
떡볶이 (Tteokbokki)
치즈오므라이스 (Chijeu Omeu Laiseu)
They also have a seeming never ending soup menu to go alone with it.

If you like Korean food, then there's something for you at 김밥나라, I guarantee it. If you're an expat, I challenge you to try everything on the 가라 menu once. To do so will be a long and delicious journey you certainly won't regret! So get out there and get some 김밥!