LIFE&STYLE

[The Palate] It’s just lunch in Yeouido

By Korea Herald

An office workers’ generous and budget-friendly lunch

  • Published : Oct 14, 2016 - 14:48
  • Updated : Oct 14, 2016 - 14:48
In the center of Yeouido, beneath one of the neighborhood’s countless office buildings, lies hidden in a labyrinth of lunchtime restaurants a notable noodle joint that stands out with its grossly generous portions, stomach-pleasing dishes and service, and a price too reasonable to believe.

Either you work in the area and have heard about Gayang Mushroom Kalguksu or through word of mouth you may be attuned to this little restaurant known for its spicy rendition of the Korean classic, hand cut noodle soup with unlimited servings of everything that goes into it.

Hidden in the basement, Gayang Kalguksu in Yeouido brings in the crowds with its affordable meals. (Lee Kyung-sub)

Bringing new meaning to the phrase “bang for your buck” Gayang Mushroom Kalguksu is something of a lunchtime “event.” It is advised to get there before the clock hits noon, as tables fill up within minutes, maybe seconds, as hordes of office workers in the area knowingly put on their orange aprons and begin their interactive race to cook their own meal after securing seating for an office team of eaters.

The tables are pre-set with bowls of minari, Korean watercress, and uncooked kalguksu, or knife-cut noodles, made in their signature style, fat and hearty reminiscent of coarsely made overblown udon noodles. Alongside that is a prepped bowl of rice, vegetables, seaweed and an egg to cap off your noodle soup meal with a nurungji bokkeum-style rice to extract every last bit of flavor left in the pot if there is room in your stomach for more. 

Gayang Kalguksu’s mushroom maeuntang (Lee Kyung-sub)

With a menu of only three dishes, nearly every table is cooking up the same spicy mushroom soup and noodles that arrive in a cold pot filled to the brim with potatoes, oyster mushrooms, and minari in a red peppered broth.

After the covered hotpot roils with steam, one can enjoy the abundance of cooked vegetables with a dipping sauce of soy sauce and wasabi, a perfect complement to the piping hot meaty mushrooms.

It is then time for the noodles to enter the second cooking phase, which takes a good 15 minutes to cook through. The noodles are intentionally made in a larger than normal size to keep up the cooking tempo with the other ingredients in the pot.

More broth, more mushrooms, more watercress, more noodles, more of anything you request can be accommodated but surely by this time one is left feeling a bit weary from the steam on one’s face with the constant fidgeting of cooking and eating at the same time. When all is said and done, and the vegetables and noodles are nearly diminished and the broth has simmered down to nearly the end, it’s time to add in the seasoned rice. 

An overabundance of oyster mushrooms and minari watercress begins the meal. (Lee Kyung-sub)

The servers are more than happy to show you how it’s done, but as it is often customary in Korea, finishing off a communal hot pot meal with the crunchy chewy well-seasoned scorched nurungji rice is a delightful ending to any meal. This may not be the most relaxing lunch experience but never throughout it does one think of the labor that goes into making this deliciously hearty meal, as each bite is a pleasure to work for.

Gayang Mushroom Kalguksu

Address:
150-889 78, Gukjegeumyung-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul

Telephone:
(02) 784-0409

Recommended dishes:
Noodles in Spicy Mushroom Soup 9,000 won

By Christine Cho (thepalatekorea@gmail.com)

Christine Cho, a Korean-American expat in Seoul, has been eating and cooking her way around the world for 16 years as a private chef. -- Ed.