If you are a hardcore Korean foodie then you probably have tried traditional Korean-style acorn jelly (or muk: 묵). Making jelly out of acorn or other starchy vegetables has a long history in Korea in which the jellies became an important source of food for peasants to get through starvation. The jellies are almost flavorless but they have unique texture and some nutrition so are often used as a topping for salads or bibimbaps.
I remember that I used to enjoy acorn jelly salad all the time when I was young. Now, acorn jellies are pretty common and they are especially popular in Daejeon. But heck I have never ever heard of chestnut jelly until recently when my parents took me to a place that makes everything on their menu with bam-muk or “chestnut jellies”.
The restaurant is called Bam-mat Goeul (밤맛고을) and is located in my neighborhood of Galma-dong. The place has an atmosphere of a traditional log cabin which I admired. Almost everything on the menu has the word “bam” in front of it which translates to “chestnut”. I was feeling quite excited to try an entire course of dishes made with chestnut as I am a nut for chestnuts.
Unlike regular rice wine that is made with rice and wheat, the chestnut makgeolli is beautiful yellow-colored with subtle sweetness. I tried bottled Gongju chestnut makgeolli before which was little too sweet for my tongue but this one is just about right and we ended up finishing the entire bowl.
The jelly soup and jelly bibimbap both come with steamed rice. You add the rice to the soup and eat it with jellies like a guk-bap. The chestnut jelly’s texture is slightly more firm than that of acorn jelly and has stronger nutty flavor whereas acorn jelly has a bit of a bitterness to it. All in all, I fell in love with chestnut jelly and ended up picking all the jellies in the bibimbap for myself.
The best dish to be paired with chestnut makgeolli was indeed the magnificent seafood pizza. Not just regular Korean pancake with seafood and veggies.. they added chestnut powder to the dough so the color of the dough is almost brownish grey. Very nutty and savory. This could become my new favorite pancake.