Whenever I have friends or family visiting, they know they can always count on me to take them to the best food places. Of course, after a day or two in Korea there’s a good chance they’ve already maxed out on Korean BBQ and street food and are looking for uncommon Korean dishes to devour, that’s when I take them to Kong Bul.
‘Kong’ refers to ‘kong-na-mul’ which means bean sprouts and ‘Bul’ refers to ‘bulgogi’ which means marinated meat. These are the two key ingredients to this must try pan fried dish! When I first came across this restaurant in Hongdae about 4 years ago, they had two dishes to choose from. The first is their signature dish 콩불 (Kongbul), which consists of bean sprouts, bulgogi, 고추장 (red pepper paste) and a few pieces of 떡(rice cake). I’ve only had this dish once because it was pretty darn spicy. I can handle pretty spicy food now, but if you’re really not too sure where you stand on the Korean scale of spiciness, I would really not tempt the fates by going with this option.
The second dish is the 오삼 콩불 (Ohsam Kongbul), which consists of squid, bean sprouts, bulgogi, 고추장 (red pepper paste), green onion and a few pieces of 떡(rice cake). This one is super tasty if you don’t mind seafood. It comes with half a squid on top that they cut up for you right at the table. Although it still comes with the red pepper paste, it can be adjusted to a relatively low level of spiciness if you ask. This used to be their “mild” option, but if you can’t handle spicy food at all it puts you in a really unfortunate position.
Luckily, a third option was added to the menu more recently. The 달달불고기 (Dal Dal Bulgogi) has sweet bulgogi, bean sprouts, fen si (glass) noodles and a few pieces of 떡(rice cake). This option is not spicy at all and was finally added to the menu by popular demand. This is my favorite option, not because it’s not spicy but because the marinade they use for the meat is incredibly savory and I love fen si noodles. It’s a great change of pace for those who are looking for something non-spicy, yet still Korean.
When you order, you can also opt for a set which usually includes extra toppings like cheese, extra bulgogi or 우동사리 (udong noodles). So if you’re eating with a group, this is always an excellent choice. Plus it will allow you to leave enough food left over to make a delicious 볶음밥 (bokumbap) at the end. To get the 볶음밥 or fried rice, a bowl of steamed rice and salted seaweed will be left at your table. When you’re mostly done with your food, you can call over one of the staff members to cook it up with the remainder of your food. It soaks up all the juices and leftover bits of food, so you’re sure not to waste one single bite.
My boyfriend’s favorite thing about this place is that despite having the fresh raw ingredients brought out to our table and placed on a grill, we don’t have to do the cooking at all. Friendly staff members make their rounds through the sea of tables, cook the food in front of us and then let us know when it’s ready. To be honest, the smell is so intoxicating, it’s a bit difficult to wait (though it doesn’t take very long).
Overall, it’s a great place and one of my favorite restaurants. The food is fantastic and you really get your money’s worth. You can be sure to leave with a full belly without emptying your wallet. There are quite a few locations, but I personally prefer the (Hongdae) branch. Also, not all locations have English menus or English speaking staff, but Hongdae does. This can be particularly helpful for tourists or non-korean speakers. So next time you’re feeling hungry, give Kong Bul a try. You’ll be glad you did!