After Hours: Dabok-Baekro in Seoul, South Korea
If you live in South Korea, you almost certainly have or will pass through Seoul Station, a massive transit hub in the heart of the city that is both a major subway station and a stop on the Korail train system, as well as the departure point for the express train to Incheon Airport.
As everyone knows, traveling makes people hungry. Accordingly, there are plenty of eateries inside the main hall of the station, ranging from fast food such as McDonald’s and Lotteria to pastry shops and restaurants.
The largest eatery is Dabok-Baekro, a single cafeteria-like room split by a chest-high divider that serves traditional Korean food on one side and Korean-style Japanese dishes on the other. It doesn’t matter which side you sit on; you can order food from either side and eat it at whatever table you’re sitting at.
The food isn’t fancy, but it’s filling. The Dabok side, where I sat, offers Korean standards such as sundubu (tofu) stew and soybean paste stew. On the Baekro side, you can try udong noodles, memil buckwheat noodles and donkasu, or pork cutlets.
I ordered dolsot bibimbap, the ubiquitous Korean dish of rice topped with vegetables, dried seaweed, spicy red pepper sauce and a raw egg, served in a hot bowl that cooks the egg as you mash all of the ingredients together. Like the other available meals, it came with side dishes of miso soup, cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi and some unidentifiable gelatinous substance that I was afraid to eat.
My bibimbap arrived in a chipped earthenware bowl just four minutes after I placed my order. Total cost for my simple but tasty meal: $7.40.
The restaurant(s) have the feel of a busy but anonymous roadside diner in the U.S. Friendly but hurried waitresses in athletic sandals and socks sprint from table to table, shouting orders and carrying meals to diners from the open-air kitchen in the back of the restaurant.
Few customers seemed to be conversing; everyone seemed more focused on eating quickly, usually keeping an eye on the large clock looming above the kitchen.
If the thought of dining with strangers makes you uncomfortable, this isn’t the place for you, since, in typical Korean fashion, you’ll probably end up sitting elbow to elbow with someone you don’t know.
Most tables are arranged to seat four or more people. If there’s an empty spot next to you, the servers will fill it with the next hungry body that wanders in, personal space be damned. You’re not expected to make conversation with anyone, although you might run into the occasional dining companion who wants to practice his English with you.
Apparently I was a slow eater, since three different shifts of diners sat at my table during my 25 minutes at the restaurant. First was an elderly man who didn’t seem to register my arrival, slurping his soup without pause after I sat down. He left and was replaced by two men who mostly ignored me but looked perplexed when I started taking pictures of my food.
They left and three middle-aged women dripping in perfume and jewelry took their seats, parking their suitcases next to the table without so much as a glance six inches in my direction.
That was fine by me. Quick service and reasonably priced, fresh food when you’re in a hurry — who can complain?
Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this story.
Location: Seoul Station, Seoul-si Yongsan-gu Dongja-dong 43-205.
Directions: Seoul Station is located on subway lines 1 and 4, two stops from Samgakji station on Line 4, the nearest stop to U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan.
Dabok-Baekro is located inside Seoul Station across from the Korail ticket sales counter, between Beans & Berries and Baskin Robbins. Most of the restaurant’s signage is in Korean, but you’ll see the words “Korean Restaurant” above one of the two doors.
Hours: 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Food: Traditional Korean dishes and Korean-style Japanese dishes.
Prices: Most dishes range from 6,000 to 11,000 won, or about $5.25 to $9.60.
English menu: Yes.