The next morning, we set off for Busan, to eat at the famous 동래할매파전, Dongrae Halmae Pajun restaurant. Dongrae is the name of the neighborhood, halmae means grandmother, and pajun is a pan-fried green onions cooked in a batter of rice flour. In other words, Grandmother’s Green Onion Pancake. The restaurant, though, was much spiffier than its down-home name implied. The restaurant was proud of its four generations of history, and they had really nice black-and-white photos decorating their front entrance, presumably of the original grandmother. They even had a half-open kitchen, a little glassed-in area where you could watch the famous pajun being made. (No photos allowed, though.) And if you still felt like you didn’t have enough information about the restaurant, the menu gave an extensive description of the pajun-making process.
So of course we ordered pajun, but also a mixed seafood dish called 동래고동찜, dongrae godong-jjim; a bibimbap of raw greens with barley, rather than rice; and 추어탕, chueotang, a stew made of loaches, a tiny, skinny freshwater fish.
The pajun was really beautiful, and rich, in that it was filled with ingredients that would have been quite expensive back in the day—eggs, shrimp, oysters, and beef. But the star ingredient was certainly the green onions, which were laid on the griddle first before batter was poured around them. It was a very abundant, very royal pancake.
But to be totally honest, I like my pajun a little less abundant. I like the batter to be sufficient enough to get a crispy surface on both sides, even if that means my green onions won’t be lined up so neatly in a row. This pajun was a little too undercooked for me. I might be too much of a peasant to appreciate the good stuff.
But the rest of the food was startling. I get bored easily, and so it’s absolutely thrilling to keep moving from city to city and finding something completely new in each one. The dongrae godong-jjim had a very nutty base of wild sesame seeds and probably rice that had been ground together. This base was mixed with springy bean sprouts, green onions, fiddlehead ferns, bellflower roots, bits of red pepper, some ground pine nuts, and these tiny little sea creatures. One was black and I cannot find an English translation for them. I do not know what I ate. The other was orange and weirdly mushy and crunchy at the same time. 미더덕, mideodeok, which apparently is related to the sea squirt, and surprisingly not unpleasant. (Don’t you think Anthony Bourdain should invite me on his next eating tour?) The overall effect was wonderful. I loved the firm sweetness of the bean sprouts with the nutty, delicate flavor of the wild sesame seeds.
Diane and I had ordered the chueotang, despite the scary sound of “loach,” out of a desire to educate ourselves, but I liked that very much, too. More and more, I realize how much Korean food is seafood-based rather than meat-based. The soup had a flavor more intense than anchovy broth, but with the same lightness that kept it from being overwhelming, and I loved the sweetness of the cabbage.
(Diane’s parents had the steamed barley mixed with millet, so I didn’t try it, but isn’t it beautiful?)
My favorite part of the meal, though, were the sweetest parts: the adorable little 떡, ttok, or rice cake, filled with sweet bean paste, and the 식혜, sikhye, a sweet rice punch that this restaurant had made with a winter squash. Sweet, cold, refreshing, the perfect dessert.