Wednesday, January 11, 2012

suh suh kalbi, (aka standing up kalbi)

about a decade ago, i was working in seoul. man. i could write a book just on that....

although i wasnt as interested in food as i am now, i still did spend a fair amount of time eating some damn good food.

as you can imagine, when it comes to kalbi, koreans consider it almost a religion.

back then i found two amazing places. they both made some of the best kalbi i have ever tasted in my life, but they were on the complete opposite spectrum as you can get.

buh du namu jeep (bamboo house) is high society kalbi. although its pretty casual, as it is a kalbi house where you cook your food at your table, it is frou frou also, with the price tag to match. you have basically two servers to every customer, bentleys in the parking lot, full bows by all staff...

it was definitely good. no doubt about it.

this is not a post about them.

this is a post about the kalbi joint on the WAY OTHER side of the spectrum.

suh suh kalbi

suh suh kalbi has become to known as a "style" of cooking kalbi in the last decade, where you stand around a converted oil drum (some places actually provide seats!) and eat some damn good kalbi. (suh suh means standing up)

its pretty common in korea to have a bunch of copy cats once something becomes popular. infact, you get entire neighborhoods of restaurants serving the same dish once one place becomes popular, for example, the marinaded raw crab neighborhood in shinsa dong in seoul.

this post is about the "original" suh suh kalbi restaurant in shin chun, seoul.

side note.... actually, taking a step back, this cooking style was pretty common decades ago... in the 50s 60s and into the 70s when korea was coming out of an active war and developing into what it is now. bare bones wasnt a style then, it was a necessity.

back to the suh suh kalbi restaurant that made its mark in modern times.

yes, that is a line out the door.

20 degrees fahrenheit outside.... and thats only half the line, the same amount of people are waiting inside.

we got there around 7pm. we waited an hour. we got a few orders in.

they ran out food.

they only make 400 servings per day. they open around 3pm. when theyre out, theyre out.

why all the fuss?

its damn good kalbi.

yes, it is that good.

the place is bare bones.

concrete floors, smoky as hell... you can see the years of smoke on the walls. 

theres barely a door. 

a few handfuls of converted oil drums into table/grills

their menu isnt as extensive as other kalbi places.

beef kalbi. 500grams. 14000 wons.

thats it. 

and consider yourself lucky if you get a serving. our party of four, that left home at 6pm, drove an hour to arrive at 7pm, waited till 8pm for a table... 

we got 5 orders... and thats it. 

we couldve ate 8 orders.... but they ran out. 

we swore we would NEVER come back..... all that damn driving, all that effort....

well, maybe not... the place is too damn good not to come back.... 

so first tip. come EARLY. like 3, 4 pm 

second tip, ask for a plastic bag to put you jackets, sweaters in. it protects it from all that smoke. 

third tip? eat.

with your orders of kalbi, they will give you sliced garlic, peppers and bowls of marinade.

fourth tip. dip the cooking meats in the marinade, put hella sliced garlic in one bowl of marinade and place the bowl on the grill. 

glorious glorious beef kalbi. im not the most patient person in the world. something has to be worth it to go through all this... and a decade after i first tried this place, on my recent visit during december 2011.. it was glorious. 

suh suh kalbi in all its glory. 

the meat is good quality. the marinade is second to none. the charcoal they use has a lot to do with the taste, as per the restaurant. the "charcoal" is a round, pressed charcoal they produce in korea, that they have used for decades for radiant heating.... wait, is this even legal to use for cooking?

whatever... its good. 

if you are ever in seoul, it is DEFINITELY worth the trip. 

its on the northwest side of seoul, near the shin chun subway stop. 

happy eating. 

OH and did i mention i have the marinade recipe? decade of trial and error by many peoples.... and finally some tips from the owner to my mother... i got it. 

recipe to come in a later post. 


  1. Definitely going on my must eat in korea list! Thanks!

  2. no problem. i love sharing this kind of information. although the very tourist popular places are good, these are the kinds of places you need to know someone whos a local to find.

    totally worth a visit