Jikhwa: Japanese Fusion Charcoal-grilled Meat Bowls in Gangnam

Jikhwa: Japanese Fusion Charcoal-grilled Meat Bowls in Gangnam

A fusion of Japanese flavors can be found within the Korean charcoal-grilled meat bowls here. The slice of Japan you didn't know you needed.

9 min read

Originally reviewed on June 14, 2020

Name

한글 🇰🇷 ENGLISH 🇺🇸
직화제육덮밥 Charcoal-grilled Stir-fried Pork Bowls

This small restaurant specializes in stir-fried pork varieties of charcoal-grilled meat bowls. This is a chain of restaurants which specializes in various types of meat.

Price

Korean Won 🇰🇷 United States Dollar 🇺🇸
₩15,000 ~$13

Price is a rough average per head, excluding drinks.

Operating Hours

Day Open Close
Everyday 11:00 10:30

Location

Take Exit 4 from Nonhyeon station, or Exit 2 from Sinnohyeon station; the restaurant is located at the address listed, equally between either station.

The map will show a pocha bar at the location, but it has since closed and turned into the restaurant within this review.

Seoul Seek Recommendations

  • 👑 Signature
  • ✅ Counting Calories
  • 🌶️ Spicy

 

한글 🇰🇷 English 🇺🇸 Price 💵
직화제육덮밥 Stir-fried Pork Bowl 👑🌶️ ₩6,900
꽃갈비살 찹스테이크 Chopped Steak Bowl 👑 ₩11,900
계란후라이 Fried Egg ✅ ₩1,000
새우까스 Shrimp (Katsu) ₩2,000
스팸 Spam ₩2,300
돈까스 Tonkatsu (Pork Cutlet) ₩3,500

We're recommending just two bowls for this place, as they're both signatures designated by the owner.

The main appeal here is not the base of the main itself, but the numerous toppings you can add. Hence why it's a hub for delivery orders.

Overview

This is a slice of Japan nestled within a small alleyway nestled in Gangnam's north side.

It is not fancy, nor is it large, or declarative in presence. It is primarily a delivery restaurant with a few seats, which contains savory street food served in a clean and welcoming environment.

Although it is a chain restaurant, it is heavily customized by the owner. He owns and operates the restaurant by himself, every day of the week, from 11AM until 10:30PM, without fail.

He is a genuine otaku, someone who deeply appreciates Japanese culture, from the media to the cuisine. It shows everywhere you look.

The food is savory and has the right balance of saltiness and crunchy textures you'd expect from something like this. The rice is seemingly day-old, just like you'd find it in Japan.

Everything is cooked on the spot and made to order; it takes a while, but it's well worth the wait. Evident upon early arrival is the mastery the owner has with his knife, found swiftly preparing vegetables for later in the day for when the business starts up.

Arrival

We arrived at Nonhyeon station and decided to trek south, as we had plans afterwards
C O E X (Starfield Mall) is nearby; it is one of Korea's largest malls, and a tourist favorite
This is the heart of Gangnam
A small wooden sign is all that designates the newly-painted restaurant
The owner has a cat; you are allergic, he can move the cat (I am allergic and had no problem)
They are open from 11:00AM formally, but he welcomes some early visitors for walk-ins
A small booth near the middle of the restaurant has a TV playing short films and music
Gundam and anime figures everywhere; the TV is muted and Japanese pop music fills the room
Phone chargers are free to use; plug in and charge up while you eat
The whole restaurant can seat 10 comfortably, 12 packed
More Gundam
The register is below an entire rack of gundam and philosophy books from Japan

The Menu

This is an outlier when it comes to menus; there are 6 main types of bowls, 10 toppings, and some premades. You can also choose a drink if you want; soda or beer.

Select a bowl at the top, then select whatever toppings you want (up to 3)
If you pick more than 3, they will have to be served separately; the bowl can't fit more than 3
They have some non-bowl items, such as stir-fried pork served on a skillet
We're going to select the signature bowl
Mark it like this
My wife selects toppings she wants
Mark the ones you want, then hand it to the owner
The water is ice cold

Side Dishes

This was some kimchi soup; very weak, not really the best, as shown by the separation ring
This is a homemade tonkatsu sauce, with real wasabi
Homemade fishcake stir-fried with soy sauce and sesame seeds
I think this Kimchi was the only thing that was store-bought

The Dishes

Top-down of the table

Chopped Steak Bowl

We'll break down the chopped steak bowl first
There are even perfectly-crisp french fries underneath the fried egg as a bonus
The egg is cooked perfectly; if you don't want it runny, you can simply ask
The chopped steak consists of chopped beef short rib, quite high quality for a place like this
Cooked medium, and proper
Top-down shot
Zoomed in
The katsu is extremely crispy and is cooked very well
This is how a piece of meat looks, isolated
Did I say these fries were crispy? 
The rice is plain purple, no pine nuts or grains mixed in
Some meat with a bit of tonkatsu sauce and a green bean
This sauce works surprisingly well with the steak, as his tastes similar to Heinz 57

Stir-fried Pork Bowl

The stir-fried pork bowl my wife ordered
The onions are caramelized and mixed with fresh iceberg lettuce and garlic with scallions
The sauce is minimal as the owner lets the ingredients have a voice of their own
The shrimp; you can actually see a mixture of shrimp and fish; the owner made this himself
The stir-fried pork has a marinade of ginger, soy, and chili oil mixed with some "secret ingredients"
A solid spoonful
This is the same sauce mentioned earlier
Easily could be a steak sauce, unlike the instant variety

Why Spam?

A number of reasons: it tastes good, it is salty, and it's extremely easy to prepare. Whether it's a main dish, a dessert, or otherwise, salt is critical to any dish.

A lengthy and strangely cultural topic, Spam has taken Asia by storm and within the last two decades, has become commonplace in Korean and Japanese cuisine, especially street food-esque spots like this.

Spam itself, historically, was part of a counter-cultural movement to tell the story of cheap "blue collar" food, the opposite of what had been told up until that point. Gastronomy itself had always told the story of elite or high-ranking culinary voices, and never the commoners'.

The impetus behind this paradigm shift in the food industry was to extend the authority of opinion to more people. Why gatekeep?

Throughout the 20th century, innovation took place. Fast food was ushered in, dairy products were being processed, and between all of that, Jay Hormel created Spam on July 5th, 1937. 83 years ago today.

Fast forward about 65 years, and a major Western wave of pop culture influence brings Spam to Asia. The diet overall in both Korea and Japan became much saltier. Sodium content was raised nationwide, and traditional means of food preparation were quickly fading.

Salt content per dish is historically between 1% and 1.5%; in Korea, it is common to see that number closer to 0.5% and 0.8%. With an injection of salt through Spam, that shoots up to around 3%. The average Korean diet has only increased in sodium over the years.

You'll notice that very rarely will you ever see Spam contained within a dish that also has fish. The reason for this is, many fish naturally have a higher sodium content than pork, beef, poultry, and most other seafood.

The reason being, bacteria which forms nitrogenous compounds like histamine are found in nearly all salt water, which as we all know, may live within fish. When a fish is killed, the bacteria penetrates the meat of the fish, making it saltier. This niche is still somewhat nebulous and is still being researched. For example:

Mackerel stored at 5°C, even in the presence of 2% salt showed markedly increased histamine content following a prolonged refrigerated display period (Yamanaka eta/. 1985). The effect of higher salt concentrations on histamine formation in fish is less known.

Needless to say, Spam has made its footprint in modern Asian cuisine, albeit within more blue collar dishes. For better or for worse, Spam is here to stay.

Summary

If you're seeking a quick go-to spot for some savory charcoal-grilled food, this may be the stop you've been looking for. It also is a nice little getaway from the hustle and bustle of Gangnam's never-dormant streets, just a 10-minute walk from it all.

It genuinely feels, sounds, and tastes like Japan. A big reason is the owner's dedication to create a cozy and approachable atmosphere within his restaurant. Many franchised spots like this will never contain the decor or detail this one does. From the phone charger station to the music being played accenting the Gundam figures.

It's unique, fun, and far beyond what many delivery hubs offer. The price point is fair, and if you're feeling like you can splurge, the toppings are offered for you to do so. It's your choice.

Quality overall was very good and fresh; almost nothing was frozen or instant. It is refreshing to know there are still people who operate such places with a genuine passion for the food they cook and serve.

Afterwards, we headed to a cafe on the road directly West of the main boulevard. A chilled Sunday afternoon.

Kakao Friends Shop Cafe, located on the third floor
A psychic sitting across the Gongcha next door

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