포장마차 (Po-jang-ma-cha) literally means “tented wagon,” and are commonly found in the streets of South Korea serving drinks and comfort food.
Bul, pronounced more like “bool,” is located on 18th Street in Adams Morgan. It can be a little difficult to find if you’re not actively looking for it. They don’t have a restaurant sign out front letting you know they’re there. Instead, they’ve got the red stamp you see in the photo above imprinted on their window.
It’s the first restaurant of its kind in D.C. What exactly is it? Bul is a Korean restaurant that resembles the atmosphere of po-chas, or tented street bars. Koreans usually frequent po-cha bars after work to grab a drink and wind down.
If you’re unfamiliar with Korean culture, then know this: Koreans love food and soju (Korean vodka), and that is how bonds are made sometimes. So, it’s only natural that a street bar selling food and soju is the place to be for people to let out their emotions and express themselves freely.
Although Bul is not a tented street bar, it does have the atmosphere and menu of one. I first heard of a Korean po-cha opening in D.C. last year, but never had the chance to go. I finally made the trip out to Adams Morgan and tested this “authentic” Korean restaurant with a fellow Korean friend. We were a bit skeptical at first. We’ve been disappointed before by restaurants claiming to be “authentically Korean,” but really were serving fusion versions of dishes we wished they wouldn’t mess with at all. With some skepticism in mind, my friend and I decided to take it slow and easy.
It was a Wednesday night–most might refer to it as “hump day.” Naturally, we decided it was the perfect night to start the weekend drinking. We ordered a bottle of soju, which is the Korean version of vodka or sake. The alcohol content for soju usually ranges from 18 to 20 percent. The brand we chose, Chum Churum, meaning “like the first time,” had an alcohol content of the former percentage.
We have a saying in Korean when we get into the mood for drinking: “The liquor sure tastes sweet tonight.” That night, the liquor was, indeed, sweet.
Our first order was an appetizer called, Egg Mari (계란 말이). Simply put, it is an egg omelet with chopped scallions both mixed in the egg and sprinkled on top. Traditionally, the egg mix is poured into a frying pan on low heat and slowly rolled over until it forms the shape shown above. It’s usually just seasoned with salt, but more modern, amped-up versions include sauces such as, mayonnaise and sriracha. (See photo above)
I was surprised at how it tasted so much like what my mother would make me at home. This was a common dish we would see at our dining table. Although personally, I think I would have liked it without the extra sauces on top. It masked the taste of the egg and made it saltier than I would have preferred. Nevertheless, this classic dish showed us the beginning of a promising meal ahead of us.
Our next dish was the Spicy Pork Tacos. I believe this was pork bulgogi in the form of a taco. Bulgogi is just marinated meat, usually beef, grilled over fire (Bul=fire, Gogi=meat). I liked this fusion dish, because the flavors complemented each other quite harmoniously. As I said before, I’m usually against fusion cuisine, but this spicy pork taco was phenomenal. I especially enjoyed the tortilla they used, and I think the reason it was so delicious was because the marination of the spicy pork was made by a native Korean. Despite the name of the dish, the spice level of the pork was rather mild. I’d give it a 2 out of 5 with the latter being the spiciest.
Then, came our main entree: Spicy Pork Ssam. Ssam, the double “s” emphasizing the accent on the sound, means wrap. This dish is meant to be eaten in a “make-your-own-wrap” kind of style. The ingredients for this particular ssam are: grilled pork belly, stir-fried kimchi, grilled and sliced garlic with jalapeños. You put whatever you want on a leaf of lettuce, wrap it up, and take it in one bite.
You can also eat each part of the dish individually. There’s no shame in that. It’s quite a challenge to fit everything into your mouth at once, but it does seem to be an unspoken rule to do so anyway.
Finally, our soup dish arrived. For Koreans, there are a couple mandatory dishes when having a meal. First, we’ve got to have the rice and side dishes, or appetizers. Then, we need the main dish, followed by some sort of soup.
For our meal that night, my friend and I settled on a seafood soondubu stew. Soondubu stew is a soft tofu stew that is traditionally spicy (soon=soft, dubu=tofu). The level of spiciness depends on each individual’s preference in cooking it, but let’s just say Bul’s soondubu stew is more on the spicier end of the spectrum. For those that do not do spicy well, stay away. Even though Korean spicy doesn’t have a lasting effect like a habanero pepper would, it’s spicy and gets spicier the more you eat it.
By the time we took a step back and looked at our table, we had ended up eating everything. We finished the whole bottle of soju, ate every piece of the egg mari, devoured the tacos when they first arrived, wrapped each slice of pork belly into deliciously plump ssams, and scraped the soondubu bowl clean without a drop of stew left. One would think we were two starving girls eating for the first time in days, but really, it was just because we enjoyed the authenticity and deliciousness of everything. It’s hard to find a good Korean restaurant in D.C., and practically impossible to find a po-cha in the DMV area, but hidden among a row of great eateries in Adams Morgan lies Bul, D.C’s first and only pojangmacha.
Try it out for yourselves! You won’t be disappointed with whatever you decide to get.
Also! Keep a look out for an exclusive interview with the owner of Bul that will be posted soon!