When I was a kid, my mother would often joke about how I only seemed to enjoy cheap food. As I look through my list of my favorite dishes in Korea, I’m coming to realize just how right she was. I guess that’s a good thing for someone who loves to eat but isn’t exactly making bank. Considering how pricey last week’s review was, I figured I would be kind to my bank account by going somewhere a little more affordable for this week’s review. Based on my preferences, this was definitely not a difficult decision.
A few friends and I went to dinner at 한뚝배기 (Han Ttukbaegi) on a chilly night after a long debate over what food would be ideal for filling our hungry stomachs while providing much needed warmth. I suggested this restaurant after having walked by it multiple times, mostly because I was hungry and had seen the place advertising unlimited refills on rice.
It should be noted that the term 뚝배기 (ttukbaegi) is the name for the very commonly used black earthenware vessel that is used to make stews and a bunch of other classic Korean dishes. Knowing this, it was no surprise that the restaurant’s specialty was stews and other common and beloved Korean dishes.
Once we were seated in the surprisingly large and busy establishment, which was located on the second floor, I looked through the entirely Korean menu that had no pictures.
The two main stews were 꽃게된장찌개 (kkochge doenjangjjigae; crab soybean stew) and 김치찌개 (kimchi jjigae; kimchi stew), and the meat options included 대패삼겹살볶음 (daepae samgyeopsal bokkeum; stir fried pork belly), 제육볶음 (jaeyook bokkeum; stir fried spicy pork), 불고기 (bulgogi; marinated beef), 오징어볶음 (ojingeo bokkeum; stir fried squid), 낙지볶음 (nakji bokkeum; stir fried octopus), and 수육정식 (suyuk jeonsik; plain pork meal). It was possible to get just one dish or get a stew and some meat in a set. There were also some sides like 계란찜 (gyeran jjim; steamed egg), 계란말이 (gyeran mari; rolled omelette), and 스팸구이 (Spam gui; fried Spam). I opted for the set that came with both the kimchi stew and the marinated beef while my friends also got sets. As I was in the mood for eggs, we also ordered the steamed egg side dish.
After we placed our orders, our waiter motioned over to the side of the restaurant while informing us that rice, sides, and snacks were unlimited. While they would bring us our first servings, we would be responsible for replenishing our starches and vegetables within reason. As expected, there were many signs requesting to avoid wasting food.
It didn’t take long for us to receive our first round to rice and sides. The sides we got included macaroni salad, kimchi, bean sprouts, stir fried fish cake, and more. It was a good thing that we were able to get free refills on sides, as a lot of them were eaten fairly quickly. Though none of them were spectacular by any means, they were just what I needed to get my appetite into feasting mode.
After a bit of waiting, our food started to arrive. I was surprised at how much food we actually received, especially when considering how affordable our orders were. My 김치찌개, though properly red and piping hot, was just okay. I enjoyed it, but I tend to like my classic kimchi stew with funkier kimchi and more solid bits. It seemed to be lacking the depth I have grown use to when enjoying one of my favorite Korean meals. The 불고기 was also decent and plentiful, though the lack of other ingredients made it quiet basic. In terms of quality, the food here reminded more of some of the meals I had when visiting local schools instead of restaurant food. Though nothing we got was gourmet or even close to the best I’ve had, there was a familiar nostalgia to everything I tried that both reminded me of simpler times while also instilling a fear of leaving any leftovers. Considering how the establishment was filled with younger customers, it is very possible that they felt the same.
Overall, our trip to 한뚝배기 was an affordable and filling one. Though I don’t think anyone will be listing this restaurant as their favorite, everyone walked away properly satisfied. I would recommend this place to anyone looking for a classic Korean meal that’s easy on the wallet and offers a ton of food. Considering how it is located in the middle of downtown Gwangju, it’s definitely one of the more affordable spots in town.
Address: 광주광역시 동구 황금동 21-9 2층 (located in the same building as Cafe Dessert Queen)
Hours: 11:30AM to 10:30PM
Average Price Range: 7,000 to 10,000 per person