The area of Jongno 3-ga, or Jongno sam-ga, is a well-known destination already due to the number of popular attractions that can be found there including the royal palaces, several historic parks, the Cheonggyecheon (Stream) and of course, the traditional neighborhood of Insadong. But Jongno 3-ga is also famous for another reason that is less obvious to the outside world; it is famous for its gul bossam!
Bossam is one of the most popular foods in Korea. It's ranked highly by both foreigners and Koreans alike, and is eaten at all times of the day, but especially late at night.
Bossam is steamed steamed pork, sliced into bite-sized bits which is wrapped in a leaf vegetable, most often lettuce, napa cabbage, or even kimchi. Bossam is great as a meal, but most Koreans enjoy eating bossam as an accompanying side dish when drinking alcohol.
Bossam is a dish that can be easily made at home. In Korean households kimchi is always at hand, meaning that all that is left to enjoy some bossam is steaming up some pork! In most Korean dishes where kimchi is required, often fermented kimchi is used, however, bossam tastes the best with crunchy, freshly-made kimchi. This is why many times in Korean households families will enjoy bossam at dinner on days when a batch of kimchi has been freshly made.
Bossam's origins are also tied with kimchi. For several centuries, one of the most important tasks in preparing for the winter was the task of gimjang (or kimjang), the process of preparing and preserving kimchi. Before the arrival of winter, large quantities of kimchi were prepared and preserved for one month during the late fall. Kimchi at this point of the preparation stage is referred to as gimjang kimchi. In order to make large quantities of gimjang kimchi, many working hands were required. During the Joseon Dynasty, the yangban (noble class) wouldn't make kimchi themselves, rather, their servants would take on this laborous work. So to lift their spirits, while at the same time giving them the strength to carry on working, a nobleman would catch a pig and throw a neighborhood cookout. The pig would get steamed and get eaten along with the gimjang kimchi being made.
Pork has a tendency to give off a strong odor, which is why when it is steamed when making bossam, ginger and onions are added to the pot to remove any strong smells. You can always see pots of pork boiling away in every bossam restaurant in this alley.
Every gul bossam restaurant in this food alley offers other items on their menu, but the specialty of these restaurants is of course, gul bossam. So what is gul bossam? Gul bossam is simply bossam, but with the addition of gul!
"Gul" is "oyster" in Korean. They are an excellent source of zinc, iron, calcium, selenium as well as Vitamin A and Vitamin B12. They are also low in calories and are considered the healthiest when eaten raw. Oysters are even considered an aphrodisiac!
Like many countries, oysters are a popular food in Korea as well. Oysters are eaten in variety of ways. They are often eaten raw with some chogochujang (sauce made of a mixture of vinegar and red chili pepper paste). But there is also gul guk (oyster soup), gul jeon (oyster pancake), gul muchim (seasoned oysters), gul bap (oysters with rice) and more. In the winter, oysters are used in the kimchi preparation process as well.
But the most popular way to eat oysters in Korea is raw, which is how they are served at gul bossam restaurants, alongside steamed pork and kimchi.
No matter which bossam restaurant you go to in Korea, saeujeot will always make an appearance. Saeujeot is pickled fermented shrimp, and it is used as a dipping sauce for the steamed pork. Saeujeot isn't served alongside steamed pork just to add flavor and taste, it is said that it helps to digest the pork due to its fermented nature.
If you order some gul bossam at any of the restaurants in this food alley, you're bound to be astonished, three times in fact! First, you'll be astonished at the amount of food that comes out! Second, you'll be astonished at the gamjatang (pork and potato soup) that comes out for free! Third, you get unlimited refills of kimchi! (Most bossam restaurants require that you pay for additional kimchi). With knowing all of that, how can you resist? But it's not just the great service and treatment of customers that brings crowds of people to this food alley. It's the great tasting food!
It's customary to enjoy the gamjatang first, then the gul bossam!
Another thing that the restaurants in this food alley do differently than most other bossam restaurants is that instead of the standard kimchi made of napa cabbage, they serve their bossam with radish kimchi. The radish kimchi is served on a bed of salted napa cabbage rolls.
The radish kimchi is made by seasoning radish with gochugaru (red chili pepper flakes), sugar, soy sauce, etc. Radish kimchi is surprisingly chewier in texture than what you might expect, and is sweet and spicy in taste.
To properly enjoy gul bossam, you get some kimchi, then place a bit of steam pork on top of it, then a bit of oyster on top of that, and then eat it all together! Be prepared to open your mouth wide!
The idea of combining these three foods together may seem awkward at first, but any doubts will fade away once your tongue gets its first taste!
How to Get There
Take subway line 1, 3, or 5 to Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station and go out exit 15. Walk straight for about 20 meters and you should see an alley on your left. Turn into the alley and then take your first right into Gul Bossam Alley!
A. Jeju Jip (제주집)
B. Cheonghakdong Bossam (청학동 보쌈)
C. Gaboja Gul Bossam (가보자굴보쌈) 02-2268-5353
D. Jeonju Jip (전주집) 02 -2278-3311
E. Samhae Jip (삼해집) 02-2273-0266
F. Heungbuga (흥부가) 02-2269-8110
G. Jangun Bossam (장군보쌈) 02-2274-9548
H. Choebuja Bossam (최부자보쌈) 02-2272-4726
Gul bossam: Small 20,000 won / Medium 25,000 won / Large 30,000 won
3 p.m. - 5 a.m. the next day (Closed on major holidays)
Changdeokgung is also known as Donggwol, the Eastern Palace, because of its location to the east of Gyeongbokgung. For 270 years, the palace was home to the Joseon government and was also the favored residence of many Joseon Dynasty kings.
Tapgol Park was the first modern park built in Seoul and the birthplace of the March 1st Movement against the Japanese occupation in 1919..