The first place I'm going to tell you about has over 600 years of history and is Korea's largest traditional market. If you guessed Namdaemun Market, then you guessed right! Namdaemun Market is famous in Korea for its vast size and the variety of goods it offers. With the exception of construction materials, the market sells nearly every item under the sun including clothing, food, and daily living essentials, and all for wholesale prices! As you can guess, Namdaemun Market is always bustling day and night with hordes of shoppers.
But Namdaemun Market is also a great place to go for traditional Korean cuisine. Many of the restaurants here have been around for many decades, withstanding throughout the market's long history. These long-established restaurants still receive favorable reviews to this day. Although Namdaemun Market has several specialty dishes, the two I am going to introduce to you today are galchi jorim (braised scabbard fish) and kalguksu (handmade chopped noodles). They are so popular, they each have their own alleys dedicated to them!
Multiple pots of galchi jorim get cooked at the same time
If you're at Galchi Jorim Alley around lunch time, the first thing you'll notice is the pungent, deep and spicy smell that starts to fill the air. Shoppers and working professionals start flooding in, filling up every table at every restaurant. The large gas grills in front of every restaurant are fired up, their flames flickering up at multiple pots of galchi jorim bubbling away. Galchi jorim is by no means a specialty dish that cannot be reproduced at home, but no matter how often you make it at home, it's no match for the galchi jorim that gets served up at the restaurants in this alley.
With over 50 years of history, Huirak Sikdang (희락식당) has the honor of being the oldest and perhaps the original galchi jorim restaurant in this alley, before Galchi Jorim Alley was Galchi Jorim Alley. The story goes that the people who worked night shifts at Namdaemun Market would seek out Huirak Sikdang for its addicting galchi jorim, and as galchi jorim got more and more popular, other galchi jorim restaurants started popping up around Huirak Sikdang, and voila! Galchi Jorim Alley was born. Although Huirak Sikdang is considered to be the original galchi jorim restaurant, the other restaurants in the alley have been around for nearly just as long and are considered to be just as good. Even the fish used in all of these restaurants hail from the same places (Jeju and Busan). There are only two differences between the restaurants that can be noted; the degree of spiciness of the main dish and the type of side dishes that come with the it.
Galchi jorim is usually eaten with rice and gim (laver)
So what comes in a pot of galchi jorim? White radishes are first lined across the bottom of the pot, and chunks of galchi are layered on top. Then seasonings such as red chili pepper powder, soy sauce and garlic are added to give it a kick. The whole concoction is then cooked on high heat for some time and then left to simmer to allow for the galchi and radishes to soak up the rich flavors of the broth. Your nose will tell you how delicious it is before your eyes do, but as soon as you see that bright red goodness, your mouth will begin to water.
The first thing you want to do is to take a sip of that firey broth. Then scoop up a bit of rice and dip it into the broth before putting it in your mouth. The broth and rice go nicely together don't they? Then scoop up another bit of rice, this time leaving enough room on your spoon for some galchi. Don't forget to top it all off with some of that juicy radish that's been cooked to perfection! And don't worry about running out of rice, you can get unlimited free refills!
Galchi jorim 7,000 won / person. (Menus may vary)
3 a.m. - 10 p.m. (Hours may vary)
Free side dishes:
Rice, kimchi and kongnamul (bean sprouts). Some restaurants will offer galchi twigim (deep-fried galchi) and gyeran jjim (steamed egg) too.
Galchi jorim is available for takeaway (ready-made or un-cooked)
How to Get There
Enter Namdaemun Market through Gate no. 2 and take a right at the first intersection. Galchi Jorim Alley will be on your first left.
Map of Galchi Jorim Alley
34-33 Namchang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
A Huirak Sikdang (희락식당) | 02-755-3449
B Wangseong Sikdang (왕성식당) |
C Honam Sikdang (호남식당) | 02-775-5033
D Jeonju Sikdang (전주식당) | 02-756-4126
E Jungang Sikdang (중앙식당) | 02-752-2892
F Nyeongkul Sikdang (넝쿨식당) | 02-777-6218
G Donghwa Sikdang (동화식당) | 02-752-9940
H Donghae Sikdang (동해식당) | 02-773-2497
I Uri Sikdang (우리식당) | 02-752-5153
J Naegohyang Sikdang (내고향식당) |
This plastic, see-through door marks the beginning of Kalguksu Alley
The beginning of Kalguksu Alley is marked by an unassuming plastic see-through door, but as soon as you creak it open, expect your jaw to drop at the amazing sight sprawled out in front of you. For over 30 years, Kalguksu Alley has been known as the place to go for the best kalguksu in town. The restaurants in this narrow little alley are so clustered together, they almost seem like one big restaurant. But don't let the modest surroundings fool you; it's majorly competitive to grab a seat at any of these restaurants especially during peak hours, making getting a table (or plastic seat in this case) as difficult as getting a table at the fanciest restaurant in Seoul. Don't let that stop you from coming though, because unlike the fanciest restaurant in Seoul, these restaurants serve up fine quality food for dirt cheap prices.
Even though the ajummas running the restaurants may appear to be frazzled and overwhelmed, they are surprisingly quick to remember their loyal customers and chat up new faces, and are constantly checking to see if any side dishes need refilling. After many decades of serving up kalguksu to what is probably millions of shoppers, these old ladies know a thing or two about how to keep their customers happy.
The menus and prices are the same for every restaurant in the alley. The main item on all of the menus is of course kalguksu, but ordering a bowl of boribap (barley rice) on the side is very common. Make sure you leave some room in your belly for some bibim naengmyeon (spicy mixed buckwheat noodles) too, which comes free with every order of kalguksu. And don't think that they'll give you a skimpy portion just because it's free, in fact, some of these ajummas are more likely to throw in some more free dishes on the side if you're nice enough!
Kalguksu noodles are made from wheat flour dough that has been rolled flat and cut into strips
Once you've managed to find yourself a seat and order, the first thing you want to do is get your taste buds working with a bite or two of the spicy, sweet and sour trio of a flavor explosion we call bibim naengmyeon. This will get your taste buds primed and ready for the main event. But don't just dig into those kalguksu noodles right away, have a spoonful of that rich broth first; your mouth will appreciate the soup's complex flavor, a result of simmering anchovies, shellfish, and various hearty vegetables together for hours. Drop a dollop of red seasoning paste if you prefer your kalguksu on the spicier side. Then go in for the kill. Grab some of those chewy noodles with your chopsticks and slurp them up Korean style (i.e. extra noisy and extra fast). Even though your eyes will say these noodles look crude and unrefined, your mouth with tell you that they taste anything but.
The boribap comes out in the form of bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables). Barley rice topped with various vegetables such as fresh leeks, lettuce, kongnamul (bean sprouts) and seasoned strips of radish is mixed together with gochujang (red pepper paste), doenjang (fermented soy bean paste), sesame oil and sesame seeds in this colorful and healthy dish. Use your chopsticks to mix the ingredients together instead of using your spoon if you want yours nice and blended.
This meal for two will only put you back 9,500 won! You'll definitely get your money's worth at Kalguksu Alley!
Price: Kalguksu 4,500 won / Boribap 5,000 won
Open: 6 a.m. - 9 p.m. (Busiest hours are between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
Closed: Last Sunday of every month (Hours may vary; some restaurants may be open)
Free side dishes: Bibim naengmyeon, yeolmu kimchi (young summer radish kimchi), baechu kimchi (regular kimchi) and doenjangguk (soy bean paste soup) as well if ordering boribap.
Takeaway: Boribap is available for takeaway.
How to Get There
Take subway line 5 to Hoehyeon Station and go out exit 5. Enter Namdaemun Market through Gate no. 6 and take a left after 10 meters. You'll see a plastic, see-through door that marks the beginning of Kalguksu Alley.
Minsok Sikdang (민속식당) | 02-752-9113
Geoje Sikdang (거제식당) | 02-778-817
Hyeongje Bunsik (형제분식) | 02-773-2848
Hunine (훈이네) | N/A
Yabest Sikdang (야베스 식당) | N/A
Namhae Sikdang (남해식당) | 02-310-7245
Seoul Sikdang (서울식당) | 02-779-6514
Namchon Sikdang (남촌식당) | 02-776-4741
Manna Sikdang (만나식당) | 02-318-5173