As I walked into Yongi Sikdang Restaurant, I was greeted with “Annyeong haseyo” (Hello) by everyone – including the owner, Yang Sin Ja.
The restaurant had 26 custom-made wooden tables and chairs and was filled with many people looking like they were enjoying their meal. Yongi Sikdang was established in 1978, and Yang told me that originally she opened the restaurant next to the bus station because she wanted to be close to her husband, who managed the bus ticket booth at the time.
Initially the restaurant only served bus and taxi drivers. Because of this, they started a policy of not serving alcohol at their establishment – a rule that remains in place today. Although, oddly enough, if you have an urge for a little alcohol with your meal, you are welcome to bring your own.
Yongi Sikdang serves a set menu (duruchigi). “Duru” means many things, so duruchigi means mixing many things. Duruchigi is a Korean food that consists of thinly sliced pork seasoned with red pepper and soy sauce, and it is grilled with kimchi, paji (green onion seasoned with red pepper), moochae (chopped radish seasoned with red pepper), kongnamul (bean sprouts seasoned with red pepper) and garlic.
First the pork is grilled, and then the kimchi and other vegetables are added. Once cooked, these ingredients (along with rice) are wrapped in a lettuce leaf and popped into one's mouth. “Ssam” is the term used for a lettuce leaf wrap. This is served with soup (doenjang guk). All ingredients are supplied by local farmers – including the pork.
The restaurant originally started with just two tables, as its clientele consisted of only local bus and taxi drivers. Before Yang Sin Ja got a permit for the restaurant, it didn’t even have a name. It was the staff at Seogwipo City Hall that helped her name it. The name Yongi comes from her first son, Kim Hyeong Yong. The “i” at the end is part of the Korean language that is added to a younger person or friend’s name.
Once the restaurant received its permit it started to become busier, and six more tables were added. Before long the restaurant had to move to a larger location, and that is where it is located today.
When I was there on a Saturday at lunch the restaurant was very busy. There were many families with young children, men taking a break from work, and an older man that looked to be with his adult grandson.
As I enjoyed my lunch, a man sat next to me and was preparing his one serving of duruchigi. He told me that he is a taxi driver in Jeju City but when he needs to take a trip to Seogwipo — which is about once a month — he always takes the opportunity to come to Yongi Sikdang. He said he has been coming to the restaurant for 20 years and was a loyal customer when it was still located by the bus station.
Many tourists come to Yongi Sikdang, but the clientele consists mainly of locals who can be found enjoying the cuisine and the atmosphere. When I asked why her restaurant was always so busy, she replied “I don’t know.” I think I do know, however. It is because of her delicious food, her customer service and, of course, her modesty. One serving costs 6,000 won for dine-in and 5,500 won for takeout.
(Interpretation by Kim Jung Lim)
Yongi Sikdang Address: 298-8 Cheonji-dong, Seogwipo Tel: 064-732-7892 Hours: 9 a.m. - 10 p.m. (except on first and third Sundays)
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