There isn't a person living in Seoul that has never been to Sillim-dong's Sundae Town. Not only has Sundae Town has been around for a very long time, it is popular with students from the nearby Seoul National University, students studying for their civil service exams (Sillim-dong is also known for being an area where many scholars studying to become civil servants congregate), students from nearby middle schools and high schools, and of course, office workers that come here for a drink after work. This food alley, or food town, has a constant stream of visitors, day and night.
So why is Sundae Town in Sillim-dong so good, that throngs of people come to eat every day? Well, the food that is primarily offered in Sundae Town is sundae bokkeum. First let me explain what "sundae" is!
Even though the ingredients of sundae (pronounced soon-dae) and how it's made may vary, generally speaking the ingredients of sundae are dangmyeon (cellophane noodles) and various vegetables, mixed together with pig's blood. These ingredients are then stuffed into pig's intestine casings and then steamed. Sundae is essentially the Korean equivalent to English blood sausage.
Sundae isn't a food that is made and eaten at home, but rather bought and eaten at markets, old mom and pop restaurants, and pojangmachas (street food carts). There's nothing better than some sundae, freshly out of the steamer, cut into large bite-size pieces and dipped in a salty, spicy sauce made from gochugaru (red hot chili pepper paste) and salt.
There are a lot of stories as to the origin of sundae, but most seem to agree that the Korean blood sausage has its origins in the blood sausage that was made in Mongolia during the age of Ghengis Khan. Ghengis Khan would request blood sausage to be made to serve as a primary food source for the Mongolian warriors when in battle. Vegetables and rice were stuffed in pig's intestines and then dried or frozen for easy transportation and storage. The Korean blood sausage of today is said to have been derived from what used to be used for food in battle.
But there isn't just one type of sundae. Each area of Korea is known for their own unique version of sundae. There's abai sundae (local specialty of Hamgyeong Province and Pyeongan Province), Kaeseong sundae (local specialty of Kaesong), Jeju sundae (local specialty of Jeju Island), Byeongcheon sundae (local specialty of Chungcheong Province), ojingeo sundae (made with fresh squid, a local specialty of Gangwon Province), Myeongtae sundae (made with Alaska pollock, a local specialty of Gangwon Province and Hamgyong Province), etc.
The sundae that is commonly eaten in Korea today only came about sometime during the late1960s, early 1970s, when the pig raising industry became a major player in the Korean livestock industry and the primary ingredient of sundae, pig's intestines, became widely available. At this time, sundae was made by stuffing pig's intestines with dangmyeon (cellophane noodles) because these noodles were inexpensive, and then sold at large markets like Namdaemun Market and Dongdaemun Market as pork sundae.
The origins of Sillim-dong's Sundae Town comes from a sundae bokkeum restaurant in Sillim Market. At that time, laborers working nearby would stop by this restaurant after finishing a hard day of work and enjoy some sundae with a nice hard drink. In the early 1990s, the market was torn down and a shopping center was built in its place. Many sundae restaurants began forming in the new shopping center, and soon Sundae Town was born.
Sundae itself is great on its own, but it is also great as a soup, aptly titled sundaeguk (sundae soup), and stir-fried as in sundae bokkeum, the way it is sold in Sillim-dong's Sundae Town.
Sundae Town itself is an interesting experience! The moment you enter the premises, old ladies left and right will be beckoning you to come and try their sundae. But no matter which restaurant you decide to go into, you'll get great service because the general atmosphere of Sundae Town is very warm and friendly. Most places will give you a free bottle of soda, and some even will give you some sikhye (traditional Korean sweet rice drink) after you've finished yoru meal!
The most popular style of sundae at Sundae Town is sundae bokkeum, which is sundae stir-fried. There are only two versions of this style of sundae: "baek sundae", which is non-spicy stir-fried sundae, and "yangnyum sundae bokkeum", which is sundae stir-fried with a sauce made from gochujang (red chili pepper paste).
Essentially the only difference between yangnyum sundae bokkeum and baek sundae is that yangnyum sundae bokkeum is marinated with a spicy sauce, and baek sundae is not. Other ingredients in sundae bokkeum, other than the sundae, are gopchang (small intestines of pig or cow) and various vegetables such as onions, cabbage, green onions, perilla leaves, and jjolmyeon (chewy noodles). These ingredients are then stir-fried together on an iron hot plate and then served up as baek sundae, or if the spicy sauce is added, then as yangnyum sundae bokkeum.
Sundae bokkeum is great as a meal, a large snack, or as food to enjoy along with a drink. If you prefer your sundae bokkeum spicy and slightly sweet, then yangnyum bokkeum is best, but if you prefer your sundae bokkeum savory and non-spicy, then baek sundae is what you want. Or you can have the best of both worlds and order baek sundae and have the spicy sauce served on the side for dipping.
And of course, as with most stir-fried Korean dishes, this one also ends with fried rice! You can finish off your meal with an order of fried rice, or if you've still got a lot of room left, then with ojingeo sundae! "Ojingeo" is squid, and accordingly ojingeo sundae is whole squid (with the insides taken out), stuffed with chapssal (glutinous rice) and various vegetables, then steamed and cut up much like regular sundae. However, although ojingeo sundae is a type of sundae, it tastes very different from regular sundae! It's definitely worth a try!
How to Get There
Take subway line 2 to Sillim Station and go out exit 3. Walk straight for about 100m and then take a right. Walk for about 60m and you should see Sillim-dong Sundae Town on your right.
A. Yangji Minsok Sundae Town (양지민속순대타운)
B. Wonjo Minsok Sundae Town (원조민속순대타운)
*Please note that there are several restaurants located within each "Sundae Town".
Sundae Gopchang Bokkeum: 7500 won per person / Baek Sundae 7500 won
11:30 a.m. - 1 a.m. the next day (Hours may vary by restaurant)
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