Written by Scott Brinkmeyer
The first time I went to Pyojubak (표주박) in Geumho-dong, it was one of those notoriously humid, rainy summer nights of monsoon season. I was following some Korean friends to what they assured me was a great place for makgeolli (막걸리). My umbrella was busted, I was worried I was going to lose a sandal down the storm drains, and I hadn’t stopped sweating from the humidity in months. As soon as we got inside and I removed my steamed-over glasses, I was ready to concede that it was well worth the trip.
A very traditional interior holds old, wooden tables. The areas where you don’t sit on the floor have big old tree stumps for stools. Their sturdiness becomes more important as you drink more makgeolli – just to beat the heat, of course. A trunk runs right up the middle of the place to really make it feel like an old hut. It’s likely just a well-disguised structural beam, but I have far less experience with engineering than I do with makgeolli, and I found my appreciation of the aesthetic increasing in direct proportion to the amount of empty plastic bottles piling up next to me. I’m not sure how far back the tradition of soju (소주) girls goes, but there are enough cardboard figures in there to remind you that you haven’t actually gone back in time.
Pyojubak has got a simple menu, and their confidence in a limited offering is justified. If you’re there for the makgeolli (and really, why be anywhere else for anything else), then you’ve got to get jeon (전). The dish has meat and vegetables coated in eggs and flour, and it’s such a killer combination that it doesn’t need to be anything more. If you think their kimchi jeon isn’t something to write home about, then you must not have a home to write to. Never one for moderation, I recommend a platter of their assorted jeon (모듬전). They’ve got two different kinds of makgeolli. It takes a bit of a palate to distinguish between the two, in my opinion, but I’ve always found volume to be more important than such minor flavor distinctions. Once in a while, I like to get dongdongju (동동주), which is also on the menu here. It’s a lot like makgeolli, but has a bit of a deeper, earthier flavor.
Now, anytime someone is visiting Gwangju, this place is always on my list of places to take them. The combination of the traditional atmosphere and delicious food is always a big hit. They thank me for bringing them as if I were doing them some great favor instead of just finding any excuse I can to get back to Pyojubak. The trickier guests, of course, are the pickier Korean friends. Even in that category, I have yet to take someone to this place who hasn’t wanted to return. I indulge their requests to go back as often as I can, and I always make sure to overindulge myself while there.
광주 서구 운천로17번길 9 (금호동)
Uncheon-ro 17-beongil 9, Seo-gu, Gwangju