This eatery has built a reputation on dishing up oodles of noodles

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This eatery has built a reputation on dishing up oodles of noodles

The fashion-conscious crowd swarming through Myeong-dong’s warren of boutiques is hungry for discounts on the hippest jeans, high heels or makeup. Luckily, those whose hunger comes from an empty stomach rather than a barren wardrobe have options too. And they won’t cost an arm and a leg.
A big bowl of kalguksu, or noodle soup, won’t top anybody’s list of sexy eats. But there’s a certain beauty inherent in doing something right for 37 years. That’s how long Myeongdong Gyoja has been serving up kalguksu in the neighborhood. A big, piping-hot bowl of noodles in soup will set you back just 5,500 won ($4.60). Enough people know about the place to fill the spartan dining hall to near-capacity during lunch hours.
The flat, homemade noodles thicken the soup shortly after it’s served. Not to worry; one of the legions of ajumma circling the room will slide her cart to you and offer up some extra soup, or noodles ― even a bowl of rice if you look hungry enough. None of these extras cost extra, mind you.
The soup’s better than that of most corner shops because it’s made from chicken stock. The ground chicken morsels on top don’t hurt, either. If you’re a purist, slurp the broth and noodles as is. But adding a few chopsticksful of Kyoja’s rich, garlicky kimchi, and perhaps a spoonful of dadaegi (a watery condiment made of red and green peppers, soy sauce and garlic), really makes it a memorable meal.
Most visitors get at least one order of steamed dumplings. For the reasonable price of 5,500 won, you get 10 dumplings filled almost to bursting with ground pork and Chinese scallions.
In Kyoja’s early days, before any of its customers could afford an Armani suit, it was not uncommon for a group of five to pile in and take advantage of the “refill” policy by ordering only two bowls of kalguksu, says Shin Joo-min, a nephew of the 70-year-old founder, Park Yeon-ha. Whether it was the freebies or the taste, the place, originally called Myungdong Kalguksu, became so popular that hordes of copycats sprung up with the same name; one even popped up as far away as Fort Lee, New Jersey! So the owners changed the name in 1978, and registered it this time. (Gyoja is a Japanese term for dumpling). Both the original store and its twin a few steps up the alley serve on two floors. If you’re hungry, follow the crowd; the ajumma making the rounds with the extras will pass by more frequently.

Myeongdong Gyoja
Telephone: (02) 776-5348
Location: In the Myeong-dong pedestrian zone, across from Utoo. Take subway line No. 4 to Myeongdong Station and use exit 8.
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Credit cards: Most accepted
Parking: Pay lots in area

by Joel Levin
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