Seoul, as you may have heard, is a great city to eat in and a very easy city to eat well in (assuming you like to eat Korean food). It is not always, however, a city in which it is easy to eat well alone (though, of course, I managed to do so at my lunch in Namdaemun Market’s Kalgusksu Alley). This because many of the things you may wish to eat—and when I was there last week, I wished to eat them all—are only prepared and served in portions that seem to assume that you will be eating out with at least one other person and probably more. And, indeed, in many of the restaurants and market counters where I ate, that did seem to be the dominant mode in which locals ate. At one dinner at Gwangjang Market, for example, I ate a bowl of dumpling soup that was perfectly sized for one. But throughout the meal I was tormented by the sight of massive links of soondae and many other dumplings and sliced meats—none of which I could have ordered because each order would have been a very large meal for one. And so I ate my dumpling soup, pondering the mechanics of setting up a service through which tourists visiting Seoul alone could form alliances for the purposes of eating out. No need to talk, just order food communally and eat it. A very gluttonous version of Tinder. If it already exists, please forward the details; if not, please forward me 75% of all profits once you set it up.
Speaking of meals that are hard to eat alone, I present to you my dinner on my second evening in Seoul. I had had a very long day and was not inclined to go very far. Accordingly, I ambled down the street my hotel was on, surveyed the options, picked one, and went in. And, boy, did I pick well. The name of the restaurant I went to is Wonjo Agujjim. The name is not going to help you find it unless you can read Korean, as there is no English signage. I had to have the missus translate it for me on WhatsApp after dinner. But it’s easy enough to find.
For the sake of ease, let’s assume you’ve taken the subway (Line 3) and emerged from Exit 4 at Anguk Station in Insadong. Walk south on Samil-daero, on the left side of the street. In about 5-7 minutes—depending on how fast you walk—turn left onto Samil-daero 30 gil and look for the smiling face on the sign on the second picture in the slideshow below. Then go in. Probably the first person you will see is the person whose smiling face is on the sign. Then you sit down and get down to bidness. This is what I did.
The menu is not large and while the names of dishes are translated, the dishes are not described. What you need to know is that there are basically two major genres of dishes available here. Later I learned that this part of Insadong is very well known for one of them, which is indeed in the name of the restaurant: agujjim or braised monkfish (agu=monkfish; jjim=braise). I love monkfish and I love agujjim but I did not order it—this because it’s a rich dish which, in my opinion, despite being very tasty can get pretty overbearing if you eat too much of it. And so I seized instead on haemultang or seafood stew. They do a mild and spicy version and I got the spicy. Ordering is simple if you don’t speak Korean: point to the thing you want and the size you want. All the braise and stew options, by the way, are available in large, medium and small sizes. However, even the small is sized for 2-4 people to eat. The optimal thing to do is to be in a group of 4-6 people. You’d then order one agujjim, one haemultang (or other seafood stew) and a few side dishes and you’d be set.
I, however, was alone. And so I got the smallest spicy haemultang. A burner was set down on the table, banchan showed up, and then after a bit a large pan of stew, topped with enoki mushrooms was set down on the burner, and the burner was lit. If you know what you are doing you can probably take over at this point. The owner may have seen me speculatively eyeing the tongs and scissors she’d also set down, or maybe she does this for everyone, but she came over and mixed the stew up for me and then cut the octopus up and gestured to me to eat it quickly; she had no English; I have very basic and limited Korean. (If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve already seen a video of this but if not, here it is.) She came by a few more times to fish more things out and tell me to eat them. I didn’t really need much encouragement as the stew was excellent, as was everything swimming in it.
These included the aforementioned octopus, crab, shrimp, monkfish, pollack roe, cod milt, and what I think were sea squirts and slices of abalone (or maybe that was conch). The thing to do is to ladle some stew and some fishy bits into a smaller bowl and eat it alongside the steamed rice that should show up (if it doesn’t, ask for it). If you’re like me you can sprinkle the seasoned seaweed from the banchan selection over the rice. Oh yes, some wasabi is also presented with the stew. I mixed it with soy sauce and added tiny bits to my spoonfuls of the stew—it helped cut the richness.
I ate as much as I could, finishing almost all the seafood and very regretfully leaving about a third of the stew. Most patrons were taking leftovers home but I was headed back to my hotel room.
For a look at the restaurant and what I ate, launch the slideshow below by clicking on one of the pics. Scroll down to see how much it cost and what’s coming next.
Service, as I have indicated, was very pleasant. There’s a sign outside that reads “Welcome Foreigner” and they’re not lying. By the way, before you get going on the stew, you should get up and grab yourself one of the aprons/bibs hanging from a hook on a wall near the kitchen. You’ll need it. And, oh yes, spoons and chopsticks are in a small drawer on the side of the table.
Price? The printed menu has the old prices but the menu pasted up on the wall has the correct ones. My “small” haemultang cost 45000 won. Which is about $34. Seems expensive for a casual restaurant in Seoul but keep in mind again that two people could have eaten this without being sated (I was close to bursting).
Alright, what’s next? On Thursday and Sunday I’ll post two of my remaining three Delhi reports from January. On Saturday I’ll post the first Goa meal report (I have already posted a Goa fish market report, of course). And there’ll be two more whisky reviews focused on Talisker.