Andong specialty comes to Insa-dong
More concretely, in the countryside, one of the nation’s wellsprings of tradition is the district of Andong in the far south. When it comes to drink, it is home to one of the area’s ― and Korea’s ― most renowned beverages. Andong Soju claims to be made to a recipe once served to Kublai Khan.
On the food front, Andong noodles are so famed that they caused a minor brouhaha when Kim Young-sam ascended to the Blue House. In the first of many populist moves, Kim ordered that Andong noodles replace the more lavish Chinese banquets that had previously been served in the presidential residence.
The taste of Andong has now come to Insa-dong. In February, “Soram,” an Andong noodle house, opened. Although part of a five-restaurant chain “Soho Jung,” franchises are not permitted in Insa-dong, so the owners changed the name to bypass this rather odd regulation.
But could noodles, a rather proletarian food, have satisfied the presumably genteel palates of the denizens of the pres’s res?
“My mother, who opened her first restaurant in Apgujeong in 1983, grew up in a wealthy family in Andong,” says owner Lim Dong-yeul, 56.
“Andong is a wealthy area, so they had sophisticated taste,” he claims, “but now there are no Andong noodles in Andong!”
Although set in a basement, Soram is painted white with a high ceiling, making it light, bright and airy. There is a main dining area, plus a number of private rooms around the periphery. The crockery and artwork on the walls are the work of local artist and craftswoman Kim Kyung-sook of Yedang Gallery (Parents: The kindly Ms. Kim runs a small art/painting workshop at the large Ssamziegil complex on the Insa-dong main drag every Sunday ― recommended for the little ones.)
The food matches the decor. It is simple but with quality ingredients and close attention to detail in the preparation. The menu is a single pager and we tried pretty much everything as part of the 19,000 won-per-head set menu.
First was maemil muk (Jellied Buckwheat). These are long rectangular rods sprinkled with sesame seeds, chopped kimchi and spinach and dried kim. This is a light and fresh-tasting dish which offers pretty much the full range of textures ― from the crisp leaves of seaweed to the slippery jellied buckwheat. (A source in the industry tells me that George Bush Sr., who visited Korea just prior to last year’s Asean Summit, was much enamored of this dish.)
The sueyuk (steamed beef) was outstanding. This platter offered some very tender, moist and lean pork. I often find sueyuk extremely fatty, but here it is lean and well trimmed. I was not expecting to find high quality meat in a restaurant that is essentially a noodle house, but I have to admit here that I was wrong, well, not as right as I usually am.
And finally, the piece de resistance: the kuksi (noodles). Served with small portions of chopped meat and spring onion, as well as tiny pieces of red and green pepper in broth, these are a really soft set of noodles ― especially considering that they are machine made (albeit using a highly specialized method). We were told that even the monks from nearby Jogye Temple have been spotted surreptitiously slurping the meat soup noodles here.
Among the side dishes, the kimchi really merited praise. It was a typical white cabbage variety, but the cabbage itself was fresh and crunchy, and came in a rich, dark and very spicy sauce that will satisfy the most incendiary palate.
The only disappointment was the booze list, which is limited to the unholy trinity of soju, baekseju and chongha, all served at the usual prices. With so many competing Insa-dong establishments offering a range of varied and exotic traditional and neo-traditional alcoholic beverages ― not to mention several places that also offer wine lists ― this is an oversight.
The management say they will be adding wine to the menu, though they seem undecided as to whether to charge corkage to those who bring their own.
The verdict: Simple but effective.
English: spoken by the manageress
Address: Basement 1, Baekak Art Gallery Building, 192-21 Gwangundong, Insadong, Jongno Gu
Parking: Some spaces outside
Hours: 11:00-10:00PM, 7 days
Dress: Come as you are
by Andrew Salmon