5 Jokbal Spots We're Very About
Every week we pick 5 spots to grab a specific food. We’re not trying to say they’re the best 5, because we’re not looking to start fights – but these are definitely top spots to try. Stay tuned each week to see if the food you’re craving is featured.
Korean cuisine has a couple of items that tend to be heavily promoted internationally or towards foreigners in the country: bibimbap, bulgogi, kimchi. Maybe tteokbokki. These are the foods that Koreans know are going to be inoffensive to a lot of people, and no question, they’re all important parts of the Korean culinary landscape.
But then there are the foods that Koreans kinda keep on the DL. These are the ones that aren’t as friendly to picky eaters, but that if you mention them to a Korean, they know you’re on some real shit. The one of these that is most unanimously loved by Koreans is, in my experience, jokbal [족발].
Jokbal is pig’s feet – jok is sino-Korean for feet, and bal is Korean-Korean for feet – and it’s one of the underground prides of Korea. The feet are cleaned, deboned, re-wrapped into a manageable shape, bound and braised down for hours. A good jokbal is tender, with the right ratio of juicy meat to soft and lightly chewy skin.
Jokbal is also one of those foods where, if it’s bad, it’s really unappetizing – it can be tough, gummy, and dry. But when it’s good, it’s seriously on another level. It changes the game in a Ssam [쌈] wrap with chives, garlic, fermented shrimp and whatever else you want to put up in there. It’s traditionally eaten with soju, which is like…I don’t need to be told twice (seriously though, they go really well together). Some Koreans claim it’s good for the skin because of all the collagen, and like, sure, why not. It’s also my favorite Korean food, so this list is gonna be lit.
A quick note before we start: there are a bunch of variations on jokbal, with the most notable being spicy jokbal [매운/불족발] and cold jokbal salad [냉체족발] , which is a specialty of Busan. Both because jokbal needs no improving upon, but also for the sake of organization, we’re focusing on the gift from god that is plain, good old fashioned braised pigs feet.
리북집 – 논현동
Reebuk Jib is pretty well known, despite their flagship location being on a street that is one of many known for jokbal (they also have one near Garosugil now). It’s a large place, and everything about it is pretty old school. As banchan/condiments, you’ll be served Ssam, a spicy beansprout soup, fermented shrimp sauce, spicy radish, marinated chives, a refreshing cold pickled radish and cabbage soup, and the compulsory raw garlic and chili pepper. The jokbal itself comes in three sizes, and will arrive sliced thin, with pink tender meat showing underneath the rich reddish brown skin on top. A light dusting of sesame seeds is the only garnish, and truly, this jokbal needs nothing else. It’s unbelievably tender and juicy, and the braising spices that flavor the skin and permeate the meat underneath are on point. While I won’t say this is the best place to get jokbal in Seoul, it’s pretty close to what the platonic ideal of jokbal should be.
As you’ll notice with a lot of spots on this list, if a jokbal place is good, it catches on real quick, and then expands. Manjok Ohyang Jokbal has locations all over Seoul, and from what I hear they’re all on the same level as the one near city hall, which I’m pretty sure is the original. In any event, their food is banging. They won’t give you ssam, which is a little weird, but usually you can ask for them. Instead, you get a large soup with little dumplings, dduk and scallions, basically a ddukmanduguk [떡만두국] that serves as an opener-come-companion to the meal. Manjok Ohyang’s jokbal tends to be on the fattier side, but is cooked down so it’s crazy tender and not greasy. This is the kind of jokbal that, if it gets cold, it would probably be a little less enticing, but luckily this doesn’t happen at Manjok – their tables have build in plate warmers, and the jokbal comes on metal plates, so the meat is always hot. This is the kind of thing that might seem gimmicky until you have a shitty cold jokbal elsewhere, at which point you’ll realize that this is a genius and necessary innovation.
Nolboo is a pretty widespread franchise with spots that specialize in budaejjigae [부대찌개], fried chicken, and bo ssam [보쌈], so it may come as a surprise that their jokbal spot is actually worth mentioning here. The thing that makes this place special is that they have a wood fire oven in their kitchen, into which they’ll slide the jokbal to finish it. While this isn’t necessarily traditional, it’s a pretty dank variation on the original. The fire gives the jokbal a smokier taste and a crispier skin, good news for those with an aversion to softer and chewier jokbals. Nolboo serves their jokbal with a number of unique and well-matched sauces, in addition to the standard marinated chives, raw garlic, ssam leaves, etc. Even as a jokbal purist, I recommend hitting this place if you’re in a neighborhood that has one (make sure they got the wood oven though).
윤씨네족발 – 노원
Nowon is one of the many neighborhoods that someone might tell you at one point is known for jokbal. This spot only has one location and, both as a reflection of the neighborhood and its own food, is pretty no-frills old school. Most people eating will be complementing their pig’s feet with makgeolli [막걸리], which is also a banging combination. The banchan and sides are fresh and sharply flavorful, and they give you a plate of mini jumok-bap [주먹밥], which is nice. But most importantly, this is just really, really quality jokbal. On a few occasions when I’ve been, the jokbal I got had almost no skin or collagen on it, meaning if you’re interested in what a meat-dominated jokbal experience is, this spot might be your best bet (though I can’t guarantee it). Saddle up with the ahjussis, grab some liquor and dig in.
위풍당당족발 – 성수동
A lot of times spots that are known for bul or maeun jokbal (‘fire’ or ‘spicy’ jokbal) are worth thinking twice about, because they can get away with a lot less flavor wise by just masking everything with a lot of spice. Wipoong Dangdang, however, is known for their ‘ban-ban’ [반반], or ‘half-half,’ which to be fair a lot of spots do: half spicy, half plain. You do you, but truthfully, their plain jokbal is good enough to stand on its own. They’ll serve it to you with a side of Japanese-style fishcake soup [오뎅탕], some dank house made ssamjang [쌈장], ssam, all the fixings. Their jokbal is perfectly cooked, expertly seasoned, you know the drill.
Jokbal is the kind of thing where, if you can’t get into it, I’m sorry but you’re missing out. I’ve literally never met a Korean who doesn’t love it, and as long as you know the good spots, it’s unlikely you’ll have a bad Jokbal experience. A couple of tips before you venture out: a lot of Jokbal spots serve a cold noodle salad that’s kind of a traditional side. On this list, Ree Buk Jib, Yoon-ssi Nae and Wipoong Dang Dang are all known for this salad, so if you’re hungry or have a bunch of people, it’s definitely recommended. Finally, the absolute, unequivocally best part of jokbal is the bits of meat still stuck to the bone, in the crevices and on the ends. Get in there with chopsticks or your fingers. Fuck whoever’s watching, if they’re judging you they don’t know what they’re missing.
Let us know which spot is your favorite or if we missed any we shouldn’t have (though honestly, this list could be expanded into a book…hmm….). For another list like this, check out last week’s installment, where we looked at Tteokbokki that's made at your table.
Photo credits: Author, @lovelysweet_ji