Bring on Korean Breakfast at JeonJu Bbop near Seattle
Craving noodles, rice bowls, dumplings, and fish soup for an early breakfast? JeonJu Bbop in Lynnwood offers all of this and more, starting at 8 a.m. daily (closed Sundays). This classic mom-and-pop restaurant has a simple one-page menu that's heavy on the Hangul (even more so with the specials hanging on the walls), but if Pop, who works the dining room, can't help you with his limited English, he'll bring Mom out from the kitchen to explain the dishes—and it might not be long before the son, who sometimes can be seen sitting with his school work and a cell phone, helps out as well.
I was tempted to order "Separately Rice and Soup" (even after explanation, I'm still not sure what it is), but after Mom explained that her restaurant is the only place that serves Pollock Soup ($10.99), I had to give it a try. "Don't be scared of the head," she admonished upon bringing the steaming bowl to the table. No problem, especially knowing that some of the best meat is in the cheeks if you get in there with your chopsticks. Aside from the head, there's a good portion of pollock floating in the soup, which is full of wonderful fish flavor boosted by special salt imported from Korea. Similarly, there's a little Korean pepper that adds an underlying spicy bite to the broth. Other than fish, the soup contains sprouted beans, green onions, daikon radish, and slightly bitter garland chrysanthemum leaves. This is a simple, satisfying soup that's filling when enjoyed with the rice, a few small bowls of banchan, and the two crocks of kimchi that accompany it.
The restaurant name references Jeonju, the home of bibimbap, so I recommend ordering that as well. To get the crispiest possible rice, upgrade from the lower-priced bibimbap to the Stone Pot Bibimbap ($10.99), which comes with beef, but is also available with squid for the same price. JeonJu Bbop's version comes with a sunny egg in the center, surrounded by a wide variety of vegetables: cabbage, carrots, spinach, bean sprouts, zucchini, kimchi daikon, purple onion, red bell pepper, and gosari—the bracken fern fiddleheads that I crave for their earthy flavor, which are all too often left out when I order bibimbap locally. The bibimbap comes with a small bowl of soup and a side dish of chile paste that you can use to spice up the rice pot, while on the table there are containers of chile flakes and tiny shrimp fermented with salt if you want to further experiment with flavors.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.