Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cheongdoongoli: Land of the Magical Duck

Walking into Cheongdoongoli (청둥오리) is like stepping into Ron Weasley's home. As you walk into the restaurant, you are greeted by a wonderfully cozy, toasty, woodsy odor. It comes from the cast-iron stove that heats the main dining area. Windowed along three walls, the afternoon sun lays sheets of gold across the room, casting shadows among strange herbs drying from the ceiling, and jars upon jars of mysterious, brewing vegetation. From the curious display of black brews, odd roots, and wonderous herbs — including giant shelf mushrooms and stacks of pumpkins — one might think that the owner of the restaurant was aiming to replace Severus Snape as the potions master at Hogwarts. Bizarre herbal teas, however, are not the focus of this restaurant. They sell duck and not just any duck. With all the positions mastery stuff hanging about, they serve a magical meat — the meat of ducks raised on those strange herbs. It is the kind of Korean food that the natives claim is good for your health and for once might actually be correct about it.
The family that owns Cheongdoongoli, the Kims, also owns a duck farm in Anseong. There these ducks are raised on the same herbs hanging around the dining room. Little, paper labels accompany the obscure plants, identifying them for Koreans but stumping any direct translation by organic or technological means. Whatever they are, though, they produce a tasty meat. Duck meat typically has a distinct odor and taste that my friend and guide, Junsik Park, doesn't care for. However,
Cheongdoongoli's duck is an exception. We ordered a half and half plate: one half los (로스), unseasoned duck, and one half jumulleok los (주물럭 로스), hot sauce duck. Both meats have a mild flavor and neither has the ducky smell that some, like Junsik, find so unpleasant. Moreover, the duck meat is less greasy than normal duck.

While the duck is splendid on its own, the wide array of banchan (반찬), Korean side dishes, truly make the meat stand out. Every bowl, dish and tiny plate of fresh, sauced, seasoned, fermented and pickled veggies perfectly balance each other and complement the meat. It is quite an astonishing feat given the powerful and subtle flavors on the table: fresh, floral, green and sweet amid pungent, spicy and vinegary. And all of these act unobtrusively upon a sweet meat.

Even in themselves the banchan are exceptional. Dishes like doenjjang paste and pickled parilla leaves are common side dishes in Korea; but the difference between the average banchan around your officetel and the banchan at Cheongdoongoli is the difference between a cup of Maxwell House and a cup of Starbuck's Komodo Dragon Blend.
"Everything is perfect but one thing," said Junsik as he pined for the Korean man's perfect accompaniment to everything — soju.

Ultimately we did not buy any soju because Junsik had a student to tutor that evening, but we
were treated by the owner to one of the potions brewing under the windows. Initially described as, "enzyme tea," a dusky red drink served at room temperature, Junsik, after a chat with the owner, described it as a mix of apples, grapes, "lots of vegetables, and things that taste bad but are good for my health."

Meals at Cheongdoongoli run around ₩40,000 but can serve two very hungry men on the path to obesity or four people of moderate appetite. Cheongdoongoli, which is open from 10 am to 10 pm, is located in Wongok-Myeon in Pyeongtaek behind Seoul Rehabilitation Medical Clinic just off the central intersection. Heading into the intersection from downtown Pyeongtaek you need to make a hard left turn onto an access road that runs behind the clinic. Alternatively, one can get there from AK Plaza/Pyeongtaek Station (펴택역) by taking the 8 or 8-2 bus to Wongokipgusamgeoli (원곡입구삼거리).


  1. Love your blog. The map pins are great. It'd be so awesome if you posted pics of the front of the restaurant so we know what to look for. Going to try to find it soon!

    1. Glad you like the blog! I don't have a car, so Changdoongoli isn't easy to get to. But if I'm ever in the area I'll snap a photo. It'll probably be too late to help you. (hope you found the place) But maybe it will help another.