Recently I took a day trip to a mountain area in the central part of Korea, near famed Sobaek Mountain.
After visiting a Buddhist temple and a waterfall, named Huibang for both, to enjoy some fresh mountain air and lots of green as well as the rushing water, I needed to find something to eat that hopefully would satisfy my now very hungry stomach.
The nearest town to Huibang temple is the small settlement of Punggi, which has around 16,000 people in it, and is famous for its ginseng.
That’s why when I saw the sign for a restaurant called Punggi Insam Galbi (translated as Punggi Ginseng Ribmeat) I thought it would be the perfect place to refuel for the rest of the day with some hopefully delicious meat with a unique twist.
Punggi Insam Galbi looked a bit rustic from the outside, but inside the restaurant was nice and clean.
There was lots of ginseng plants in the entrance to the restaurant, carefully placed inside large glass vessels.
The menu showed that there were some different options, including Rib-bone stew, and barbecued Korean beef. I decided to order Korean beef with ginseng, that would come as more of a soup or stew, as opposed to barbecued meat.
The server quickly brought some water, and I took out some chopsticks and a spoon, which were wrapped to ensure cleanliness and sanitary conditions.
The server then brought a wide range of side dishes (ban-chan in Korean) that provided a wide range of flavors. There were so many to try but some of my favorites were:
Lightly pickled cucumbers;
Peppers coated in soybean paste;
And of course kimchi!
There was even a place to get more of some of the side dishes, if you were interested in getting some more.
After sampling the side dishes, the server brought the main course, the ginseng bulgogi.
She turned on the table-side gas burner, and the pan, which was piled high with beef, onions, mushrooms, greens, noodles, and ginseng slowly began to boil.
While waiting for the soup to reach a good temperature, I tried a ginseng sprout that was on top. The ginseng was tangy, and it is definitely an acquired taste to eat it raw. But it is very refreshing, and of course very healthy.
After a few minutes the glass noodles were soft and the vegetables were cooked and it was time to dig in to the meat.
Well, the bulgogi was excellent. It was thinly sliced and was very tender. More importantly, it was infused with the flavor of the ginseng, creating a taste that I had never experienced before.
The rest of the vegetables and mushrooms were tasty, and along with the glass noodles provided a different texture to the marinated meat. The slices of ginseng on top also added to the flavor palate and were even more tangy than the sprouts.
After enjoying the meat in a few different ways, including wrapping it up in a lettuce leaf with garlic and homemade soybean / red pepper paste, I was finally full enough to continue my day trip.
I have to say that the addition of ginseng to the traditional Korean bulgogi was an interesting, and flavorful, choice. The ginseng really provides a new dimension of flavor, and if they served this in my city, I would definitely be willing to try it again. Sadly, it looks like I will have to travel to enjoy this dish again, but it would be more than worth the drive!