maître d’ - Byeokje Galbi
Written by and photography Daniel Allen
A signature dish made from marinated beef ribs, galbi is one of the prime reasons that Korean food has such global appeal. Cooked on an open, tabletop grill, galbi is a communal dining experience that all meat lovers will relish.
It’s early Friday night, and at Seoul’s Byeokje Galbi Restaurant the succulent smell of roasting meat fills the air. Waiters dash past, ferrying red-hot charcoal, bottles of local Cass beer, and overloaded trays of food. Rows of diners – local, expat, and tourist – exchange gossip, sample side dishes, and turn half-cooked strips of tender beef with tongs. And it hasn’t even got busy yet.
“The reason for this restaurant’s popularity is simple,” says manager Jung Seok-Ahn, looking out over a sea of contented diners. “It’s all about culinary excellence. When the chairman Kim Young-Hwan founded Byeokje Galbi back in 1986, his guiding philosophy was to only use the best ingredients. Dr. Kim consistently supports local cattle farms to improve the quality of the beef they supply. It’s a two-way relationship.
“The Byeokje company has two master butchers and five master chefs, each of whom has more than 25 years’ restaurant experience,” continues Jung. “At the moment we have a partnership with Han Chang cattle farm in Gyeonggi-do (a province around Seoul), where the most prized Korean cattle are raised. Our expert staff oversee every step of the production process from farm to table.”
“I eat here virtually every week,” explains Yoon Ji-Young, from the Seoul Tourism Organization, between mouthfuls. “Yes, it’s expensive, but you get what you pay for. For overseas visitors I would recommend the yukhoe – thin sliced raw beef marinated in special soy sauce with honey and Asian pear – followed by yangnyeom galbi, which are barbecued ribs in a special sauce.”
“I’m a vegetarian and I still come here,” says Yoon’s friend Han Ji-Yoon, grinning. “Try the local mushrooms, rice cakes, and naengmyeon, which is a Korean dish of cold buckwheat noodles in beef stock. Everything’s freshly prepared on the day.”
In Korean, the word ‘Byeokje’ means ‘blue emperor’. Treat yourself to a meal fit for a king, and it’s a safe bet you won’t be disappointed.
Seoul, South Korea
Songs of Seoul