Hearty, healthy fare ‘just like home’

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Hearty, healthy fare ‘just like home’

Most wives have a special recipe, or two, that they know will always make their husbands happy.
When You In-soon, the owner of Damdam opened her small coffee shop on Samcheong Street, along the east wall of Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, the place was meant to serve only drinks. But because there weren’t many restaurant nearby ― six years ago, when the shop opened ― Ms. You would occasionally whip up one of her husband’s favorite dishes: a simple homemade buckwheat noodle dish, served cold, topped with aged kimchi and chopped vegetables, all spiced up with red chili sauce. To complement the dish, she served roasted white rice cakes, or garaetteok, with molasses. Simple, delicious, inexpensive (6,000 won, $4.80) and very nostalgic. Patrons of the coffee shop were begging for more.
The cafe-cum-restaurant, the size of a small Korean traditional house or hanok, expanded two years ago when Ms. You purchased the building next door. The walls and tables are decorated with the couple’s travel memorabilia and paintings.
Today Damdam looks like a cozy house from a fairy tale, still retaining the ambience of an old Korean home. “Because of the building regulations in the area, the neighborhood has kept its beauty,” says Ms. You. “I love the area because there’s a gorgeous park nearby.”
Inside Damdam, traditional crossbeams are visible on the ceiling, one small room has a heated floor and the large mud stove in the hall is not only beautiful but is also used to roast complimentary sweet potatoes in the winter.
And Ms. You has added another of her husband’s favorite dishes to the menu: the same dish but in a whole buckwheat grain version for 7,000 won. “Buckwheat costs four times more than white rice, but it’s much healthier,” she says.
Both the whole grain and noodle dishes are rare, excellent treats for those who know the toasty taste of buckwheat spiced with aged kimchi. The owner gets a regular supply of organically grown Chinese cabbage from her in-laws, who grow produce in Gyeonggi province. She says only aged kimchi has that distinctively chewy texture and salty, mature taste. She adds heaps of fresh vegetables ― red cabbage, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and more. Served with a hearty doenjangguk, or bean paste soup, and seasonal side dishes, the meal is a wholesome delight. And the portions are huge! “Just like home,” Ms. You says.

Theme: Homemade dishes, tea and liquor
Telephone: (02) 733-3535
Address: 109-2 Samcheong-dong behind the Blue House
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily
Credit cards: Accepted
Parking: None

by Ines Cho
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