In search of tteokbokki.
All day I was craving tteokbokki so hard! So hard! For those who haven’t had tteokbokki before, it’s essentially a dish of tubular rice cakes, usually smothered in this red spicy (but sweet) sauce, and on top of that, melted cheese! Mmmmmm. And only in February of this year we had dined here (73 Liverpool St) with friends and we had an awesome serving of tteokbokki. But fickle is the Sydney dining scene, in between Feb and the present day (end of June) JangPo had closed down, and had re-opened as Byul Bam (also another Korean restaurant), so we were hoping against hope that they would also serve a killer tteokbokki!
We studied their menu before heading in, in English there wasn’t a tteokbokki listed, but there was a pic of a dish smothered in red sauce which was captioned in Korean. So we went on in.
The inside of the restaurant still had the same street-scape design, but it was definitely brighter than the JangPo days. And the tables and chairs had changed, but we were seated at the very same spot where we had sat exactly 5 months ago. At present everything was aluminium, the tables and chairs, the cups and bowls, only the chopsticks weren’t made of metal (and of course their tissues weren’t aluminium either).
Studying their menu, there were most of the usual Korean favourites; bibimbap, stews, fried chicken etc. And there were price points for everyone’s budget, a section for $10 meals, $20 meals, and a section where everything was at least $38. There was one dish which vaguely resembled the description of a tteokbokki – chicken in red sauce with cheese, but seeing that it had 3 chillies signifying its spiciness and knowing how spicy Korean food can be, we steered clear of it.
In the $20 meal section, I couldn’t get past the first option, an Army Style Ramen & Rice dish; while my wife was craving a something like soft tofu stew, so she ended up ordering a Spicy Fish Roe Stew ($18.00).
And once our orders were taken, we took in the atmosphere of the place. The pumping Korean pop music was still present from the JangPo days, and the place was pretty packed with uni-aged patrons. And moments later our complementary sides arrived, a dish of potato noodles, and a dish of kimchi.
And this is what they mean by “Army style”! It dawned on us when my meal was set down before us.
Army style, as it was served in a camping style metal lunch-box, with the ramen and soup in the tub part of the box, and a serving of rice, a kimchi-like pickled veg, and these tempura-like fritter things on the lid of the box, which acted as a shallow bowl. It was more unusual than it was an amazingly flavoursome dish. But I can completely see how this is how army folk could chow down their grub in Korea. As I was fishing around for my noodles in my deep box, I imagined myself hunkered down, watching the North Koreans on the other side of the demilitarised zone, and come lunch time a jeep rumbles up and the commissary sergeant hands me a metal canteen of hot noodles and rice. So as I tucked in to the deep pot with my chopsticks and spoon, I had a bit of fun eating rough (fitting that I was actually wearing an army style bush jacket as well).
My wife’s dish was not quite what we had expected, the soup in which it was served in was quite sour as well as being spicy, the fish roe was cooked through, which made it resemble fish innards and it had quite a strong fishy taste. The soft tofu was good though, and the rest of it was a bit of an acquired taste. And as the music was quite loud, and we were hungry, we basically just tucked into our food and moments later we were finished and full.
Our verdict? 3.5 From 5! 2 from 3 for Food (in the end we went with dishes which were off-centre so they weren’t quite what we had expected, but they hit the spot and tasted good enough); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the staff were all friendly and efficient); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (everyone sounded like they were enjoying themselves and the K-pop was pumping all night long!); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for Money (in the end, my dish wasn’t worth $20, it was gimmicky, but strip it down to its individual pieces, it was literally instant noodles, an egg, 5-6 mussels, and strips of onion in MSG soup, 3 pieces of fried wheat fritters, plain white rice, and 4 pieces of pickled veg……. realistically the total cost of the dish at most was $5? But hey, it’s the city and rent is expensive and staffing is ex-y as well).
In conclusion, Byul Bam is a solid little Korean restaurant, there are meals for each price point, and if you’re willing to try something a little bit different from your usual Korean favs, you’ll find it here! Except for tteokbokki. The search continues………
Byul Bam- Friday 28 June (3.5 Stars)
73 Liverpool Street, Sydney
Mon-Sun 11am – 4am