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Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema posted his culinary highlights of 2013. Included was a lunch we had at the humble but divine Cheogajip. I credit Jennifer Flinn for telling me about this place. It’s really off the radar.

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As the article says, it’s basically run out of this North Korean family’s house near Yaksu Station, a little east of Itaewon. There’s not really a sign out front. Just a small menu posted on the gate. You have to know what you’re looking for to find it.

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The menu consists of five things: JjimDalk (steamed chicken), Jjin Mandu (steamed dumplings), Makguksu (chilled buckwheat noodles), beer, and soju. We ordered everything but the soju.

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The mandu were delicate. Porky. Aromatic with onions. The JjimDalk is not what we think of as the dark stewed chicken from Andong. It’s literally a steamed chicken. What makes it so great is the condiments, particularly a relish made from leeks, onions, and chili paste. I noted that where South Korean cuisine is marked by garlic, these North Korean dishes were heavy on onions. Steamed spring onions were our main banchan. It really was good. We all ripped that chicken apart.

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We finished the meal with the Makguksu. Its cousin Naengmyeon, or Raengmyeon, originates from North Korea, and these noodles had to definitely been true Pyeongyang style. They didn’t taste like the overloaded naengmyeons in South Korea. It was simple. Refreshingly simple. It was plainly garnished in an almost clear beige broth. The broth itself had more vinegar tones than South Korean naengmyeon broth, which is usually tart, beefy, and a tad sweet. The one at Cheogajip conveyed an eerie elegance with clean but not boring character.

This is truly a unique place. Again, I want to thank Jennifer for such a great find. I was craving this for a week after our lunch.

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