On our first full day in Seoul on a 10-day trip to Korea in mid-May, hubby and I spent a good part of the afternoon wandering the streets and alleys of Bukchon Hanok village. My goal was to find the 한옥 hanok (traditional Korean house) featured in the Korean TV drama Personal Taste (개인의 취향). And I also found personally intriguing tastes in an unexpected place.

Tammy was relieved to finally find a hanok named “Yeorangche” in the Bukchon neighborhood of Seoul. It was the outside set for the “Sanggojae” house in the TV drama “Personal Taste.” (Jeff Quackenbush photo)

After all that meandering, mostly uphill, I worked up quite an appetite. As we were walking back toward the Anguk subway station, my eyes fixed on the sidewalk sandwich-board visual menu for Kokoro Bento. Rather than served on a typical plate or in a box, these bento came in what appeared to my California wine country–trained eyes to be miniature wine half-barrels.

Hubby taunted me, “We didn’t come all the way to Korea to eat Japanese food!” But I convinced him to make an exception.

Beside, my mobile phone was running on 10 percent battery power and also needed 밥 bap (literally, rice, i.e., food). I hoped the restaurant had an electrical plug in the pubic area to feed my phone.

We got there just before 5 p.m. on a weekday, so we were the only people in the restaurant at the time. We were able to choose seats at the bar in front of the large window overlooking the village’s scenic main street to get nice natural-light food photos. Then we moved to a booth seat next to an electrical outlet.

Kudos for letting us plug in our dying phones.

fish custard

The meal began with a soothing small bowl of fish custard. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)

The surprise appetizer was a fish-flavored egg custard garnished with a cooked gingko nut (in hubby’s bowl) and a cooked edamame bean (in mine). Both had a colorful slice of Japanese fish cake garnish. The custard flavor was delicate and the texture, smooth. Both orders also came with a side of miso soup.

waygu beef bento

The waygu beef bento was so full of stuff, you can’t see the rice but it’s in there. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)

I order the grilled waygu bento. It came with pickle radish, little acorn jellies, potato croquette, 김밥 kimbap (sushi), 삼각주먹밥 samgak joomukbap (sticky rice shaped into triangles with seasoning and vegetables; called onigiri in Japanese), carrot, seaweed salad, and an egg omelet. All of this covered a modest bed of steamed rice. (₩14,000, about $12.45)

The waygu beef in the bento was grilled just right. Very simple, yet very good.

curry bento

The chicken curry bento had just enough rice to soak up all the curry-ness. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)

Hubby got the chicken curry with pickled radish, sliced carrots, acorn jelly and garnished with microgreens. The curry had mild spiciness and had a flavor akin to Ottogi curry, only better. (₩6,900, about $6.13)

Kokoro Bento in Seoul’s Gahoe-dong

종로구 재동 27-1 2nd floor (가회동점)
Hours: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Phone: +82 2-763-3313
Website: www.kokorobento.com
Directions: The best way to get there is to take the subway to Anguk station (안국역 on the orange line). From station exit 2, walk north on Donguk-gil toward Bukchon Hanok Village. The restaurant will be at the corner of Dokguk-gil and Bukchon-gil on the left side of the street.

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