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This is my favorite Korean restaurant, and it encapsulates what I think are Korean food’s strengths. San Maul, or “Mountain Village,” is a peasant farmhouse style restaurant at the foot of Gwanak Mountain that was originally set up to cater to weekend hikers. It’s since grown into a mini empire with restaurant specializing in all kinds of foods up and down the road leading to the mountain.
Even though the restaurant has gotten a bit of fame, the quality is still the same. They serve rustic Korean foods and don’t feel the need to slather everything with gochujang as a crutch. Their homemade hooch, minsokju, is the perfect accompaniment and is great in hot or cold weather.
The restaurant itself is a bit of a complex, with paths winding inside and outside stout thatched roofed wooden buildings. It’s cozy in the winter and a great place to dine outside in the summer, watching the sun set behind the mountain. One night, my wife and I just laid down after eating and watched the stars. How many restaurants let you do that?
Our favorites at San Maul are the chicken barbecue, haemul pajeon, dotorimok salad and their signature boribap. The chicken barbecue is smoked and mahogany colored. I swear it tastes like bacon, and it’s the favorite of many foreigners I bring to the restaurant. The haemul pajeon is a seafood and scallion pancake that is thick and crispy that you dip into soy sauce. The dotorimok salad is made with acorn jelly, lettuce, carrots, onions and a dressing that mixes gochujang, garlic, vinegar and wild sesame seeds. It’s one of my favorites on hot summer days. Their boribap is barley and rice with a series of country herbs, individually prepared, that you mix in your bowl with doenjang, sesame oil and gochujang. It’s one of the few vegetarian dishes that I crave and can satisfy me for a meal. I should also mention that the doenjang is supposedly three years old. Its smell is like a well ripened cheese and rounds out the entire experience.
I hope you enjoy this little tribute to my favorite little restaurant.
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