Saturday, October 30, 2010

Go Gung: traditional Korean food in Insadong

이것은 이동 공, 우리는 서울의 인사동에 방문한 좋은 한국 전통 레스토랑에 대한 게시물입니다. 우리는 우리의 친구에게 그것을 추천합니다.

On our previous trips to Seoul, we've stayed in the Hongik University neighborhood, at the edge of the Sodaemungu for its proximity to Eastern Social Welfare Society, our Korean agency. This trip, we chose our hotel for its reputation and its proximity to Seoul's historical/cultural district. That meant moving our home-base in Seoul several miles northeast. While the location of the Somerset is great, we didn't know the neighborhood. There were none of the American food chains ubiquitous to the Hongik district and we could not retrace our steps to any of the hole-in-the wall Korean restaraunts we enjoyed in Insadong on previous trips. (Off its two main streets, Insadong is a warren of hidden back alley buildings and basements --fun to wander through, but hard to capture on a mental map.)

So Tuesday night, we did the tourist thing: asked the concierge at the hotel to recommend a nearby traditional Korean restaraunt. She pointed us to Go Gung. When she gave the address as "Basement #1 behind the Ssamziegil building" in Insadong, I thought we might never find it. But we did. The food was so good, we went back later in the week and took pictures. At that time, I learned Go Gung is rated by the Hi Seoul Festival as one of the top-rated restaraunts for traditional food in Seoul.

Getting there:

Insadong-gil is the main street that runs through the western edge of Insadong. This is the street that closes to road traffic on Sundays and becomes a pedetrian mall; the street tourists flock to for shopping in Insadong. If you ask a cab driver to take you to Insadong, he'll drop you at the head of this street. This intersection is about a five minute walk east of the Somerset. Head down the street and about a third of the way into the shopping district, on your left you'll see this building. (Incidentally, the print shop just to the north of this building is one of my favorite places in Insadong to buy original artwork; it is not silk screened for the tourist trade.)

The next building, less-visibly marked until you're right on top of it, is the Ssamziegil block.

This is the street placard on the alley that runs between the two buildings. It reads "Isadong 12-gil." Head down the alley.

The stairway to Basement Number 1 is the first on the left and looks like this:

Go all the way downstairs, following the arrow. Go Gung is the tenant on the left at the bottom with the gorgeous silk knots hung between glass walls.

Inside, you'll have a choice of western tables and chairs, or traditional floor seating at low tables. This is the menu as of October 2010. We ordered food the girls were familiar with: two orders of traditional bulgoki (which a hostess cooked at our table); one Go Gung Coil (Jap Chae); and one Mung Bean Pancake. It generously served 3 adults and three children.

The Mung Bean Pancake was delicious, but unlike others I have had: coarse textured and thick, with vegetable threads in the batter and an unexpected savory filling; served with a soy-based dipping sauce. We adults liked it but the girls were expecting something else. The side dishes were not identical both nights. But the green onion pancake and the shredded kimchee  pictured in the middle (only moderately hot) were especially good.

The traditional bulgoki,cooked at the table was delicious, although a bit sweet. Their Coil, or Jap Chae, could have been a meal for two on its own. It was outstanding. They use angel hair sweet potato noodles, which allow the flavors of the vegetables and the sauce to shine. I have a bulgoki recipe that stands up to Go Gung's, but am now on a quest to tune up a jap chae recipe to their standard. I think it was the variety of peppers that carried the day: black and white in the sauce plus hot red pepper threads among the vegetables, balanced by a sweetener that was someting other than sugar.

Mercy tells me not to forget to write,"They have the best sticky rice on the planet!" (She would know; she is not an adventerous eater and ate a lot of sticky rice.) We also loved the mysterious cold tea they served at the end of the meal: a fruity, sweet, green (?) tea that I would recreate at home except I that I have no idea what it was.

Go Gung is open from 11:30 AM to 9:30 PM. Reservations are not necessary. The menu is written in English and Hangul and there is an English-speaker scheduled most shifts. The prices are moderate: 15,000 won for a Coil that serves two; 17,000 won for Bulgoki for one (also serves two). Unfortunately, Go Gun does not have a take-out menu. So you'll have to stop in and try it in person next time you're in Insadong.


Three Northern Stars said...

We tried in vain to find this place as a friend recommended it. So glad you guys were able to find it. Looks and sounds wonderful.

Ari said...

We love this restaurant! We've gone there all 3 trips to Seoul. I can't even remember how we got there the first time around, but we love it, and keep going back. Thanks for blogging. I love seeing the photos of your girls and their Korean families.
Michelle in WI