Buga means “rich house”. In the traditional sense, “rich” means “luck”.
Situated off a freeway exit, the restaurant looks very unassuming from the outside, and the condition of the restaurant sign straddles carefully between austerity and derelict. But don’t let that scare you and be ready to immerse your senses in the sweet smell of Korean BBQ.
For many people, the entry way into Korean cuisine is through Korean BBQ. With the surge of AYCE (all you can eat) in the last decade, people associate cheap but plentiful beef and pork belly to be what Korean food is like. Of course, KBBQ is a big component of the cuisine, but there is so much more. Though this restaurant is a BBQ place, their soups and rice dishes are very much on point.
Hence, one Sunday morning, we woke up with the distant memory of the night before. There was only one cure - the hangover soup. We made the journey to Buga, and ordered 2 soups: sellungtang and galbi-tang. Side note - though there are Korean soups literally called the "hangover soup", generally any soup with rich broth does the job, hence our choices below.
Sellungtang is a beef bone broth soup - typically made with ox tail bone, the soup is boiled for hours, if not for an entire day to render a deeply flavored, rich, and white broth. It comes unseasoned, so you season with salt and pepper to your liking, and dunk your bowl of rice into the soup and fight your way through the steaming bowl of soup into your mouth while it’s boiling hot.
Galbi-tang is also a beef broth soup - the reason why I loved Buga’s version is because they didn’t skimp on the meat and used the whole shank of beef. It is flavored, and the broth is equally rich and delightful. I ordered an alternative version of this that has flavored the soup with fermented bean paste (dwenjang) and Korean cabbage leaves (ooguhjee). The steaming bowl soup settles your stomach, and it really does feel like it cleanses you from the excesses of the previous night.
-- Update --
We returned for some more Korean comfort food. We ordered a set menu of the fermented bean paste soup and spicy marinated pork bbq combo. We added an extra bowl of rice and some fresh leafy greens to wrap the meat and rice in. My mouth is watering just thinking about the epic meal.
A few tips about Korean restaurants:
Great Korean restaurants make great side dishes (banchans) - these are free and they are meant to accompany your main meals. They are refilled unlimited for free, so if you like more of something, just ask. You can often tell how good a restaurant is by their kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage).
Most Korean restaurants will offer you water or barley tea. If you want to impress the wait staff, ask for bori-cha (barley tea). It is believed to aid with digestion.
Use spoons to eat rice, never with chopsticks. This is what elders teach the young ones.
Finally, whether you have BBQ or not, don’t go in there wearing your nicest clothes - you will walk out smelling like BBQ. Leave your jackets in the car too. But the food experience is so worth it!
5580 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92117