Chungmuro Kalguksu (충무로 칼국수)

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Kalguksu, literally translated as “knife noodles”, is Korea’s staple noodle dish, right behind ramen. The noodles, as the name suggests, are made from slicing thin strips of wheat flour and afterwards, the noodles are added to a broth made from (traditionally) anchovies, shellfish and kelp. Now priced at around 4USD a bowl, the dish wasn’t always so cheap. In the Goryeo era of Korea’s history it was considered a rare treat due to the high price of wheat. Beyond this anchovy based standard, kalguksu can also be found with a variety of other broths, including a spicy yukgaejang broth, a cold soy milk base and janchi guksu, known for it’s especially thin noodles.

While this dish can be found anywhere around Seoul, it’s not all created equal. Out of all the places I’ve eaten it at, Chungmuro Kalguksu, near Chungmuro station, right behind Namsan Xai Apartments, is one of the best. For one, you get a bang for your buck. The menu consists of two soups (Kalguksu or Kongkuksu), each priced at 6,000 won (around 5 USD), and the portion sizes are generous. What at many restaurants would be a 곱빼기 serving (double size) is the standard here. Add to that, the kimchi’s always fresh. The bowl itself has a really nice, clean, light broth heaped with dried seaweed and a bit of pepper powder. The restaurant is always packed, with sports games or dramas usually playing on the overhead TV and the older men and women working there are always in a rush, bustling around, but always kind. Every time I enter and leave I’m greeted by smiles. Overall, worth the visit if you’re in Seoul.

And to my friend who said, after I posted this photo on Facebook, “…I’d venture to guess one of the reasons you choose to stay in Korea is the food”…I’ll just say, let’s talk once I finish this bowl.

Stroll in Chungmuro

11227975_10153301204564125_634471438042286328_o        I’ve been back here in Seoul for 3 weeks now, after a month-long trip back in the states. A friend recently asked me whether I noticed a difference in the air after my return. My hometown in the states, Vermont, is a small state with little industry and no large metropolitan city. The air is on an average day very crisp and the sky clear. Anyone who knows Seoul knows that’s not often the case here. When I first arrived in Seoul in 2013 the air bothered me. This time around, that wasn’t the case. I didn’t notice a thing. Maybe I’ve lived here long enough I’ve adjusted. Whether this is true or not, it’s also true the air’s been unusually clear for the past few weeks, during this change in seasons from summer to fall. The temperature too has cooled down and walking to and from school and around the city, I look up to a deep blue sky. For anyone whose seen Seoul in it’s rough stretches of pollution, these periods are something you really appreciate.

The weather was so nice I decided to meet my friend in Chungmuro, central Seoul, an area just north of Mount Namsan for a mid-day lunch. It’s a surprisingly quiet area of the city, considering it’s central location, squeezed right between Myeongdong and Dongdaemun, two of Seoul’s largest shopping districts, and near to City hall and Seoul’s main train station. Being located near Dongguk University, there’s plenty of suljib’s (bars), fried chicken and barbecue meat restaurants. Yet, there’s also a lot of history in this area, as evident by the historic apartments, shops and homes that are still standing. In Seoul, day by day, old neighborhoods and homes are being demolished and transformed into modern spaces at an incredible rate. An area like Chungmuro, where you can really see and feel the older Korea is a special thing in 2015. Walking around with my friend, we strolled through a printing street, past warehouses and shops full of workers printing papers in lines of old-style print-presses. Next we wandered through the back street twisting, narrow allies, packed with small restaurants selling soups, meat and traditional korean foods, dodging motorcyclist’s along the way as they sped through these tight “alternate streets”. Finally, we settled down at a restaurant in an area nearing Myeongdong. The area’s interesting because it feels caught between the old and new Seoul, showing signs of gentrification but not there yet. This image really is microcosm of Seoul, sitting right in between the old and new. We talked over kimchi soup and sweet/spicy pork before making our way back to the train station to continue on our ways.