Foodie memories have a short lifespan until the next “best” meal is had, and it gets even shorter as a food blogger who’s continuously searching out the best (and oftentimes oldest) restaurants in the city. However, this is a special place for several reasons. One, my good friend Kent (who teaches martial arts in Seoul) and I stumbled upon it after getting lost in the back alley ways off the main street in Gwanghwamun. After a good 20 minutes of wandering about aimlessly in the maze-like neighborhood, we were lost like foreigners in a strange land but eventually found it with some helping hands (actually pointing fingers). Needless to say, seeing their iconic signboard was not only a relief, it was refuge. Two, the place made such an impression I came back the next day with Graham Holliday, the Noodle Pie guy who’s writing a book about Korean regional cuisine, and who just happened to join me at Myeongdong Halmae Nakji the previous day. We both enjoyed picking the owner’s and veteran workers’ brains about the history of the place, their thoughts on development and modernization in the area, and carrying out regular small talk during their down time. Three, their specialty is like the holy trinity of Korean classics: kimchi jjigae 김치찌개 (spicy kimchi pork stew), gyeran mari 계란마리 (rolled egg omelette) and jeyuk bokkeum 제육볶음 (spicy stir-fried pork). For those who know me personally, you know kimchi jjigae is a necessary staple in my life and I’d have no qualms eating it every day. 🙂
Gwanghwamun Jip, hands-down my favorite restaurant in Korea, is an iconic hole-in-the-wall joint doing kimchi jjigae the right way for over 30 years. Partially prepped and readied beforehand, they serve their kimchi jjigae in a large pot over an iron-cast broiler, and all that’s left is a short boil down to start enjoying the sharp flavors of the super-ripe kimchi, the deep savory broth, the fatty chunks of pork, and the healthy side dishes. The gyeran mari, although humble in appearance, paired perfectly with the spicy jjigae: fatty and fluffy and full of finely diced vegetables (leeks mostly). The much less talked about dish–jeyuk bokkeum–was also a winner in my books. Unlike standard versions where it comes out cooked and ready to eat, here you gotta basically cook it yourself from start to finish. It’s basically a hearty jjim dish where it starts off as a stew and the liquid boils down to become a slightly thickened sauce. Although slightly time-consuming (I’d say 10~15 minutes), it was surprisingly packed with rich flavors and different textures despite the absence of kimchi. Honestly, I might have liked it more than the kimchi jjigae, their signature dish. Now that I’m back in Seoul, I’m pretty happy that the “best” meal can be had over and over again just by making a trek over to Gwanghwamun. 🙂
Some interesting and possibly not-so-interesting facts from two official visits:
- Prepares and utilizes minimum 6-month-old mugeunji 묵은지 (super ripe) kimchi in their jjigaes.
- Menu used to be extensive, but difficulty maintaining inventory and old age has led to their current downsized menu.
- Clientele are not mainly older senior citizens but just the opposite: 3/4 of the people visiting are young couples, families, tourists, and foodies with camera in tow.
- The owner flagged down a vegetable seller to purchase a 20kg bag of onions for 5,000 won.
- This is authentic old-school Korean food at its best. You won’t find a more iconic place as this, especially in the touristy area of Gwanghwamun.
“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” Alan D. Wolfelt
Food: ★★★★½ out of 5 stars
Service: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Ambiance: ★★★½ out of 5 stars
Value: ★★★★½ out of 5 stars
Gwanghwamun Jip (광화문집)
12 Saemunan-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울 종로구 새문안로5길 12)
Hours: Open every day from 9am ~ 10pm
Click here for an interactive map: http://me2.do/5MlXeyn5