Taste the legacy of temple and court cuisine: Seoul's "Nwijo" restaurant
First-time visitors to Korea might get the impression that every meal consists of nothing but spicy red pepper–laced everything. And, while kimchi is practically unavoidable, (and deliciously so!), heat is not the only culinary sensation. In an alley around the corner from the vibrant artisan-and-tourist parade of Seoul's Insadong district, Nwijo is where to come to explore a wider palette of flavors in a refined but unpretentious setting.
Beyond Seoul's vibrant street-food scene, an older tradition of Buddhist temple and royal court cuisine exists. Wild greens, medicinal mountain vegetables, and the wonders of fermentation come together in a surprising interplay of texture and fragrance.
One example: as part of a tasting course, a "crêpe" of thinly sliced potato, slightly sweet and fermented yet retaining some crunch, wrapped around preserved plum, shredded wild sesame leaves and julienned Asian pear.
Many of the sauces and seasonings are made in earthenware jars in the courtyard of the restaurant, one of the remaining hanok traditional homes that has survived the post-war skyscrapering of the South Korean capital. Think of the food as "neo-traditional courtyard-cuisine."
You'll sit, shoeless, on the floor at a low table under exposed wooden beams. The courses are served on almost-symmetric ceramic dishes that match the rustic yet carefully chosen aesthetic of the food.
If Korean BBQ in L.A. is Korean Food 101, this is your study-abroad immersion experience.