[The Euljiro Eulogies: Chungnam Sikdang]
It’s the start of Seollal (Lunar New Year), a special time when most of Korea travel to their hometowns to pay respect to their ancestors, spend time with loved ones, and undoubtedly eat and drink an excessive amount of food and alcohol. I’ll be doing the latter with friends in a barren Seoul—but, I can’t help but think about a group of older men that I met a few days ago in Euljiro, also affected by the redevelopment that’s become all too real with each weekly visit.
Aside from local restaurants, small and large scale metal shops are the main ones being forced out of their livelihood. These four men (all hailing from different provinces throughout Korea, including Jeju) worked nearby at a decades-old sheet metal shop and—being their very last day on the job—they decided to spend it here at Chungnam Sikdang, their regular watering hole with over 60 years of business.
With such a somber atmosphere, I had no intention of invading their precious space and time. Until fate stepped in. The friendly emo (“auntie”) ran out of Jangsu Makgeolli (yes, the ubiquitous green bottle) and presented them with a “new” variety they had never tasted before (but one that I was more than familiar with while living in Gangwondo). Since makgeolli is my favorite drink, I kindly told them its origin and how good it is. They sensed my foreignness (ie. accent). One cup of drink was offered and, being younger and polite, accepted with two hands. Then two, three, and so on.
Meanwhile, the emo cooked up everything in the pantry, surprising us with steamed oysters sent up from the southern port. Absolutely delicious. Another plate of dubu kimchi soon followed. Better the second time around. The emo joined the group and started knocking down drinks herself, obviously feeling for her long-time customers. Time stood still on that day and had me wondering how much longer the emo’s restaurant would last. A month? A year? She told me, like the group of men, that nothing lasts forever and seemed already prepared for the inevitable. It was fitting that she ran out of makgeolli because I was pretty sure that some were ready to drop like flies. Alcohol is a stop-gap for many, but on this particular day, I think it served a bigger purpose.
Food: ★★★½ out of 5 stars
Service: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Ambiance: ★★★ out of 5 stars
Value: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
Chungnam Sikdang 충남식당
17-27 Euljiro 17 Gil (17-27 을지로 17 길)
Hours: Open lunch and dinner until customers leave, Sat lunch only
Click here for an interactive map: http://naver.me/5DPpB4d9