Choonsamwol takes its name from the Chinese character for “spring,” referencing their philosophy of serving seasonal food. The bistro’s banchan (side dishes) change every week according to what’s in season, and between March and April, you’ll be sure to see fresh spring vegetables on the menu, including shepherd’s purse, seasoned parsnip leaves, wild chive, rapeseed and more. Don’t miss the dishes made from acanthopanax root bark and white mulberry, which are Korean spring specialties. Owner Kwak Ki-won says he wanted to bring Korean flavors to Hongdae where there are countless foreign restaurants but not nearly enough home-style Korean ones. One of their standbys is raw shrimp marinated in soy sauce, a heady dish best consumed in small bites throughout the meal. A comfortable place to have a pleasant meal, business people and youngsters alike frequent this bistro.
The restaurant’s name is short for “rice (bab) that does good for you;” though it is impossible to fully translate because of its roots in Chinese characters. It is a cozy spot serving rice balls in Gye-dong, and is one of the last of its kind. Kang Young-joo quit his stable job of over 10 years to buy E-bab when he heard the previous owner was closing it down. The restaurant was sold under the condition that it would continue to serve food that is healthy and “does good for you.” Looking at the rice ball with fried nuts and fragrant chwinamul and the one with shiitake mushrooms and hijiki, it’s fair to conclude that Kang’s kept his promise. If you order large amounts of rice balls for catering, E-bab will serve them in cute wooden baskets instead of disposable containers, looking out for both the health of their customers and the earth.
On a square tray, banchan, soup and rice are presented to you in neat separate dishes, reminiscent of home. One of the pioneers of home-cooked Korean food restaurants, Moomyung changes its banchan every season and serves its customers 11-grain rice. The new dishes differ according to the quality of specialty ingredients and seasonal vegetables, making it impossible for even the chef to predict next week’s menu. But the chef hints it’ll be something like: “Rice made with fresh rapeseed and shepherd’s purse, which go well with a wild chive soy sauce.” So if you want to be stuffed with an abundance of spring vegetable rice with traditional Korean pickles, you know where to go.
Kim Min-young first opened Sobang Life in Sangsu-dong in 2014 and now, just two years later, Sobang Life has four branches in Seoul. Vegetables that can be dried, such as chwinamul, actinidia, mulberry leaf and thistle, are served year-round, and when resh vegetables are plentiful during the spring, all kinds can be spotted on the menu. The Sobang Life team researches and records the different combinations of ingredients they try in the attempt to get that perfect bite. Past mixtures have included mixed rapeseed with tofu, cham-namul (pimpinella brachycarpa) with perilla seeds and wild chives with cucumber. Despite requests for box meals, Sobang Life refuses because the fresh vegetables go bad quite quickly. Their refusal to do so is a reflection of the integrity and care they put into running their branches.