As someone that loves Chinese food, I’ve always been puzzled at the lack of it in Korea. I always assumed that two countries that share the same continent would mean easier access to each other’s’ cuisines, but that idea went out the window after over two years of black bean noodles. It wasn’t until after I had given up hope that my fellow crooked blogger invited me to dinner at one of his own discoveries.
Hidden away in the quiet streets of Songjeong, 長白山 (장백산/jangbaeksan), which translates into Changbai Mountain, is a small, unsuspecting restaurant that is fairly easy to miss. Despite the Chinese characters and the obviously red motif, I was rather suspicious of its authenticity until I was met with a wave of unique and familiar aromas upon entry. Whatever it was they were serving, it definitely wasn’t Korean.
Upon entry, the four of us were kindly greeted with a menu and side dishes consisting of kimchi, roasted peanuts, and a serving of some sort of spicy pickled vegetable that we ate too much of (we all had our own guess as to what it was, but we’re still not sure). As I panned through the picture book menu, the men of the table were quick to order a couple of large and surprisingly affordable bottles of Tsingtao beer. Our final order, which was made up of both recommendations and curious selections, consisted of Pork with Peppers & Mushrooms, Mapo Tofu, Spicy Beef with Peppers & Onions, Egg Drop Soup, and Fried Rice. To say that we were hungry is an understatement.
After some time, our first dish arrived hot and fresh out of the kitchen. Before I go on, I will say now that this is not the ideal place for big parties or those who don’t like to share, as the combination of what I assume is a small kitchen and even smaller staff will make for long waiting times and dishes arriving at different times. Anyways, our first dish was the Pork with Peppers & Mushrooms. While I’m usually not a fan of mushrooms, I found this dish somewhat addictive. Everything was brought together by a spicy, savory, and slightly greasy sauce that complimented each ingredient. Though I’m not entirely sure exactly what type of mushroom was used in this dish, it was enough to make me rethink my overall misunderstanding with eating fungus.
Just as we finished our first dish, we received our Mapo Tofu, which was followed by the Spicy Beef with Peppers & Onions (a favorite of the crooked one). Not for the faint of heart, the tofu was the spiciest part of our meal. That being said, it was one of the better tasting variations of one of my absolute favorite dishes. The beef plate, which was nowhere near as hot as it looked, turned out to be an explosion of flavors that dominated the previous two dishes. The combination of hot peppers, sautéed onions, and an almost ridiculous amount of fennel made the beef into something rather special and unique from anything I had ever had in this city.
As we started to grow overly stuffed from our surprisingly filling meal, our Egg Drop Soup and Fried Rice arrived. The rich, eggy soup served as a very welcome contrast to the flavor laden dishes we had just finished, balancing out the entirety of our meal while managing to be quite tasty on its own. Though I was rather satiated at this point, I couldn’t help but indulge when it came to the fried rice. Despite being such a simple, common dish, it was the one part of our meal that I found to be authentic in terms of taste and execution. Even now, I find it hard to fathom just how identical it was to what I had grown up with back home.
All in all, 長白山 turned out to be a pleasant, flavorful experience, and I can’t thank my blog brother enough for making it happen. While I won’t go as far to say that what I had was REAL Chinese food (as there are so many different variations that I’m rather ignorant of), I will say that it was definitely a big step outside of what’s considered the norm around here. The restaurant also has a small selection of exotic ingredients that I have yet to find anywhere else. Though I would like to recommend this place to everyone I know, some caution should be taken by those that can’t handle spicy food, as well as any vegetarians out there (meatless options were very limited).
Address: 광주 광산구 송정동 844-20 (across the road from the Thai restaurant)
Average Price Range: 10,000 to 15,000 per dish