Jumeokbap (주먹밥 or “fist rice”) is kind of like the bagel of Korea; it’s cheap, made up of a staple grain and parades around in many forms—breakfast, a quick snack, or part of a proper meal. Also known as samgak gimbap (삼각김밥 or “triangle seaweed rice”), this ball of rice with a savory core is found in nearly every convenience store in Seoul as the snack of choice for the busybodied. But mass production of the ever-popular jumeokbap has not been good to the proletarian treat. In both stores and restaurants alike, many have become too bland or too salty, and most are so stingy on the filling that it can leave you shaking your jumeok in outrage.
The seasoned bundles of joy are served warm, studded with sesame seeds and seaweed flakes, smelling sweet in the way only fresh-steamed white rice can.
Thankfully, Bapjitneun Cafe (밥짓는 카페, awkward literal translation: “rice-making cafe”) is taking a different approach to the jumeokbap. Stepping foot inside the Nonhyeon-dong cafe can leave you wondering if the space cannot help but inform its pint-sized decor (thimble-sized tumblers, votive candles, figurines with a Polly Pocket lineage) and the menu, as if nothing bigger than a jumeok could come out of space so small. What the cafe lacks in pyeong, however, it makes up for with jumeokbaps with more flavor, stuffing and TLC. Each rice ball is made on the spot by the co-owner couple, taking about five minutes to handcraft from scratch (pre-made ones are available during rush hours). The seasoned bundles of joy are served warm, studded with sesame seeds and seaweed flakes, smelling sweet in the way only fresh-steamed white rice can. But it’s what’s inside that counts and that’s where the Bapjitneun jumeokbap outperforms others with its generous, even layer of filling.
The selection includes the quintessential roasted kimchi jumeokbap that’s spicy enough to make ajeoshis sweat, the sweet and savory bulgogi jumeokbap for a little more substance and other popular flavors, including variations on Spam and curry. If rice isn’t what you’re craving, the cafe also features other eclectic options including udon noodles, banana toast and smoothies. Granted, you may have to wait longer than what you’re used to when ordering off the menu at Bapjitneun Cafe, but the couple diligently molding your order into shape is a quiet reminder that good food shouldn’t be fast.