Eating out is quite common in Korea. It is not that we hate to cook at home but there are number of reasons that make eating-out sometimes more practical than fixing my own meal. It is surprising how affordable eating-out can be in Korea. This could be due to relatively low labor cost and high competition rate. Food supply itself should cost lower than that of North America with such easy distribution across the country. Another reason that many housewives are tempted to take their family out could be the issue of time. A typical Korean meal consists of steamed rice, main dish, and multiple plates of small side dishes. Although this is a typical, traditional table setting that many refuse to follow at home nowadays, preparing different dishes for a single meal could easily become a pressure as dinner rush comes. Not to mention that many Korean cuisine require longer prep hours and complex procedure to follow.
It is probably for these reasons that my mom often choose to take the family to a local gisa-sikdang (기사식당: a driver’s diner) for a quick but full meal. The gisa-sikdang is almost like a category on its own. The literal translation suggests that such place was intended for professional drivers (more commonly cab drivers) back in the days when they needed a quick bite between shifts. The diners are still a popular destination for drivers but they can also be a decent family restaurant. Homemade cooking with fresh ingredients and great value. Why not?
Hyun-am Gisa Sikdang in Byun-dong is a branch of a famous driver’s diner in Daejeon. Opened in 2010, the place is relatively new and clean unlike typical gisa sikdang that are more humble. A mere 5,500 won will get you a full table fixed with steamed rice, soup, meat, fish, and other sides.
My favorite part is the serve-yourself salad bar fitted with number of side dishes including seasoned spinach, spicy cucumber salad, bean sprouts and different types of kimchi. Different sides are offered each day and it is a joy to try them all with warm bowl of rice. Most restaurants in Korea offer bottomless sides but filling up your own plate is always more fun. We ended up going for thirds and forth for that amazing boiled spinach salad.