I spent the majority of Saturday afternoon in bed, pants unbuttoned, my sweater smelling of roasted duck. I wore an evil smile on my face.
I had finally tried the dish I’d been eyeing for a year and a half: a roasted Korean pumpkin, stuffed with yakbap (glutinous rice sweetened with honey or brown sugar, mixed with chestnuts, jujubes and pine nuts), on top of a whole roasted duck and caramelized onions.
My obsession with this dish started the week I arrived in Seoul; though I remember it like it was yesterday…
My roommates were walking me to the subway station for the first time. I was staring at all the foreign letters and signs, wondering what they meant. I was asking questions about singing rooms, PC cafes, restaurants with fish tanks outside their doors. I wanted to know about the history of the neighborhood, where to go for a good cup of coffee, how much it would cost to ride the subway.
Then, suddenly, my questions stopped. I froze, silent…succumbing to the savory smell of roasted duck. My roommates were blocks ahead before they turned around and saw me. Drooling. Arms stretched out, inches from touching a pristine glass case holding several dozen plump birds. My eyes glazed over as I stared at the slowly spinning ducks, counting the seconds between oil drippings.
“Jen?” my roommates called out. “What are you doing?”
I walked towards them in a fog, staring at the patrons through the restaurant’s windows, crowded around large cast iron pots full of ducks and pumpkins.
“What is that?” I managed from my gaping mouth. “Are they eating entire pumpkins?”
“I don’t know,” said my roommate Kyle. “We’ve never been there before.”
“Well, we’ve got to go there, and soon. I have to know what they’re eating. And I have to try that duck.”
But kimchi, bibimbap, noodles, mandu, galbi and a myriad of soups got in the way. And before I knew it, Kyle and the rest of my roommates had boarded planes heading west.
“You know we never tried that duck place,” my roommate Chris reminded me the day he left. “You have to go there and tell me all about it.”
Well, Chris, I finally did it. I went to the mysterious duck and pumpkin place and had myself a meal to remember. A meal that I’m sure I’ll remember for the rest of my life. One that I will tell my grandchildren about as I sip chocolate pudding through a straw.
A roasted hobak, stuffed with sweet, starchy rice, mixed with soft chestnuts, jujube fruits, pine nuts and honey. A pumpkin so perfect it fell apart with the chopsticks, but held up to the sweet rice. Under the pumpkin was a sliced duck from the glass rotisserie case. The meat was so tender you didn’t need to chew. And the layer of fat was seasoned with black sesame seeds and magic. Then, under the duck was a layer of onions, which over the course of the meal, caramelized with the fat from the duck.
To say this meal was worth the wait is silly. I should’ve busted through those glass doors and told my roommates to go on without me. I wouldn’t have cared if I couldn’t find my way home. I’d be completely content living out the rest of my days eating pumpkin and savoring the smell of perfectly roasted duck.
Janganpyeong Station (Line 5), Exit 3. Walk straight for about 5 minutes and the restaurant will be on the right. Look for a duck rotisserie outside and glass jars filled with magical-looking liquids lining the windows.
**Unfortunately, this restaurant is no longer in business. I have no idea why.**