There’s Pho in Vietnam. And Udon in Japan. In Korea, Kalguksu (칼국수, literally translated to “knife noodles”) is the simple, basic noodle soup made with flour noodles and fish or vegetable broth. You can find this humble dish all over the country but Koreans know that a version from Myeongdong district in Seoul has made itself famous over time. What I didn’t realize was that locals from Seoul also go to the streets of Seongbuk district–the old town up north of the river–to seek noodles restaurants with history.
Some find kalguksu a little too bland for their taste and I agree. Often times it is up to the patrons to season their noodle soup. With salt, kimchi juice, or dadaegi (seasoning paste made with chili powder, garlic, etc). What makes Seongbuk kalguksu unique is the broth. Unlike common anchovy broth, they boil soup bones for extensive hours (sometimes over a day) to create concentrated broth with distinctive flavour. The noodles are also not as thick as traditional handmade kalguksu noodles but also not too thin like somyun.
Noodles here are not called kalguksu but “guksi“, a Gyeongsang-do dialect meaning noodles. So it’s safe to guess that Seongbuk noodle soups are originated from the similar style made in neighborhoods of southeast regions. I read from an article that decades ago the nobles from Andong, Gyeongsang-do moved to Seoul and settled in Seongbuk area. These are the people who probably passed down the Andong guksi recipe to the streets of old Seoul. As a result, you can find aged, historic noodle places on the old streets of Seongbuk-dong, Myeongryun-dong, and Hyehwa-dong.
This was my first time visiting the northern part of Seoul. The old, historic part of the city that is. Ever since Psy’s Gangnam Style became a global hit it seemed that only the south of Han received all the attention and glory. This was a good opportunity for me to rediscover another aspect of Seoul–the true self. The part of the city where the real people live. I would recommend the neighbourhood of Seongbuk to anyone who’s like me and wants to avoid the tourist zone and experience the ordinary.