The cold weather kicked in. When wind and rain hit your window panes, jackets start dominating your closet, and colorful scarves make their presence at every clothing store, what is the first thing in your mind? A cozy snug-up with a book, maybe dreamy smoke rising up from a mug of hot chocolate, or early Christmas shopping? Ever since a friend took me to this Korean dine-in, it has become the Call of the Wild Tummy on wintry days.
Telegraph avenue is a busy street. Tents set up on both sides with multitudes of youngster jewelries, flashy windows with vintage clothes, beggars with voice stronger than a football coach… But there is one wooden door that looks so humble it stood out amidst the restless noise.
I like Berkel Berkel because of its wooden doors, its dimly lit interior, its young customers gathering quietly around small tables, the unadorned facileness, and the affable host (dressed in white in the picture below). No matter how cold it is outside, once you’re in here, you’re warmed up by the familiarity. Wrapping my hands around a cup of oksusu cha, I felt at home.
The menu is simple and basic. Barbecue meat (bulgogi), rice with eggs and mixed veggies (bibimbap), soups; if my memory serves me right, everything comes with a choice of beef, pork, chicken, or vegetarian. I’ve only tried bulgogi and dolsot bibimbap here. (It was the first dolsot bibimbap I had since reading about it in Noodlepie. The other two Korean restaurants near campus don’t serve bibimbap in a sizzling stone bowl, a dolsot, hence deprive both the rice and the rice eater half the fun.)
Although I’m not a big fan of veggies, their beautiful assortment makes a dainty remark on my prejudice, and thankfully the pickled sourness and gochujang’s subtle triggering were anything but plain. Gochujang (chili paste), except for being crimson red and spicy, tastes a lot like the Vietnamese chao; naturally, since they are both made from aged fermented soybean paste, or tofu.
An all-mixed-up bowl looks like this. Spinach, bean sprout, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, egg, sesame oil, stir-fried beef, chili paste, my mouth is watering as I’m writing this. Korean spiciness goes with a piquant sourness, distinguishing itself from Mexican’s forward plainness, Thai’s fruity sweetness, or Indian’s peppery pungency.
Forget about manners, I made a tower consisting of a square of beef, a piece of baechu (Chinese cabbage) kimchi, and a slice of pickled cucumber on a spoonful of rice. Korean rice is noticeably moister than Vietnamese rice, so stuffing that monstrous pile into my mouth wasn’t too hard, the rice didn’t fall apart. The hand can only write of so many poetic remarks before the brain is flooded with images and tastes relived, too fast to be organized, so I will now simply list other good things here: excellent salad dressing, lingering corn tea, free unlimited banchan (kimchi, cucumber, and sweet black beans), and most importantly, student’s-pocket-friendly price (under $10/dish, confirmed by my students).
Address: Berkel Berkel
2428 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
Also read: Second visit at Berkel Berkel
Note to self: next time grocery shopping, look for corn tea. Do they sell those at stores, though?