Japchae with abalone and burdock
완도 전복채를 곁들인 우엉잡채
Ever since I first heard about Congdu, I knew I wanted to visit it one day. In Graham Holiday‘s book Eating Korea (really good book btw), he writes how owner Vivian Han goes all over Korea in search of artisanal ingredients. Super cool. But it was a quote from Vivian that really intrigued me: “I use only traditional ingredients. The only thing we add is our chef’s imagination to make our own sauces and to make our food more modern. Sometimes I would really like to use butter or make bread, but we just want to use things that are from our land. That’s the difference with us and other restaurants like us in Seoul.”
With most neo-Korean cuisine unabashedly leaning towards fusion, I really wanted to see what modern-Korean food could be like if it stayed true to its roots. And so, with that in mind, I made sure to visit Congdu on my most recent visit to Korea.
This is Congdu’s japchae. Japchae is a dish I’ve made many times and one that I’ve eaten on countless more occasions. It’s a dish that is so commonplace that it’s easy to forget that it was once served in the royal courts of Korea. .
So, i wasn’t expecting to be blown away by this dish. But my first bite was a revelation. It was sweeter than what I was used to but what really stood out was the depth and complexity of flavor. I had never experienced complexity to this degree with japchae. I don’t know what they were doing or if they were using special artisanal soy sauce or something… But I do know that it was a very special dish.