Ever since spending a week with my sister, Lizzy, in Seoul during her stint teaching English in South Korea, I have been more than a little obsessed with Korean food. The tastes and smells take me back to that trip from more than 10 years ago. One of my favorite meals during my visit with Lizzy was at a Korean barbecue. It was a true social experience—me, Lizzy and her friends sat on pillows on the floor, all gathered around a grill at the center of a long table. We talked and shared food that seemed like it would never stop coming: piping hot chicken dak galbi, followed by fried rice, followed by pajeon (crisp Korean scallion pancakes) and kimchi—with soju flowing throughout the meal.
Back in Springfield, I longed for that communal barbecue experience—for the extended meal where you’re not rushed and the hands-on ritual is as important as the flavors. When Bawi Korean BBQ opened up, I was beyond ready for it. My husband, Eli, and I secured childcare and ventured out for a much anticipated date.
We arrived early and started our meal at the bar, where we sampled soju and chose which one we wanted to order. We landed on the plum soju, which was sweeter than what I would normally drink—but also delightful. The little bottle came to us plunged in a bucket of ice with two shot glasses. With an alcohol content akin to wine, it was perfect for sipping throughout our meal.
At our table, the grill was warming up, and the pristinely clean table was soon covered by our banchan (side dishes), condiments, a menu and some cooking utensils. Our server, friendly and eager to initiate us to the Bawi experience, explained the dining process and took our first order: spicy pork bulgogi and sirloin steak.