Imagine walking through a busy tourist area, all the usual big chain stores are there, music is blaring, lights are flashing, and shop workers are calling out for you to come inside and browse. There are people bustling all around you. You’re looking up instructions someone left on a Facebook forum and checking google map as you weave your way through the chaos. And then, you find it, Myeongdong Kyoja. It’s understated and elegant. A stark contrast to its neighbors. Dark wood paneling creates a feeling of calm and nostalgia as you walk through a corridor to the main restaurant. You’re shown to a seat designed for solo diners with a partition between you and the person opposite you. You order Kalguksu (칼국수) because you’ve heard is the best in Korea. In no time at all you’re sitting in front of a large bowl steaming hot broth filled with plump white noodles and several sumptuous looking dumplings. Beside you the waitress places a small dish of the most potent kimchi you’ve ever seen.
This was the path I followed to my other world experience at Myeongdong Kyoja in the heart of Seoul, South Korea.
The most famous Kalguksu in Korea
Myeongdong Kyoja has just a few items on the menu and the most popular is their Kalguksu. It’s a widely loved dish made from knife cut wheat noodles cooked directly in a deep, rich flavored broth. It’s not common to get dumplings in Kalguksu, but at Myeongdong Kyoja your Kalguksu comes with several plump meaty dumplings served in the noodle soup.
While waiting for the noodles to cool a little, take a stab at the kimchi. It’s a chunkier kimchi than most, with a strong and spicy garlic sauce coating each piece of fermented cabbage. It is prepared only a day in advance, making it a style of kimchi unique to Myeongdong Kyoja. At first it was too spicy for me, but after a while, I came to love it. Picking up the slippery noodles with my chopsticks, I wound them round and round with a newly learned flick of my wrist to yield mouthful after mouthful of delightfully chewy flavor infused noodles. I slurped on the hot soup in between and I picked at the spicy kimchi.
Once I’d eaten about half the noodles, I started dipping pieces of kimchi into the broth. This removed some of the spicy sauce from the pieces of cabbage and imbued the kimchi flavor into the broth creating a mildly spicy garlicky soup which was a great pick me up as I neared the end of the mammoth sized bowl.
A little history
After I finished the bowl, I sat and enjoyed that full-stomach satisfaction that comes only after a hearty substantial meal. Other patrons had come and gone, with the fast service ensuring the tables turned over quickly. But as there was no queue, I sat for just a few minuets taking in the whole scene. I could easily imagine people coming here when Korea was a very different country.
Myeongdong Kyoja opened in 1966, just 13 years after the end of the Korean war. As Korea was rebuilding and students were once again attending university, I have no doubt both workers and students filled this beautiful restaurant, devouring hot noodles, soup and dumplings and racing back outside to carry on with their important work fully nourished and deeply satisfied.
Myeongdong Kyoja is featured in the Michelin Guide for Seoul, so I’m sure they’ll be serving multitudes of hungry diners for years to come.
Price and free rice
It’s only 8,000won for the Kalguksu and you can ask for rice on the side which is free. Personally, I couldn’t fit in any rice, but if you’re really starving, don’t for get to ask!
How to find Myeongdong Kyoja
There are two locations in Myeongdong. Make sure you head for the original at 29, Myeongdong 10-Gil, Jung-gu, Seoul. From Myeongdong Subway Station take exit 8. Turn left on to Myeongdong 10-gil (gil is a road) and head straight for about 150 meters and you should find it. Happy eating!