Some 13 years ago, as a fellow exchange student at Pusan National University, I visited a restaurant near the campus and I was blown away by the amazing food. It was so satisfying and memorable that in 2014, I published a blog about Ji & Tobico, one of my favourite restaurants in Busan and I have received great feedback from my fellow readers, friends and relatives ever since.
Everyone tells me how delicious and affordable the meals are. It is certainly one of my favourite restaurants in Busan, and I dare say that it serves one of the best Al-bap 알밥 in the country.
8 years have passed since I first blogged about it and within these 8 years, whenever I am in Busan, I’ll make sure to drop by. Until COVID-19 happens. So when we are finally able to travel to South Korea via Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) again, I know that Busan is definitely on the list, and of course, this Al-bap restaurant has to be on the itinerary.
Al-bap, also known as fish roe bibimbap, is one of the delicacies one should try out at any coastal city in Korea. I love the popping roe as I crunch on this hearty rice dish. While we can occasionally find al-bap as a side dish at any typical Korean BBQ restaurant, or a Japanese restaurant in South Korea, a fish roe bibimbap speciality restaurant like Ji & Tobico is a rare find and this definitely warrants a visit.
The restaurant is located near the main gate of Pusan National University, within a short walking distance from Pusan National University Station (부산대역). You’ll have to walk across the entire shopping district, before arriving at the main entrance of this restaurant. Upon entering the gate, you’ll find a small path that leads to the restaurant.
I was a little emotional when the waiter showed us our table. 10 years have passed and this place still feels so familiar. There were some minor adjustments to the interior but everything makes me feel nostalgic. Our favourite dishes are still on the menu, but the menu has also expanded. I see a few interesting dishes like Cream Udon, Ogyupsal Donkotsu Ramen, and Busan speciality Nak-Gop-Sae Deopbap 낙곱새 덮밥 (Stir-Fried Squid, Gopchang and Shrimp over rice). I also heard that their beef & egg over rice is good too!
As the restaurant is located near the PNU campus, the eateries around this district are really affordable. Here at Ji & Tobico, an original Al-bap is priced at KRW 6,500; Beef Al-bap at KRW 6,900; Cheese Al-bap at KRW 7,000; Cheesy Beef Al-bap at KRW 7,900; Creamy Shrimp Al-bap at KRW 7,900; Marinated Crab Roe Paste Al-bap at KRW 7,900.
Additional toppings include Peperoncino powder at KRW 500; Stir Fry Kimchi at KRW 500; Bacon at KRW 800.
Given the portion and the quality of the food, I’d say it is well worth the money, and very yummy. The best part is that the price includes the eat-all-you-can appetizer.
Alongside condiments like kimchi, pickles and fresh salad, there is a simple DIY-guksu bar at the restaurant, and the Korean soup noodles are surprisingly good. Once you placed your order at the counter, you can then help yourself to the small booth and DIY your eat-all-you-can Korean noodle appetizer.
The noodles are already plated in tiny appetizer bowls. So you just need to add some scallions, spiced powder, pepper and pour the soup into the bowl and voila, a tummy-warming soup noodle is ready!
The guksu isn’t something super lavish. But every time when I tuck into this dish it feels like I am a kid back in grandma’s house. It was the cosy, comforting and humble flavours that makes me go back for more. The anchovy soup has all that sweetness and saltiness that need no seasoning. I always make sure I take two servings of the guksu here because it is so darn good.
CREAMY GOODNESS THAT POPS IN YOUR MOUTH
We ordered their best-seller, and my all-time favourite, the Creamy Shrimp Al-bap 새우 크림 알밥 (KRW 7,900). Perhaps other dishes are well worth trying but my itinerary in Busan is always so packed that I can’t afford to come back to the same restaurant again in the trip and therefore, this has been the only dish I repeatedly ordered here – Just because I have always craved for this creamy bowl of goodness.
The dish came in a sizzling hot dolsot stone bowl. That bubbling cream cheese together with those tiny little globules and a quail yolk looks so appetizing. After giving it a good mix, I took my first bite of this creamy shrimp al-bap and it was SO AMAZING. It was so creamy, so rich and yet the finely chopped pickles, cucumber and capsicum made it so crisp and refreshing at the same time! The subtle pops of the roe in my mouth were addictive. So delicious and more importantly, it was that very similar taste I had back in the exchange student days!
K ordered the Marinated Crab Roe Paste Al-bap 게딱지장알밥 (KRW 7,900). He loves the unique sweetness and umami from the homemade marinated crab roe paste and they go super well with the fish roe, crab stick and crushed seaweed. Everything just blends so well! If you are a Ganjang Gejang (marinated raw crab) fan, you’d love this!
Food has always been an important part of my trip, wherever I go. But for South Korea, a place where I fondly considered as my 2nd home, the food here isn’t just food, or ‘another delicious food’ I had during my trip. It is like a small scale of my favourite city that I can carry around.
There is a sense of nostalgia whenever we ate a certain food and for PNU and my exchange student days, it was Nakjibokkeum (Stir Fry Octopus), and this al-bap, or perhaps Dwaeji Gukbap (pork rice soup), or that Hotteok (Korean Sweet Pancake) at the North Gate. Each of these food brings memories that are so fond and dear to me.
And my revisit to Ji & Tobico was a heartwarming one. I couldn’t help but let the boss know that I was so happy to visit this place after 10 years and I was so happy to find that the food is still very delicious. And the next thing he brought to us was an apple juice on the house. How sweet!
Writer’s Note: Ji & Tobico is definitely worth a visit if you have plans around Pusan National University (PNU), as it serves the best fish roe bibimbap in Busan. For instance, if you are planning a trip to Busan in Spring, and don’t want to travel too far to Jinhae for the cherry blossom, visit Oncheoncheon Stream 온천천 to catch the dreamy cherry blossom scene instead. Oncheoncheon stream is a walking distance from Dongnae Station 동래역, which is 3 stations away from PNU station.
Since the restaurant is situated in the PNU shopping district, you may also plan to do some shopping around this area. The shopping scene here has been dampened by COVID-19, and due to home-based learning the students are not vising the campus, the neighbourhood appeared a little quiet than usual. However, there are plenty of cool cafes around the area. These hidden gems around PNU stretch all the way from the main gate of the campus to the small alleys towards Jangjeon station 장전역. You can spend half a day around this area shopping and cafe hopping before dining at Ji & Tobico.
Lastly, the restaurant has also developed instant dining packs for your convenience. If your accommodation has a freezer to store these during your trip, they make cool souvenirs for our foodie friends and relatives back home.
Ji & Tobico 지앤토비코
45 Geumjeong-ro, Geumjeong-gu, Busan, South Korea
부산광역시 금정구 금정로 45
Operating Hours: 11.30am-9pm , close on Sunday.