The restaurant is called “Lee of North Korea”, so no prize on what cuisine do they serve. And it’s the only Michelin Plates restaurant that serve North Korean cuisine.
Every geographic location mentioned in this post is in North Korea unless otherwise indicated.
Omakase is a gastronomic experience where chefs and customers communicate directly through food, where a limited number of people share a specific place and time. This is usually associated with luxurious fine dining, rather than sundae, a common street food that is usually consumed at soup restaurants in Korea. And to become the world’s first ‘sundae omakase‘ and recommended by the Michelin Guide since 2019, Leebukbang has broken a lot of records.
At the age of 20, Chef Choi Ji-hyung was able to use his grandmother’s influences to create sundae, pollack sikhye, and salted pollack roe. With the recent passing of his grandmother, Chef Choi has been very proud to celebrate her memory by introducing traditional North Korean food to the public.
Chef Choi received his master’s degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University, one of the top three culinary programs in the world. He then went on to work at restaurants in Miami, New York, and Italy.
To match the food, the restaurant is styled in traditional Korean accents while still maintaining a modern feel. Reclaimed century-old wood countertops and hanji (Korean paper) style walls are just a few of the touches that create this modern Korean style.
The cauldron and kettle seen over the table seem to define the identity and space interior inherited the method that Chef Choi’s grandmother adhered to, such as how to trim the ingredients and the proportion of ingredients.
Sundae Omakase introduced by Leebukbang is truly the first in the world.
- Cabbage Roll with Pollack
- Wonsan Japchae 원산 잡채 Original Japchae
- Dwaejimeolipyeon-yug 돼지머리편육 Pork Head Slices
- Myeongtaesikhye 명태식혜 Salted Fermented Pollack
- Sundae 순대 Blood sausage with shrimp paste
- Baeksundae 백암순대 White Sausage
- Abaisundae 아바이순대 Blood Sausage from Abai
- Olisundae 오리순대 Duck Sausage
- Grilled Snow-aged Korean Beef
- Yangsundae 양순대 Lamb Sausage
- Dwaeiji Gukbap 돼지국밥 Beef Rib Soup with Rice
- Dwaejigogi Suyuk 돼지고기 수육 Boil Pork Shoulder
- Dijeoteu 디저트 Dessert
Cabbage Roll with Pollack
If it reminded you of the Sogchoui ojing-eo sundaeui 속초의 오징어 순대의 squid sundae from Sokcho, you are not far off. Instead of the squid, the “sundae” was made with pollack wrapped with cabbage, steamed, sliced and served with a clear fish broth and perilla oil.
The first course reminded us that the art of making sundae is not restricted to only blood sausages. There are many regional variations that do not incorporate seonji (animal blood) into the preparation. This pollack fish sundae was the perfect starter to prep us to expect the unexpected.
Wonsan Japchae 원산 잡채 Original Japchae
The Wosan (“original”) Japchae is a reinterpretation of the original Japchae from Hamgyeong-do 咸鏡道, the northern most province during the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). Their version is made with mung bean noodles on the bottom, topped with a variety of seaweeds for umami, and finished with sweet and sour dressing made from omaji. Omija (오미자, 五味子) in Korean literally means “five flavour berries”. The myeongtae (명태, 明太) pollack sashimi with caviar was seasonal, and could be replaced by whatever they found fresh at that time.
Hamgyeong-do (currently Gangwon-do) where the japchae originated is a coastal area where various seafoods are harvested, including octopus, marigold, mussels, abalone, sea ginseng. So it was common to have seafood with japchae back then.
Dwaejimeolipyeon-yug 돼지머리편육 Pork Head Slices
Pyeonyug (literally “flat meat”) is a very rustic Korean aspic that is similar to the French fromage de tete (head cheese). The pig’s head was trimmed and sautéed with red wine, chunjang and various spices to add flavour. Then, it took a full day and half a day to cook and braise to complete it.
Koreans have been enjoying pollock roe since the Joseon era, and myeongran-jeot (salted pollack roe) is a specialty of South Hamgyong Province. The flavour of very moist and soft cut meat served with low-salt pollack roe in your mouth served as an interlude to the star attractions of the evening, the different type of sundae.
Myeongtaesikhye 명태식혜 Salted Fermented Pollack
Leebukbang’s sundae and pollack sikhye, which were recreated from Chef Choi’s grandmother’s recipes, are the signature dishes of this restaurant. Their pollack sikhye, a representative fermented food in North Korea, is made by separately removing only the flesh of half-dried pollack and ripening it with millet rice and radish. The principle here is to minimize the sweetness and emphasize the crunchy texture and light taste.
It was delicious, not too salty and the right texture. You can eat it on its own or wait for the next items on the omakase. The sweet and sour flavours stimulate your appetite, making it a perfect match for sundae.
At this juncture, the feast for sundae begins! The different types of sundae that would served that evening emerged from the steamer and put aside to cool to serving temperature. A plate of condiments that will be used for different kinds of sundae was placed on the counter; they would slice the sundae and place them on the plate like how an itamae would serve the sushi one by one.
The first was Maldon sea salt from the UK (not as salty as the normal salt), chunjang 춘장 black bean sauce that came from a small farming family in the countryside, salted fermented shrimp called Saeu-jeot (새우젓) which reminded me of chinchalok, and a yak-gochujang 약고추장 sauce made from frying gochujang with beef, honey, sesame oil and pine nuts.
Sundae 순대 Blood sausage with shrimp paste
Korean sundae 순대 is a traditional blood sausage that usually consists of glutinous rice, glass noodles (dangmyeon), and pig’s blood. It is believed that sundae originated sometime in the Goryeo period (918–1392).
This was a variation of the classic sundae with added fermented shrimp paste to give it a lot of umami.
Baeksundae 백암순대 White Sausage
As the name suggested, baeksundae was a special sausage white in appearance. This sausage was made without pig’s blood, and contained a lot of vegetables and noodles, giving it a taste similar to dumplings.
Saeujeot (salted ferment shrimp) is a flavourful and salty ingredient used in kimchi. Saeujeot added a rich savoury dimension to the baeksundae and saltiness to the rather bland sundae.
Abaisundae 아바이순대 Blood Sausage from Abai
Abai Village is a small village in Sokcho City, located on the East Coast of Gangwon Province, where elderly people who fled from North Korea during the Korean War came and settled. Abai-sundae, a local specialty, is made with daechang 대창 (large intestine), seonji 선지 (pig’s blood), glutinous rice, pork, fats and cabbage. This sundae has more of everything stuffed in the large intestine casing. Thirty-one ingredients were stir-fried separately, seasoned separately, and prepared with a 90% seonji content, so it’s soft and moist in your mouth. Goes well with the chunjang.
Olisundae 오리순대 Duck Sausage
The duck meat filled sundae was made with a bit of exotic flavours to the Korean palate with spices such as thyme and parsley. And the casing was made to be crispy on the outside to give it a different texture to the rest of the sundae. It reminded of the regular Western sausages and not so much of a sundae at this point.
Grilled Snow-aged Korean Beef
This next dish is really innovative, even though the background given was more in distant past. It was recorded that Koreans in the past used snow to shock the beef to tenderise the beef. This method has seen a resurgence in Japan and is now known as yukimuro or snow-ageing.
Grilled Korean beef with shaved frozen pear to represent the snow with pickled shallots representing crescent moon.
Unlike dry-ageing, which sees beef ageing in an arid environment and thus draws water away, snow-ageing assures a good in-between option. Thanks to the relatively humid environment, beef was not frozen but left plump with moisture while still developing the deep, savoury flavours of aged meat.
Yangsundae 양순대 Lamb Sausage
This sausage was inspired by the chef’s visit to North Korea. After mixing pork and lamb, yangsundae (lamb sausage) uses various spices such as dried oregano and basil to remove the peculiar smell of lamb. Lamb sausage was filled in pork intestine and deep fried, sprinkled with tsuran 쯔란 cumin and served with Korean chimchurri sauce made with a local herb called chamnamul 참나물. Delicious and it reminded me of my favourite Xinjiang lamb kebabs 羊肉串.
Dwaeiji Gukbap 돼지국밥 Beef Rib Soup with Rice
Dwaeji gukbap started as a poor man’s meal, dating back to the Korean War in the 1950s, when refugees from North Korea used to prepare it with beef. Over time, the soup became a popular local dish, especially in Busan. Today, most people enjoy this unique dish while drinking liquor, and it is especially beneficial for women who are recovering from childbirth.
Leebukbang’s version came with beef ribs and mushrooms, with consommé-like clear broth. The rice was pretty fluffy and tasty, and would soak up some of the flavours of the soup after a while.
Dwaejigogi Suyuk 돼지고기 수육 Boil Pork Shoulder
Suyuk 수육 translates to “water meat” in Korean. The meat is boiled in a flavourful brine until tender and served thinly sliced. Because of the type of cuts used, it is extremely high in fats and also high in proteins. If one is on a regular diet, it would be best to consume suyuk as bossam, having plenty of leafy vegetables together with the meat.
Bossam 보쌈, literally “wrap with”, refers to how suyuk is enjoyed. At the table, each person wraps the meat in salted napa cabbage leaves along with radish salad (musaengchae) and salted shrimp (saeu-jeot).
The cut they used here was the lean apdarisal 앞다리살 pork shoulder and instead of boiling, they used the sous vide method to produce a very tender and juicy suyuk. And they had cut them like Christmas ham, quite generous and thick in each cut. The cabbage was not salted, and the radish was freshly prepared, just like when suyuk is eaten – before the kimchi marination starts.
Dijeoteu 디저트 Dessert
Finally, the dessert course – is made up of homemade sweet yuzu tea with apple honey, soft yang-gaeng 양갱 made with condensed milk and Earl Grey tea, and Busan tomato.
Yang-yaeng is a kind of dessert that started in the Tang Dynasty in China. It got its name 羊羹 because the appearance of the cake and the colour of the red beans were similar to that of mutton liver. Later, in the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, Japanese monks sent to Tang China brought the predecessor back to Japan and it became the refreshment given to worshippers. During the prevalence of Japanese tea ceremony in the 15th and 16th centuries, yōkan 羊羹 became a popular wagashi 和菓子.
Some may even argue that with the combination of sundae and pyeonyuk (boiled pork or beef) Leebukbang offers traditional Korean style charcuterie. And they needed everyone to order a drink each, or a bottle for a group.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved by food. It broke the prejudice of sundae and had a very clean aftertaste. The neat service and atmospheric interior were also the best to spend a good time. It was nice to see how they care about each and every guest, and explain everything in details. I will want to return again some time.
2nd Floor of A&D Building, 16 Mapo-daero 1-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Tel : 02-720-2345
Visited Mar 2023
Michelin Seoul Guide Bib Gourmand 2020-23
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