Uchon (Seoul)

Back to Seoul, for the first of two reports this week. I arrived on a Tuesday evening and left the following Monday evening. My first and last meals (and a snack in between) were eaten at Bukchon Son Mandu in Insadong, not too far from my hotel (see my report here). My last dinner, on Sunday night, was to once again be at the place where I ate the majority of meals: Gwangjang Market. But I had a bunch of appointments on Sunday afternoon and needed to time lunch accordingly. Looking for places within 20 minutes walk of both my hotel and my first stop, I happened upon references to Uchon. The reviews I saw online referred to them as Uchon Dolsot Seolleongtang, and as it was a damp day, and as sullungtang is one of the world’s great antidotes against damp days, it was an easy call. Here’s how it went.

One of the things you should know is that there is no English signage outside the restaurant. Moreover there’s been a renovation inside and out. So if you go looking for the bright yellow sign that shows up in most online reviews of the place, you might have some trouble. But the thing to know is the address: 24, Eulji-ro 12-gil, Jung-gu. Put that in your map app (I used Naver Maps for walking) and you will be fine. You can see what the current signage looks like in my pics below (the name is now just Uchon—I had the missus translate). The storefront is decorated with pictures of many of their specialties and there’s also a list of dishes posted outside. The dodgy transliteration and translation of some of the names of the dishes on that list outside may lead to confusion: they don’t actually serve “dog knee” soup; “dogani” means ox knee; similarly, they don’t serve “old bulgogi” but old-style bulgogi.

I went in to find a larger restaurant than seemed likely from the outside. There were a fair number of people eating but it was not full. Almost every table had either sullungtang or galbitang on it. There’s more on the menu, of course, as you can see in my pics below. And the menu itself has brief descriptions of the dishes in English, which also seems to be a difference from the pre-renovation era, going by older reviews online. The names of the dishes are not given in English but if you ask for sullungtang or galbitang, that is what you will get. Galbitang is short rib soup; sullungang is ox/beef bone soup, with broth milky from hours and hours of slow simmering. I asked for dolsot sullungtang, as it used to apparently be in the restaurant’s name. The soups come with rice and if you specify “dolsot” you will get your rice in a container with a very hot bottom, which will render the bottom layer crunchy and caramelized. It’s the way to go.

There’s not much banchan action. There was radish and cabbage kimchi on the table, and they also set down a small plate of very tasty greens (what they were, I have no idea). When the soup arrived, I dressed it with salt and pepper, garnished it with the green onions also on the table, and dug in. Oh yes, you should not use your own chopsticks to serve yourself any of the communal items on the table—the kimchi and the green onions don’t get switched out when diners leave. There are tongs etc. provided: use those.

How was it? The sullungtang was indeed very good. But this was, I have to say, the one thing I ate in this week in Seoul that I thought I’d eaten fairly comparable versions of at the better places in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Doubtless, that is because sullungtang is a very simple dish, usually served by specialists. Perhaps, I would feel differently about their galbitang or other dishes. Maybe I’ll get a chance to find out next year when I’ll be back for quite a bit more time.

For a look at the restaurant and what I ate, click on a pic below to launch a larger slideshow. Scroll down for thoughts on service and to see how much it cost.

Service was the standard-issue Korean restaurant brusque. Of course, I have minimal Korean and the staff had minimal English and so it’s not like we would have been chatting away anyway but it was a similar story with the Korean customers at other tables, none of whom were being regaled by the staff (at least that afternoon, I seemed to be the only non-Korean there). Cost? 12,000 Won or just below $10. They take credit cards, by the way, if you don’t have cash on you.

Alright, my next Seoul report will cover a bunch of things eaten in less formal settings—either lunches at Namdaemun Market or dinners at Gwangjang Market. That’ll be on Sunday. On Saturday I’ll post another Goa report. And tomorrow I’ll close out the week’s whisky reviews from unheralded Speyside distilleries.


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