Gam Lo Dang is a Korean restaurant serving upscale, refined vegetarian temple food. I’d been wanting to check it out for a while, but didn’t have the right occasion to go. However, last week, 7 friends and I decided to treat ourselves to a special Chuseok dinner there. :)
It’s definitely pricey… there are several different course menus, ranging from the price of 23,000 won, all the way to a whopping 98,000 won per person! We all went with the simplest ‘Sannamul’ course meal. Portion-wise, the main dishes you see here are meant for four diners. It might not seem like much food, but it was surprisingly filling. Since everything was presented with such care and the dishes were served in a gradual progression, we weren’t mindlessly shoveling things in our mouths and we took the time to savor each bite. By the end of the meal, I was more than satisfied.
Wowww. We all ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed when the server brought out this colorful plate of various mini jeon (Korean pancakes). People say that you eat with your eyes first, and in this case, my eye balls were gluttonous over-eaters.
All of these different mini pancakes were amazing in their own right. I’m not exactly sure what the pink one was (some kind of cactus, I think), but the white one was potato jeon with a dried jujube garnish, the black one was seaweed jeon topped with a ginko seed, and the orange one was pumpkin jeon. They were ever so crispy on the outside, yet also slightly soft on the inside. Fantastic.
My favorite was probably the pumpkin jeon. The seaweed one was also strangely delicious. The soft texture (it was mushier than the others) and black color were a bit scary, but I enjoyed it all the same. Flavor-wise, it tasted like gim (dried nori sheets) in the form of a pancake.
‘Spicy wild lanceolate root and pear with mustard sauce’. Delicious. I really liked the tiny hint of mustard in the sauce and the crunchiness of the juicy pears, cucumbers, and the root slices. I would love to try and recreate this as a light salad.
‘Assorted pancakes with vegetables and glasswort sauce’. We were told to place some of the vegetables on top of the mini pancakes, and then fold or wrap it all up. The glutinous rice pancakes were really soft, which made it a bit of a challenge to pick everything up without the veggies falling out, but I enjoyed it, especially the chewy texture.
Various Korean pickles and banchans. This plate was meant for four diners. Yea… the portions on this plate were so small that we all only got one or two tastes of everything. However, since they were pickled in salty sauces, a little bite went a long way.
We were all wondering what the heck that tiny black clump was and how it could possibly be meant for four people. Turns out, it was a small serving of pickled anise seeds! This was my first time trying anise seeds on their own, and they tasted just like licorice.
For the final leg of our extravagant meal, we were presented with a beautiful dessert plate of millet pancakes with acacia and honey inside the fold, and teensy ginger cookies. I think this was the only non-vegan dish of the entire meal, as the menu description states that there is honey in the filling of these pancakes. It may not have been totally vegan, but I gave this a try anyway.
Personally, I loved all the dishes in their own rights, but I can see how some might find the food to be a bit bland. However, one should understand that that’s precisely what Temple food is all about- simple, clean flavors, with minimal seasoning, using fresh, natural ingredients. I actually appreciated the fact that everything wasn’t salty like many Korean foods. We could all do with less salt and bloating… :P
One minor critique I would give is that I found the ambiance of the restaurant to be lacking in character and traditional charm. In my humble opinion, the small windows made this house-turned-restaurant building feel a little claustrophobic, and the plain white walls and lack of background music made everything seem somewhat… sterile. That’s not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy my meal though! I would still recommend this place to anyone interested in vegetarian Temple Cuisine.
I still can’t get over how impeccable and beautiful all of the dishes were. The food was delicious and I came out feeling like I had just had a very unique culinary experience. It was also great to share such a special, peace-filled meal with good friends.
Directions to Gam Lo Dang:
Gyeongbokgung Station, Orange Line#3, Exit #3. Walk straight out the stairs and turn right into the alley after Dunkin Donuts. Follow the turns of the alley until you see Gam Lo Dang on your left.