Friday, September 26, 2014

Big Kamjatang!

Kamjatang (감자탕), which means potato stew, really has little to do with potatoes. It is a delectably rich and spicy Korean stew made from the meaty back bones of that magnificent beast that gifted us with bacon, or at least that is what kamjatang should be.

All too often kamjatang is conspicuously lacking in the meaty part and compensated with extra veggies (not potatoes) and glass noodles. This is the kamjatang that I knew for most of my four plus years in Korea, but then something happened that changed my view of kamjatang forever.

Several months ago my academy received a substitute teacher by the name of Philip. One day during a break between classes he told me the story of a hungry night in Pyeongtaek when he flagged down a taxi and asked to be taken to a kamjatang restaurant. A Korean-American, kamjatang was his favorite meal and he was craving it. The taxi's destination ended up serving some of the best kamjatang he had ever tried. I was sold. Six months followed before I got around to finding the place myself, and what a place it is!

"Nogeol Daekamjatang" (노걸대감자탕), with six syllables, is a mouthful of a name. And that's okay, because they like things large at Nogeol Daekamjatang. "Large" is even part of their name. Dae (대) means big. And true to their name, the amount of meat in their kamjatang is really large. In four years I've eaten a lot of kamjatang at restaurants all the way from from Busan to Seoul, and I have never seen hunks of meat as enormous as the ones attached to the bones of this soup. And it isn't sub-quality meat either. It is tender, rich, fall-off-the-bone meat. It is definitely fatty, but it is fatty in a good way like a pot roast. And all that fat melts throughout the stew making everything it embraces incomparably delicious.

Unlike other kamjatangs the veggie content is low and there aren't many noodles either, but the stew doesn't need these things. This isn't meant to be a casual vegetarian's guilty pleasure. This stew is made for bold, unabashed carnivores, people who do not shy away from the prospect of rending sinew, fat, and vein from bone with their bare hands and then being satisfied with that being their only meal for the day. And the kamjatang at Nogeol Daekamjatang, true to their long name, will keep you satisfied for the length of the day. I ordered the small communal pot (뼈감자탕 전골 小), which serves three people, with my girlfriend late Sunday morning. I didn't feel the urge for a meal until after midnight.

Like most kamjatang restaurants, Nogeol Daegamjatang is open 24 hours. They are located at 963-8 Hapjeong-dong, Pyeongtaek, half way between AK Plaza and Pyeongtaek High School on the road leading up to Sosabol Stadium. Coming from AK Plaza you will find it on your left across an intersection from a Ssangyong Motors service shop. 

Prices range from ₩7,000 for individual bowls to ₩36,000 for a huge communal pot. The owner doesn't speak much English besides "hello" and "thank you" and the menu is entirely in Korean, so it may be difficult for some foreigners to order. If you just ask for kamjatang the owner will ask if you want a communal pot or individual bowls. A communal pot is called "jeongol" (전골). An individual ceramic bowl is called "ttuekbaegi" (뚝배기). If you order a pot then you have to determine if you want a big (大 - dae), medium (中 - joong), small (小 - so), or two people (2인 - du-in) sized pot.

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