I consider Busan, the second largest metropolis in South Korea my second home thanks to the student exchange programme I joined years back. (Thank You, NTU ; D ) Unlike the majority who started their kimchi journey in Seoul, I learn every little thing about Korea in Busan.Yes, I even took my very first full-time Korean Language course there!
Busan, a home to Korea’s largest beach, longest river and world’s biggest department store, is definitely a gem in the Southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula.
I still clearly remember the distinct smell of the ocean when I stepped out from the Gimhae Airport back in 2009. The warm, slightly wet and humble scent of the sea dashing almost everywhere in the city, turning it into a place nurturing friendlier and more approachable Busaner. The rush of the waves and the calls of the seagulls, all these pieces of memories in Busan are still picturesquely vivid, after all these years. Even the wild and strong wind that could blow off the false eyelashes on my girl pal’s eyelid, the ultimately strong Busan satoori (regional dialect) that some of the Seoul-ers might unintentionally look down upon, are all so dear to me. It is a city I feel closely connected to.
Seafood is undoubtedly the best harvest in Busan. The freshest catch from the sea is the daily staple in a Busaner’s palate. Seafood dishes are therefore not to be missed. One of the best meal in Busan was their Al-bap 알밥. I can’t find the exact same taste anywhere else except in Busan. Al-bap, as known as fish roe or fish eggs bibimbap is one of the best things one could savour in Busan. Freshest ingredients filled up in big, beautiful bowls or sizzling hot stone bowl, among the crispy greens you see the generous spread of tiny little globule in red (or orange).
One of my best foodie experience in Busan is the Al-bap (알밥) at the Pusan National University area. Serving only Al-bap in the school area, the quality was not compromised even students are their target market. The owner knows his stuff and how proper Al-bap should be done. I can’t find any other al-baps in any other regions of S. Korea serving al-bap like they do. Even after 5 years, I still yearn for their Cream Shrimp Al-bap every now and then.
Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never wanted to lose.
And so I took a trip down the memory lane in Busan last winter, for that particular flavour of al-bap I can’t seem to find any adequate substitutions here in Seoul. 5 years have passed, and this tiny little restaurant on the 2nd floor of an old shophouse off the North Gate of PNU have then relocated to a bungalow near the vicinity of the PNU main gate.
Here we are at the new location. The cosy cottage interior, friendly staffs, same old vibe and the owner is still around — It is indeed a good sign as I expect the al-bap to taste like what it was when I was here some 5 years ago.
I remembered their old location used to seat about 15 to 20 customers, and it usually gets really crowded there during meal time. With a larger space, the new place obviously seats more customers.YAY!
I like the soft yellow light that warm up the interior. It looks like a great place for gathering or your fancy little date with love ones if you are in Busan.
The owner’s personal collection on the shelf. Anyway, it is great to be back, especially to find out the restaurant I used to go has developed into a bigger size. It is like when you find out a long lost friend is doing well, and you genuinely feel happy for him.
Ji & Tobico is famous here in Busan. Look at the TV interviews they had done with the local media ; )
Their free appetizer came shortly after we placed the order as usual. I love having their noodle. It is the homemade flavour you could probably get at home. The savoury taste of the soup made of mix vegetable broth was refreshing and comforting. Let me warn you beforehand that their noodle is really addictive. I had two bowls before getting the main dish. Thinking of this made me cringe. I shouldn’t have taken two bowls considering the number of calories I loaded into my body. Nonetheless, the meal started off perfectly with them.
Introducing our first al-bap of the day, the crab meat al-bap 게살 알밥 [read: gae-sal-al-bap]. Lumps of tender crab meat and the delicately seasoned, smooth and creamy sauce complicate so well with the raw Chinese cabbage. Each and every mouthful of al-bap was filled with the fresh and juicy fish roe, popping in your mouth like a symphony all in harmony, blending well with the rich flavour of crab meat cream.
This is my first time ordering crab meat al-bap with Ji & Tobico and it is by far, the best crab meat al-bap I ever had in Korea. They truly deserve the name of an “Albap speciality restaurant”. Each kind of al-bap comes with a different combination of ingredients that helps to bring out the best in them. We see Chinese cabbage and Kaiware (Daikon Radish) Sprouts in the crab meat al-bap, however, my all time favourite, the cream shrimp al-bap comes with green capsicum, pickles and eggs.
Their Cream Shrimp Al-bap 크림새우알밥 [read: krim-sae-woo-al-bap] is such rich, smooth, eggy-creamy-licious goodie that is certainly a not-to-be-missed in Busan. The smooth and luscious cream sauce covered every bit of the rice, and that popping release of briny yet sweet ocean liquor in your mouth was absolutely a lavish experience. The briny juices of the roe resulted in a salty, rich and indulgent variation in my bowl. Here at Ji & Tobico, they are really generous in terms of servings. I never heard anyone complain about the amount of the crab meat, beef or fish roe given.
Writer’s Note: No other place does Al-bap like they do. From matching the perfect ingredients to the making of the sauce, and the hearty amount they serve, all things sums up to an excellent dining experience with Tobico. The trip all the way down to Busan from Seoul for this “school food” in my memory was all worthwhile. Located at university area, their albaps are selling at a jaw-dropping KRW 5,500 – KRW 7,000 (ISN’T IT CHEAP?) ranging from dol-sot (hot-pot) al-bap, light albap (good for diet), Cream Shrimp Albap, Beef Albap, Crab Meat Albap, Mussel Albap (only from November to March).
They also provide additional toppings like fried Kimchi, bacon, shrimp, SPAM, tuna and cheese at a different price. Their Set menu which consist of two al-baps and one teppanyaki dish is value for money too! Do check them out on their menu ; )
Ji & TOBICO (지앤토비코)
11am-10pm. CLOSED on SUNDAY!
Geumjong-gu, Jangjeon-dong, Busan-si. 422-13
How to Get There: Click the image below to enlarge the map.
1.Coming out from the Pusan National University Station (부산대역) exit No.3, go straight up the street. This is the area where PNU students shops, dine and play.
2. Go all the way up. You will pass by big brands like Olive Young, Missha and Innisfree.
3. Turn left when you reach the junction. You will find Starbucks on your left-hand side. Continue to walk down two blocks until you see a zebra crossing.
4. Cross the road to the opposite and continue to walk down the same direction (left). If the restaurant Nol-bu is on your right-hand side, you are in the correct direction. Continue to walk down until you see a police station.
5. Tobico is just right beside the police station.
*Please double check when you get off the train. There are two very similar stations along the orange line (Line no. 1) of Busan Subway. If you are coming from the direction of Busan Station or Jagalchi, you’ll first reach the Pusan National University of Education, in Korean, “Kyo-dae” (교대). DO NOT get off at this station. The correct station should be Pusan National University Station, in Korean, “Busan-dae” (부산대). It is 3 more stations AFTER “Kyo-dae” station. — Thank you reader Johan for the heads up!