Downtown eatery skimpy on choice, very big on tasteWhen I stepped into this homely place the first thing I saw was a group of grumpy-looking middle-aged ladies lounging on chairs. At the sight of two lunch-time customers, they sauntered toward the kitchen and started bringing out a variety of kimchi.
The waitresses did not even bother taking our order; customers come here to Gwanghwamun House for one thing ― the pot of kimchi jjigae simmering on every table. This spicy stew, containing kimchi, pork and other vegetables, is the house specialty.
Seated on a chair that seemed ready to collapse at any moment, I started to regret bringing along an American friend for some “real Korean cooking.” Soon my annoyance stretched to the aloof service.
By 11:45 a.m. the place was packed, and the overflow of customers started to queue outside. When I tasted the stew I found out why there was such a long line and why the employees were so nonchalant. The soup was marvelous. The kimchi was fermented just long enough to get a tart taste, the pork was plentiful, as was the tofu. This place had nothing to prove. If you want beter service, go somewhere else; there are plenty of people waiting to take your place. Savoring the soup, I started to forgive the women for their rudeness.
Apparently, though, jjigae is the only delicacy they prepare. The gyeran mari, fried and rolled eggs with finely chopped vegetables, did not come close to the perfection of the stew. It was soft and fluffy enough, but too watery and bland. And the portion was measly considering the 5,000 won ($4) price tag. The kimchi jjigae, on the other hand, cost 6,000 won per person. Not a bad deal for superb quality.
After finishing our meal, another surprise was waiting. When I went to pick up the tab, the lady who appeared to be in charge said, “No credit cards.” Her tone of voice almost made me feel like I had done something wrong. Since I did not have enough cash to pay for both of our meals, my friend and I had to go Dutch.
While Gwanghwamun House is not the place to take someone you want to impress, it does have its merits. For one, you do not have to ponder a long list of dishes. And the food, which is afterall what matters most, is outstanding.
Theme: Kimchi Jjigae
Telephone: (02) 739-7737
Location: In the alley behind Sejong Center for the Performing Arts
Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Credit cards: Not accepted
by Chun Su-jin