soju sunrise

Review: Pham Thi Chinh in Wangsimni

restaurants | November 16, 2015 | By

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The flavours of Vietnam aren’t that easy to replicate here – beef bones for stock are tricky to source, and ingredients like Vietnamese herbs and limes are either hard to find or prohibitively pricey. Korean pho chains abound, but with few exceptions they are insipid and disappointing. But with a growing Vietnamese community here, there are a few places where one can find a legit bowl of pho (phở is apparently the proper spelling), the spicy-sour beef noodle soup that you find everywhere in Vietnam and dream of for months after you leave.

IMG_2347Foremost among these is a restaurant which is a little out of the way, a well-kept secret that was new to me until this week and which is now my first choice for this excellent soup. It’s called Pham Thi Chinh and it involves getting on the subway to Wangsimni. (Directions are at the bottom of this post.)

There are two Vietnamese places in the same building complex, oddly enough. This is the superior of the two. (The other is Quân An Asean and you can read my review of it here.) It looks like any small Korean diner or kimbap place, but on any given day, a goodly number of the customers are Vietnamese, albeit there appears to be a healthy collection of Korean regulars as well.

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The menu is simple but has a few different options (there’s also a photo menu on the back if you don’t read hangeul or, um, Vietnamese). The pho is served with cilantro, bean sprouts and chopped red chilli on the side. Be careful with the latter – these are not the harmless Korean chillis but fiery little buggers that you should add in moderation. There’s also the usual sriracha-style chilli sauce, the brown sauce whose name I forget, and some little squeezy bottles of lime juice to add to taste.

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The pho was good, very good. I was told they make the broth the proper way, without loads of MSG and flavour packets which are common shortcuts elsewhere. I can believe it; it was satisfying and hearty, and due to the fact I emptied the whole side dish of chopped chillis into my soup, I was sweating with an intensity that belied the chilly temperatures outside. 7,000 for a goodly-sized bowl, and there’s also a fuck-off big bowl for 10,000 won.

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As well as the soup, I also ordered something called chả giò, which are little spring rolls filled with minced pork (amusingly referred to as “mandu” on the Korean menu). With a little sweet chilli dip, these were really great – not too greasy, not too crumbly, just right. I could have eaten two platefuls of these on their own, though it probably wouldn’t be good for my ever-expanding waistline. Just 5,000 won, I’ll definitely have these again next time.

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I ended with an iced coffee (cà phê đá). Goddamn, this was good – it took me right back to sitting on the sidewalk in Hanoi, mopeds flashing past my chair, trying to cool down in the evening heat. Caramelly, sweet and strong, this is the drink a Starbucks macchiato wishes that it could be when it grows up – and, at 3,000 won, not much more than half the price, too.

Overall, I’ll certainly be back to try the other items on the menu, with the possible exception of the Hanoi Vodka, which looked a bit lethal. It’s a bit of a trek to Wangsimni, but I’ll go a long way for a good bowl of pho, and this is the best I’ve found in Seoul by far. If you happen to be in the market for something similar, check it out – I don’t think it’ll disappoint you.

  • Category: Vietnamese
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try: Phở bo
  • Hours: 11-9pm seven days a week, though possibly with a mid-afternoon break, depending.
  • Subway: Wangsimni Station (왕십리역) exit 2.
  • Directions: Come out of Wangsimni Station exit 2 and walk along the road for three or four minutes until you reach the petrol station (below), then turn left.

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  • At the top of the small road, on the right, is an apartment block. As you keep walking, with the apartment building on your right, Pham Thi Chinh is at the end of the little row of shops along the ground floor, to the left of the apartments’ main entrance.

Pham Thi Chinh

Bite-size Review: Nagomi Ramen in Hongdae

restaurants | October 21, 2015 | By

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I know jack-all about ramen except what I’ve picked up from three visits to Japan, the last one of which was spent slurping down bowls of the stuff in various parts of Tokyo. As the saying goes, I don’t know much, but I know what I like. And I like Nagomi Ramen. A lot. It’s like a Japanese guy strangled a pig with a fistful of noodles and squeezed until there was a bowlful of happy juice in front of me.

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It’s in Hongdae, and so well-hidden you’ll need a map to find it – which, luckily, you’ll find at the bottom of this capsule review. On my first visit years ago, I remember being really happy, but Hongdae is a long way to go for lunch, so despite retaining a good memory of the place, I hadn’t been back.

But I was in Hongdae during the day this week, so I got hold of a compass and some orienteering gear and managed to track it down.

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The menu is quite short, offering just four types of ramen.

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I went for the char siu ramen, since I love the meaty broth and the charred pork on top. At 8,000 won, the most expensive option on the menu.

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It was superb. According to other blog posts about this place, this is Kyushu-style ramen, with a stock based on pork bones with added chicken or vegetable broth to lighten and modulate the overall flavour. Whatever.

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The broth was very meaty and just the right kind of oily – I’d have happily drunk a bowl of this without any noodles or anything else. There was plenty of roughly chopped garlic in there, a goodly amount of spring onion (scallion), lots of thin noodles lurking under the surface, and no bean sprouts – which I don’t mind, but which I feel are overused in some other places.

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Look at that pork. Definitely the best and most generous serving of pork I’ve had in any ramen shop in Korea, there was more pork in this ramen than I get in Menya Sandaime in Itaewon (my normal lunch go-to) even when I order with the “extra pork” 추가 option, which I usually do.

Unbelievably, the menu says you can get extra char siu for another 2,000 won. Does that apply to the char siu ramen as well, I wonder? If it does, I don’t know where they’d fit it in the bowl.

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A little dish of pickled thingummybobs comes on the side, and they have small pots of kimchi on the table, to which I helped myself freely.

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I’m calling it: Nagomi Ramen is without doubt the best ramen I’ve had in Seoul. No doubt some reader with a PhD in Applied Noodleology will be able to advise me on why I’m wrong and where I should go instead, but in the interim, head to Nagomi and enjoy.

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  • Category: Japanese
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try: I’ve only tried the char siu ramen (차슈면), which is the one on the top right if you don’t read hangeul. I’m sure they’re all good, but that’s the one I vouch for.
  • Subway: Hongdae (역) exit 9.
  • Directions: Yeah, you’re just going to have to look at the map, which I promise you is accurate. Easiest is probably to come out of Hongdae exit 9 and walk along the main road and take the first road left after the main street up to Hongik University. After that, turn third left when you see the CU Mart. You might need to ask someone, or paste “나고미앤겐로쿠” into Naver Maps and follow the little blinking dot on your phone to porky heaven.
  • Hours: 11:30am – 9pm every day.
  • Address in Korean: 서교동 370-24 지하 1층  Tel: 02-324-8545

nagomi

Review: Dureban (두레반) in Gangnam

restaurants | July 18, 2015 | By

IMG_1042What is it about the hot sweaty weather that makes me crave the flesh of the pig? This time last year, almost to the week, I was engaged in a batshit crazy scheme to travel round Seoul looking for the best dwaejigukbap (돼지국밥), or pork and rice soup, that I could find, eventually plumping for one near Sinsa station as my favourite. (I don’t propose to go back over the finer points of this great Busan dish – you can find lots more explanation of what it is and how it should be served at that old post.)

Recently a well-known gukbap franchise opened a store a few moments’ walk from my work, so I’ve popped in there a couple of times to have some soup over lunchtime. But to be honest, it’s a pale imitation of the real thing and I always leave feeling a bit meh. So when I had an unexpected long lunch break today, I decided to do a little Naver-ing to see if there was anywhere nearby that I’d missed. And there was.

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Dureban is just a block from Gangnam-gu Office station on the confluence of line 7 and the Bundang line. It has immediately vaulted to the top of my list, and I intend to become something of a regular, because the 돼지국밥 here was great.

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The soup is served bubbling hot, as is customary in Korea. While you wait for it to descend from boiling to merely scalding, you set about adding your seasonings to taste. Salty, fermented baby shrimp (새우젓) add saltiness and umami; gochugaru (고추가루) adds some heat and depth; ground perilla seeds (들깨) add, well, 들깨ness.

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Unlike many other places I’ve visited, though, Dureban also provides you with your own chives and chili to add as the whim takes you – useful for those of us who like to personalise our lunch to taste.

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As the bubbles subsided and the steam cleared, I began to realise that the plethora of condiments wasn’t the only point in this place’s favour.

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The soup was absolutely crammed with pork. A couple of the places I visited last year were good, but a little skimpy on the swine, with little shavings of pig where big chunks should be.

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Here at Dureban, there’s a combination of the two – generous thinly sliced pork meat throughout the bowl, but two or three larger chunks lurking in there too, with just the right amount of fat. With a nice bit of kimchi on top, they were just begging to be despatched, and quickly were.

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The broth is great here – not transcendent, but far better than some of the weak, blander bases I’ve tasted in the past. By now the sweat was building on my forehead, but I finished every drop.

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There’s a sundaeguk on the menu too, as well as some other meaty dishes for the evening visitor, but I can’t speak to those.

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Dureban was great, and as I exited through the outside “tent-bar” style annex (below), which would be great for night-time drinking, I found the bus stop back to my office not four paces from the front door. It’s like God wants me to come back. I will.

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  • Category: Korean
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try:  Dwaejigukbap (돼지국밥)
  • Subway: Gangnam-gu office (강남구청역) exit 3.
  • Directions: Come out of exit 3 and double back to the intersection before turning left. Dureban is 150 metres or so on the left, look for the black sign as above.
  • Hours:  Uncertain, though open lunchtimes and Saturdays, at least. Try calling them on 02-514-8229.

dureban

Review: Dongwon Jip Gamjatang at Euljiro 3-ga

restaurants | July 10, 2015 | By

IMG_0943 Gamjatang is one of my favourite Korean soups, though even to call it “soup” is stretching a definition, as we’ll see. Made with pork neck bones, potatoes and a rich red broth, it’s one of the most visually striking dishes you can get, the huge bones poking out of the dark liquid like the skeleton of some fearful creature of the deep. It’s not entry-level Korean food and no mistake, but if you can get over the slightly scary appearance of your lunch – or if, like me, you see it and instantly want to try it – you really shouldn’t miss it.

Anyway, my mind turned to gamjatang this week when Dan Gray posted up his favourite five places to get this soup, over at Seoul Eats. When I saw his photo of the offering from Dongwon Jip, in the city centre, I knew what I wanted to eat. So I made the expedition to Euljiro 3-ga yesterday at lunchtime to see if the taste matched the photos.

IMG_0936 Dongwon Jip is a little hole-in-the-wall place in the industrial area of Euljiro 3-ga, surrounded by little hardware shops selling copper wire, metal sheeting, paint and tools and God only knows what else. This is a dreadful old cliché, but it looks unchanged from what Seoul must have looked like in the 1970s, an ever-shrinking island of stasis in the midst of a sea of rapid change.

Daniel Tudor, the erstwhile Economist correspondent for Korea and co-owner of the Booth pizza pub chain, talks about how some people are Gangnam style while others are Gangbuk style, preferring north of the river to the clean open but characterless avenues of the south side of Seoul. Well, call me a Gangbuk saram, even if a big sweaty white guy sticks out in the streets round Dongwon Jip like a nun in a strip club.

IMG_0956IMG_0955 This isn’t a place to take a girl on a first date, unless she likes sitting among soju-swilling ajosshis picking shards of pork off a huge pig bone. (If she does, for God’s sake propose to her immediately.)

Dongwonjip It’s no-frills, and while there’s other stuff on the menu, the soup is the star. There are group-sized portions, as you’d expect, but at lunchtime most people are eating the individual servings for 7,000 won, so that’s what I got.

IMG_0953 Unbelievable. The 감자탕 came out in a couple of minutes, piled so high with meat and potatoes that I thought for a moment there had been a misunderstanding and I had ordered the party size by mistake.

IMG_0940 Gamjatang – here known as “gamjaguk” (감자국), but it’s the same stuff – can be fiddly to eat. The bones are cooked for ages, so that the meat is literally falling off them, but there’s still a bit of surgery to do with chopsticks and spoon to pull all the pork from the skeleton. I’ve been to places where this needed scissors or a very firm grip, but the meat is so well cooked here that it really does fall from the bones with just a nudge of a spoon.

IMG_0947 As you slowly work your way through the bowl, discarding bits of spine as you go, you’ll occasionally encounter smaller pieces of bone in the bowl, so be careful. Again, this soup was so well made that was barely an issue. Despite its deep red colour, the broth wasn’t spicy, or at least not especially so. Instead, it was rich and flavourful, with lots of spring onion and garlic to pep it up. Huge chunks of potato help the soup live up to its name (though there is some dispute about whether the “gamja” in the name refers to the pork neck, the potatoes, or both). So filling, even for a big man like me.

IMG_0951 You can eat the soup with rice and little bits of pork in it. Larger pieces can be smeared with ssamjang and maybe a small shard of garlic and eaten with chopsticks. I got some odd looks for pulling bones out of the soup with my fingers, but then again I was getting a lot of curious looks anyway, perhaps because I was a foreigner, or perhaps because despite it being lunchtime, I was the only person in the restaurant not pounding back soju.

IMG_0949 The kimchi here is lovely, tangy and fresh, and there’s some radish as well to keep you going. I can’t imagine you’d need it – such a generous portion of soup for 7,000 won. I hate to imagine what the big size looks like.

IMG_0944IMG_0954Dongwon Jip serves up a really, really good bowl of soup. God, it was satisfying, hearty and rich. I was sweating like bejesus, more from the humid day than the spice of the soup, but it was totally worth it. I can imagine it being even better in winter. But there’s no way I’m waiting until then to come here again. About as down to earth a Korean food experience as you can have, but one of the best. Recommended.

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  • Category: Korean
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try: Gamjaguk (감자국)
  • Subway: Euljiro 3-ga station / 을지로 3-가 역) exit 4.
  • Directions: There’s more than one way to get here, but the easiest is as follows: come out of exit 4 and turn immediately left into the little alleyway in the second photo of this post. Walk along the street for a couple of minutes and you will come upon the restaurant on your right, next to a chicken place. There is no English signage at all, so you should look for the shopfront shown in the photos above. Once inside just ask for the gamjaguk. If it’s full, there’s a staircase leading up to a second floor, just to the left of the main door.
  • Hours: Monday – Saturday all day until 10pm.

Dongwon jip map

In search of pig and rice Nirvana

restaurants | July 11, 2014 | By

IMG_3538Recently I was in Busan for work [sic] and had the opportunity to try the great non-fishy specialty of that city, dwaejigukbap (돼지국밥), pork and rice soup. In an alleyway tucked behind the teeming shopping streets of Seomyeon in Busan, a whole row of spit-and-sawdust restaurants serve up bowls of filling, life-affirming soup, with great seething vats of boiling pork out front to entice you in. These are real ajosshi hangouts, with nary a tourist to be seen – one old guy couldn’t take his eyes off me all through my dinner, and I don’t think he was admiring my fine pectoral muscles. For 6,000 won you get a big bowl of meaty, warming soup, as well as all the side dishes you can eat.

IMG_3540After this, I was hooked. But Busan is a long way and the KTX ticket adds several zeroes to the cost of that soup. Surely I could find something comparable in Seoul? Alas, my Korean friends told me, there aren’t many places in the capital that can do a decent 돼지국밥, and certainly nowhere that compares to Busan. Put it out of your mind, they advised. Stick to traditional Seoul specialities, they suggested, like budaejjigae, or sweet potato pizza.

Well, said I, balls to that. Somewhere in this teeming metropolis of fifteen million souls, there must be someone who knows how to boil a piece of pork in some water for six hours, surely? And so I went on a hunt for the best dwaejigukbap I could find, with the help of some generous Seoul Eats Facebook group members and some Naver-ing of my own. My search would take me to all four corners of the city, going through five pigs, three gallons of those little salty shrimps, two dining companions and half a dozen bowls of rice.

The basics of dwaejigukbap are simple. According to Jessica Steele – whose awesome and insanely comprehensive blog post on this subject is here (seriously, there’s music videos and everything) – pork bones are boiled three times to make the broth, to which soft slices of pork, spring onion and various other seasonings are added. Brought to the table along with the soup are the regulation bowls of rice and kimchi. An indispensable side dish is radish (깍두기), which I’m assured is the key to any good dwaejigukbap joint, “as central to dwaejigukbap as the chips in fish and chips”, or so I was told.

As well as these, you’ll usually get garlic (마늘), green chillis (고추), garlic chives (부추) and noodles (면). Some restaurants will offer you additional portions of sundae (순대), or variations in which the meat is plated up and served separately. Any and all of these can be thrown in, munched separately, or whatever; this is not fine dining, but rather a meal whose origins, like budaejjigae, lie in resourceful Koreans, in this case Busanites, making the best of what they had to hand in the darkest days of the Korean War. In most of these places, the locals will be surprised enough to even see a foreigner, so don’t stop to give a toss what the proper etiquette is.

IMG_3611Finally, and crucially, you will find little pots of salted shrimp (새우젓) and hot red pepper paste (gochujang – 고추장), along, sometimes, with more familiar salt and pepper. These do need to be added, since the soup as brought to table is fairly bland and will definitely need at least a little bit of salt and spice added, depending on your taste. Since the saltiness of the shrimp and the heat of the gochujang varies from place to place, proceed with caution at first and add more after a couple of exploratory spoonfuls.

IMG_3619First stop on my porky odyssey was Donsubaek (돈수백), which describes itself on its website as a “Premium Pig Rice Soup Franchise”. There are branches all over the city, but we went to the Sinnonhyeon branch, which coincidentally is right next to the mighty Ceramic House, which I reviewed a couple of weeks back. (Directions to all of these restaurants are at the bottom of this page.)

As a restaurant experience, it was about as far from Busan’s food alley as you could imagine; all air-conditioning, clean surfaces and a resolute lack of noisily slurping ajosshis in hiking gear. I will leave it to you to decide if this is a good thing or bad. Service was quick and efficient, and the spread of side dishes all present and correct.

IMG_3612So, how was the soup? Short version: pretty damn good. As usual, it needed plenty of seasoning, which turned it from the milky white colour in the first photo below into the richer pinkish hue of the final, ready-to-eat version.IMG_3613

IMG_3617All in all, this was a fine bowl of soup. It didn’t quite hit the heights of Busan (spoiler alert; none of the dwaejigukbap places reviewed in this blog post will), but to be honest it was pretty damn good. The biggest pleasure was the price: just 6,500 won in the heart of Gangnam for a filling meal. My dining companion, who describes herself as a gukbap obsessive, pronounced herself satisfied, although she admitted that she is easily satisfied. For convenience (24 hours a day), locations all over the city, a good quality broth and side dishes, and overall value, Donsubaek gets 8/10.

Could we do better? I was sure that we could. And so, the very next day – actually, the lunchtime after the evening before – I headed up to Chungmuro to the second stop in the trail, Chungmuro Dwaejigukbap (충무로 돼지국밥), about which I had read good things. But disaster! Naver had lied to me; the restaurant was gone, replaced by – I can barely bring myself to type the words – a bloody Paris Baguette café. Dispirited, I glumly searched the map, but salvation was at hand; an alternate option a couple of stops along the subway in Sindang (신당). Fifteen minutes later, and getting hungry now, I was at 국밥이야기, and I was quickly sitting down to my second bowl in the space of a day.

IMG_3626IMG_3625This place was a bit more rough-and-ready than the franchise restaurant of the previous night. No noodles were forthcoming, and seasoning was restricted to shrimp and gochujang but no salt and pepper, but otherwise everything was present and correct. The ajumma was delighted to see a white man on the premises and, mistaking my hesitation to spoon the boiling liquid into my gob for some sort of waegook ignorance, made a point of showing me how to eat the soup with the rice and generally clucking over me.

IMG_3624My general feeling was that this soup wasn’t quite as tasty as the previous night. The pork was a bit fattier (no bad thing, in itself), the broth just a bit meh. The chives had been pre-added, so that was one less variable for the diner to control. The price was even better than the previous day, though, at 6,000 won, and the serving was generous, with an even bigger one on the menu for just a couple of thousand more. Overall, if I lived within walking distance of 국밥이야기 I’m pretty sure I’d be in there at least once a week, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend travelling across the city for it. 7/10.

On! A few days later I found myself heading out from work late on a Friday night, and Gangnam traffic was typically nose-to-tail, so a hop onto the subway seemed in order. Was there somewhere on my route home that I could grab some dinner, I wondered. So I took a look at Naver, and lo and behold… could it be…? A gentle stroll from Seocho station, there was another dwaejigukbap joint. Perfect.

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So the next stop on my tour was Iga (이가돼지국밥). Down a small flight of stairs – there’s something very exciting to me about Korean basement restaurants, because you never know what you’re going to find – I was about to have the best pork and rice soup yet.

IMG_3661The restaurant was neither ghetto nor upmarket, but somewhere in between; pretty big, spotlessly clean once again, with a couple of tables of office workers grazing on bossam and soju. The ajumma looked at me with that familiar panic-stricken face as I walked in, but relaxed when I addressed her in my shitty Korean. Quickly the side dishes and accessories were delivered to my table, and after three or four minutes, I got my soup. Iga offered up the usual bits and pieces – including chopped green chillies, a tight coil of noodles, and earthenware pots of radish and kimchi – the latter just to my foreign taste, aged but not too bitter, hot but not insanely so.

IMG_3664But of course, no-one comes here for the kimchi. So, how was the soup? A first exploratory taste, with only a smattering of seasoning added, was inconclusive. It looked a bit – well, meh. As I started to add seasonings, the sympathetic ajumma hovered, warning me not to add too much spice for my delicate foreign palate and helping me with the odd dish, but mostly just standing around watching me with rapt interest, the way you might watch Roger Moore disarm a ticking atomic bomb. A spoonful or two of shrimpy saltiness, gochujang and black pepper later, and the soup was transformed. Goddamn, this was good.

IMG_3666The ajumma knew her stuff. The broth was subtler than at the previous establishments, but as I supped it grew on me. I think the gochujang may have been more concentrated, I don’t know; certainly the picture above suggests a darker and spicier soup than I’d had before, and the chili slowly began to draw beads of sweat out on my brow, to her immense satisfaction. The pork was sliced more thinly than I’d had elsewhere, more like thin sliced roast pork than bossam meat. I did slightly miss the hearty chunks of pork of my earlier meals, but I would be lying if I said this was anything other than utterly satisfactory. On taste it was level with the 돈수백 soup, or maybe a chive’s-width superior; but the personal touch gave it a slight edge over the chain-restaurant efficiency of the first stop on my journey. The price was right, at 6,000 won. And this was the sort of place I could picture getting pissed in with a bunch of friends, which is always a good sign. 8.5/10.

Next, I found myself in Daehan Gukbap (대한국밥), in a tangle of streets near Samgakji station. Near the train tracks the fancy apartments of Yongsan give way to low rise buildings of an altogether more modest vintage; the area behind 대한국밥 consists of little but shacks that have probably not seen a lick of paint since the Park Chung-Hee era. But this wasn’t quite the gritty taxi-driver hangout that I was beginning to expect; instead, it is part of the Baek Jong-won empire, he of the ubiquitous meat restaurants and cute pop-star wife 15 years his junior. I arrived just after twelve on a weekday, and got the last free seat; soon there were office workers lining up under the warm drizzle outside for a bowl of soup. Cheek by jowl with slurping Koreans, I only got one photo before the stares of those queuing patiently for their lunch shamed me into putting my phone down and getting tucked in.

IMG_3738Verdict: meh. A solid bowl of soup, this had a few things going for it. The pork was not as lean as some of the other establishments, which I consider to be a plus; though sliced thin, there were plenty of authentically fatty slices lurking in there. The gochujang was either home-made or tarted up with some extra chilli and garlic, and the chopped green gochu was almost Thai in its fieriness. The broth was so-so, however, and I felt that I was adding a lot of seasoning to dial up the flavour. When I stepped outside and discovered that the stop for the green number 3 bus that would take me all the way back home to HBC was right outside, I knew that I would be back, but there’s no way I would travel cross-town for this soup. 7.5/10.

By now, I won’t lie, I was beginning to flag. The weather was getting hotter and clammier, and wandering the streets of Seoul looking for hot soup was beginning to seem like an insane waste of my time. You think it’s hard work reading this? Try visiting all these dwaejigukbap joints day after day. Just try typing “dwaejigukbap” all these times. In my feverish dreams, pigs danced in front of my eyes, little shrimps screamed in their salty mass graves. But I wasn’t going to give up quite yet. Not while those pigs still roaming the earth unslaughtered. One more push, Andy.

My final stop was supposed to be a gamjatang and dwaejigukbap place near Isu station, but ten minutes of fruitless wandering around there in the boiling midday sun persuaded me that Naver had lied again, the restaurant gone and replaced by what seems to be a sexy bar (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this represents progress or not). So I clambered back on the subway and headed across to my fallback choice, Busan Dwaejigukbap (부산 돼지국밥) near Sinsa station. What a lucky choice it was.

IMG_3754This restaurant got almost everything right. Although the chives were, again, pre-added, the soup made up for it. By far the porkiest-flavoured of all the broths I tasted, I could actually believe that the pleasingly fatty slices of meat had actually simmered therein for hours on end.

IMG_1428The shrimpy seasoning was very salty, the gochujang nicely hot. There was no chopped chilli, unfortunately, but to make up for it a small metal canister arrived at my table, unbidden, with a fried egg inside.

IMG_3751A couple of spoonfuls of rice, beansprouts, radish and lettuce, and I was shaking up a nice dosirak to eat alongside my soup – a lovely and unexpected little bonus.

IMG_3750The soup was spot on and I couldn’t fault it in any way. Overall it was every bit as good as the offering from Iga down in Seocho and, at 6,500 won, will definitely join my rotation of regular haunts in this part of town. 8.5/10.

And so I proclaim joint winners of my (utterly arbitrary and meaningless) award for best 돼지국밥 in Seoul: Iga in Seocho and Busan Dwaejigukbap in Sinsa. I would suggest the former for dinner with friends and a couple of drinks, the latter for lunch on the go.

IMG_1431So, the takeaways from this experiment? 1. There’s no such thing as a bad bowl of 돼지국밥. 2. The broth matters above all, but the bits and pieces that come with it make the experience, allowing you to personalise it to taste. I know that I like my dwaejigukbap quite salty and quite spicy, but others will disagree. 3. Ajummas will always help you out, even if you aren’t sure exactly what to do or what to add to your meal; staff in a chain restaurant will be far more scared of talking to a waegook, if you are indeed a foreigner. 4. Schlepping around Seoul eating bowls of almost identical soup make a man go just a little bit mad. 5. They are all trumped by the dwaejigukbap of dwaejigukbap alley in Seomyeon, Busan. Go to Busan.

Directions:

Donsubaek (돈수백) – branches all over the city. To get to their Sinnonyheon outlet, come out of exit 4 and walk down the alley in the general direction of Gangnam station, and then take the first left. Donsubaek will be on your left. Open 24 hrs.

Gukbap Iyagi (국밥이야기) – Sindang station exit 9. Walk a minute or two and turn right at Starbucks. The restaurant is about 50 yards down the sidestreet on the left. Opening hours unknown.

Iga (이가돼지국밥) – Seocho station exit 1. Turn right immediately after exiting the station down the sidestreet running parallel with the main road. Iga is about 5 minutes down the road on the left, look out for the big white sign. Open 24 hours.

Daehan Gukbap (대한국밥) – Samgakji station exit 8 or 9. Walk straight from the exit up and over the railroad tracks, and Daehan Gukbap is in the block of shops and lunch places at the foot of the other side of the bridge. Alternatively the No. 3 green bus from Gyeongnidan will stop here – keep your eyes open for the railway and get off before it turns down towards Yongsan. Opening hours unknown.

Busan Dwaejigukbap (부산 돼지국밥) – Sinsa station exit 4. Turn left out of the exit and walk past the petrol station, along the main road west from Sinsa station. Busan Dwaejigukbap is just a couple of minutes along the road. Opening hours unknown.

There are plenty of other places in Seoul selling the same dish. Some, no doubt, are better. Which is your favourite? Let me know. I’m not porked out yet!