No matter where you go in South Korea, you'll find street-side carts or tents serving spicy rice cakes, grilled meats, or other foods often best accompanied by late-night drinking. These vendors—known as pojangmacha, which literally translates to "covered wagon"—are the inspiration for Bul, the just-opened Adams Morgan restaurant from Sakuramen owners Jonathan Cho and Jay Park.
Cho says some of his earliest memories are going to the store with his family and then using the remaining change to get a snack from the pojangmacha on the way back home. "That was my favorite. That was the treat," he says. "When I came back to America, I didn't have that experience anymore. I always craved that."
Adams Morgan has plenty of drinking, but Cho and Park thought it could use a pojangmacha, too. "Social bonds are formed at these places," Cho says. "There's so many of them, that they're ubiquitous across the country. ... It's a very culturally embedded activity. It's almost a daily affair that people engage in."
Bul, meaning "fire," will specialize in skewered grilled meats cooked over an open fire. Some of the initial offerings include chicken meatball, bacon-wrapped asparagus, Berkshire sausage, and prawn skewers, but look for the menu to expand.
The rest of the food is divided by starters and soups—like seafood pancakes, rice cakes and fish cakes in a spicy red pepper sauce, and a fisherman's stew— and entrees, including bulgogi and kalbi (Korean barbecue-style, soy-marinatedsbeef short ribs).
Among Cho's favorites are the "hangover soup," which consists of fish cakes and enoki mushrooms in a rich, savory seafood broth, as well as the "K-Pork fried rice" with pork chashu roasted with homemade kimchi. About that kimchi: "It's actual Korean grandmas making it," Cho says of the family contribution. Cho's wife, MyungEun Cho, is the chef.
Bul offers three flavors of fermented tea blends from D.C. producer Craft Kombucha, but it isn't serving alcohol quite yet. The owners are working to transfer the liquor license and hope to have it by February. When they get it, expect to find plenty of soju, a few varieties of fermented rice wine known as makgeolli, sake, beers, and some cocktails.
The restaurant is located in the former Cafe Toulouse building at 2431 18th St. NW (hence the mural of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's iconic cabaret singer portrait on the facade). Inside, local artist Jin Chung is working on his own murals for the high-ceilinged, exposed-brick space. "Other than the fact that we're not on the side of the road, it just screamed out pojangmacha to us because of the sort of industrial design that it already had in terms of the infrastructure," Cho says. "It felt right."
Check out Bul's full menu below.
Bul, 2431 18th St. NW; (202) 733-3921; buldc.com
Photo of Jonathan Cho and Jay Park by Jessica Sidman