Food is a necessity, good food is a luxury, and jjimdak is an addiction. If you’re really in need of some jjimdak, then the South Korean city of Andong is where you want to be. Each year, Hedgers from all over Korea make a pilgrimage to this historical city for their ritualistic gorging on brazed chicken, noodles, and the sinful brown broth. Vices satisfied, the Hedgers often retreat to their coastal cities (devoid of jjimdak) and wait for the next holy day where jjimdak is promised.
Theatrics and drama aside, we really do love jjimdak. It was our first meal in Korea and we immediately knew that it was a special dish. Even when faced with the impossible task of using a new form of chop sticks on a dish that requires deboning bits of chicken and fighting the ever-slippery glass noodles. Once you get over the difficulty, however, this dish is inspiring. The mixture of flavors and textures is spectacular as you use your spoon to create perfect combinations of flavor. The broth is savory beyond compare and straddles that fine line between salty and perfection. You will take a few sips of the broth then use your spoon to cradle slices of carrot, potato, glass noodle, onion, and then, the pièce de résistance, a chunk of chicken that you worked to free from the bone it was once attached to just for this moment. I’ll ruin the surprise: that bite is heavenly. Everything mixes perfectly and you remember why you covet this meal so much.
Our city recently closed their Andong Zzimdak (why can’t they just check the spelling before making signs?) restaurant. We were devastated by this closure and immediately started planning our next trip to Andong for the genuine article. On our roadtrip up the east coast of Korea, we swung through Andong and aimed for its historic Hahoe Folk Village where we knew we could find Andong’s most traditional wares and culinary masterpieces. Unfortunately, due to our visit being coincidental with the Korean celebration of the Lunar New Year (Seollal) many restaurants and facilities were closed. The restaurant that we had visited the previous year was not serving customers, so we found another option that was exceptional. It really doesn’t matter which restaurant you visit in Andong; if they specialize in jjimdak, it’s going to be fantastic.
In the end we found a truly amazing meal and once again solidified our love for jjimdak and Andong for its mastery of the aforementioned dish. This city does many things well, but exceptional jjimdak and high-proof soju (Korea’s alcohol of choice) are its trademark. We have never been disappointed by Andong jjimdak or the city that makes it so well. We had a terrific time in the city and look forward to our next visit. In the meantime, we can only hope that we find a restaurant that serves this masterpiece of Korean culinary perfection closer to home.