by Youngseo Jhe and Andrea Kwon
We peeked through the clear windows and rang the broken doorbell in hopes of opening the closed door of the restaurant. The persistent wait came to an end as a waiter dressed in a traditional Japanese uniform slid open the doors. We were told we had to wait a few minutes for setup as a group of five. The wooden chairs of other customers squeaked as we excused ourselves through the narrow alley between the customers and the wall.
Dating back to the 1300s, donburi began as houhan, a rice bowl dish consisting of colorful vegetables. Donburi only came to its modern form, often composed of meat or seafood, after Japan’s unification in the 1600s, as the country began to embrace industrialization and commercialism. More variants of the dish were created under Emperor Meiji when deep-frying was introduced to Japanese cuisine and consumption of pork was legalized.
Jigudang is a restaurant of modest size and a simple interior. It is not an eatery meant to accommodate large numbers of people; at the time of our visit, most of the customers seated in Jigudang had come as a party of one or two. As such, there was not enough room at the counter seats for all five of us. Led to a separate dining area in the store, we slid the wooden door open and were met by a quaint space presumably used as a storage.
The most noticeable characteristic of Jigudang is that it presents its customers with only two main dishes: gyūdon and oyakodon. While both are considered donburis, the two contrast drastically in both their flavor and visuals. The gyūdon offered at the restaurant is a dish of marinated beef and poached egg on the side, but the oyakodon is a bowl of marinated chicken and eggs served together, sprinkled with sliced perilla leaf. Along with the entrée menus, the restaurant also has karaage as a side dish. As a note: the early bird catches the karaage. Arriving at the place at around 7 p.m., we were met with the sad news that the last karaage was sold right before we ordered.
As the waiter placed the gyūdon and oyakodon accordingly, we poured the poached egg into the bowl of gyūdon. Carefully splitting the poached egg with spoon and chopsticks, we spread the egg across the meat. Meticulously following the guide on the menu, we were careful not to mix the egg and the rice. Every spoonful was layered by the order of rice, meat, and a piece of smooth egg white below the rich, flowing yolk. The addition of the egg softened the taste of the strong soy marinade of the beef. The smoky sweet and salty taste became a more complex and rich flavor that brought smiles to our faces.
Unlike the gyūdon, the oyakodon did not require any side preparation. With chicken and scrambled eggs on top of the rice, the addition of thinly sliced perilla leaves added uniqueness to the oyakodon. The marinated chicken was surprisingly soft. Aided by the savor of the fluffy poached eggs, the fragrant perilla leaves counterbalanced the distinct scent of poultry. We could taste the chicken’s full, rich flavor with each bite, while the scent of the herb subsequently enveloped our taste buds. The rice, however, failed to achieve its task of toning down the marinated chicken’s saltiness. We found the oyakodon to be relatively saltier and more overpowering than the gyūdon.
Jigudang will definitely not disappoint the honjoks – those who are inclined to engage in individual activities – out there. With bar seats facing the kitchen, the restaurant eliminated the need for any self-consciousness about being the only customer at a table clearly meant for more than one, making Jigudang appropriate for eating alone.
For a price of ₩7,500 for the gyūdon and ₩8,00 for the oyakodon, Jigudang was a satisfactory restaurant. Admittedly, this traditional store does not provide its customers with a burst of novelties and unorthodox flavors, but it definitely is one that you cannot go wrong with. If you are a newbie to the confusingly extensive list of eateries available at Garosu-gil, Jigudang is a convenient meal choice.