Photos and Review by Sarah Chen, ETA 2013-2014
City: Naju (나주)
Ddeokbokki Plus (떡볶이 플러스)
79-1 Jungang-dong Naju-si Jeollanam-do
Walking south on Naju’s main street past Baskin Robbins and Paris Baguette, at the intersection look slightly to your left to see Ddeokbokki Plus in front of you. There should be a sign outside a staircase leading to the restaurant, which is on the second floor.
This is the only self-serve all-you-can-eat ddeokbokki buffet I have ever encountered. As a ddeokbokki fanatic, this makes Ddeokbokki Plus my favorite restaurant in Korea without any doubt.
After you pay just ₩5900, the welcoming mother-daughter owners of the restaurant give you a pan and lead you to a table with a camp stove on it. They fill the pan with light soup while you peruse the buffet options, which include a stupendous six kinds of ddeok, from cheese-filled to heart-shaped to sweet-potato-flavored; a huge variety of ramen, japchae, dumplings, sundae, fish cakes, eggs, sausages, and other hearty ingredients; and that most rare of Korean food types, fresh vegetables. Who knew bok choy would taste so good slathered in hot red ddeokbokki sauce?
You return to your table laden with raw ingredients and some of the best kimchi in Naju. Then, you can either carefully layer your vegetables, ddeok, and meats as the cutesy graphic on the wall suggests, or you can follow the lead of the many students eating beside you by unceremoniously dumping your ingredients in, squirting generous spirals of either spicy (very mild, by Korean spice standards) or normal red sauce into your pan, and stirring the gorgeously fragrant mix with the provided ladle. Though it may be agony to wait while you watch the soup redden and the vegetables soften, you should carefully stir the mix until the sauce can thicken, ensuring that ddeok don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Due to issues of sticking, I recommend waiting to add ramen and dumplings until the sauce is nearly ready. You have unlimited refills of your pan’s soup, ddeokbokki ingredients, and sauce, as well as of kimchi, radishes, and the rice and kim needed for making bokkeumbap after the ddeokbokki is done. After you are potentially too full to move from the outrageous amount of rice products consumed and the ominously fiery feeling in your belly, the proprietors then offer you for choice of free ice cream pop in either vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, or green tea flavors. No matter how full you are, always accept their offer of ice cream, or they will look very hurt and urge you to eat even more. In that case, you may feel tempted to order their patbingsu, a new summer addition to their menu. While you may feel like a middle school student again in this restaurant with green neon decor, the Frozen soundtrack in the background, and the motherly attention of the owners, the student price you pay and the epic availability of cheese ddeok (always in too short supply in conventional ddeokbokki) make Ddeokbokki Plus a must-eat for any Naju visitors.