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Friday, October 28, 2011

Kalguksu alley and Gamegol mandu (Namdaemun market)

Say you're at Hoehyeon Station and you want to enjoy a quick, power lunch in an animated place, but you don't have time to go through all the alleys of Namdaemun Market. I suggest a couple of mandu at Gamegol to tame your hunger, and an express full course in Kalguksu alley to fill you up.

Take the entrance at exit 6 and about twenty meters to your left, you'll see Gamegol's yellow sign. There's no place to sit inside but a busy team preparing the dumplings, check this video out :

Gamegol proposes two main varieties of dumplings for pick-up : meat and spicy. I like hot stuff but the latter doesn't have anything special. On the other hand, the meat mandu, always a classic, tastes just perfect. Their medium size makes them an ideal snack on the go : king mandu are usually big and inconvenient, a challenge when you're walking across a busy market. Furthermore, with a giant dumpling, not every bite has the right skin / filling mix, and the temperature can't be even all the way (even for I, ever the voracious wolf).

Now move back a few meters towards the market gate. To your right (same side as Gamegol), a kalguksu place signals the narrow entrance to Namdaemun's famous kalguksu alley (in Korean Namdaemun Kalguksu Golmok / 남대문칼국수골목).

Like in Gwangjang Market with gimbap (see "
(Gimbap) Drug Wars in Gwangjang Market"), a me-too war is raging in this short covered corridor where a dozen mini restaurants propose basically all the same menu for the same price (around KRW 4,000).

That's good marketing : competitors don't fight on price or on quality because in the end all players would lose money, and they don't make much to start with. So all noodle soups have the same ingredients, which are transparently exposed for every visitor to see. The actual battle lies at the "seobiseu" level : the "service" goodies offered in the package (here a soup, there an extra naengmyeon...). Tenants bark at you from all directions to nail you on their table. Even when all stools are occupied and a second row of customers is waiting. It's part of the game.

I opted for the furthest afield to the left, Seoul Jib. They propose a choice between different dishes, but eventually you eat all of them : a full portion for the main one, three smaller yet significant portions for all others. I majored in bori bibimbap (barley), and enjoyed the kalguksu / soup / naengmyeon combo. They call themselves "Seoul House" but the cooks are from countryside Gyeongsangdo. Simple, delicious, fulfilling food for only 3 euros / 4 bucks (KRW 4,500) !

As you can see, this short alley is relatively quiet but still busy long after rush hour (video taken around 14:15 PM):

Gamegol son wangmandu / 가메골 손 왕만두 (mandu)
Namdaemun Market - Tel +82.2.755.2569
Seoul Jib / 서울집 (kalguksu)
Namdaemun Market kalguksu alley

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