For decades, traditional beef soup or gomtang has served citizens of Seoul especially during the cold seasons. Many beef soup places were in business near old slaughterhouses and some are keeping their tradition up to this day. Out of these historic eateries, locals pick 77-year-old Hadonggwan as a must-visit restaurant in Seoul.
Hadonggwan used to stand by Cheonggyecheon stream ever since it opened in 1939 but the government’s redevelopment plan had its building demolished in 2007. Since then the restaurant has moved to the vibrant district of Myungdong and continued its legacy. The only things on the menu is gomtang, the soup, and suyuk, the sliced steamed beef.
With such a long history behind it, Hadonnggwan has its own interesting dining culture that may confuse first-time visitor like myself. There are slangs used when ordering food and some things are not even one the menu. My friend asked if I wanted a cup of naengsu (cold water) and I said yes, but what we got was a glass filled with soju. A strange term ggakgguk is used when asking for additional kimchi juice to be poured into the beef soup. Prices differ for different “grades” of the soup but it has nothing to do with the size of the bowl like other beef soup places. It just refers to quantity, quality, and variety of toppings which include beef and organs.
We got a 15,000won bowl and I compared mine with the regular 12,000won bowl at next table and the difference was definitely clear. The broth is also not too steamy which I preferred as I cannot swallow boiling soup that is typical at Korea restaurants. Unlike seolleongtang (beef bone soup), gomtang at Hadonggwan has more clear broth with light aftertaste.
It was the famous Korean manwha (graphic novel) that led me through the doors of Hadonggwan. The fourth episode on Heo Young-man’s Sikgaek presents a story of gomtang and Hadonggwan. He compares a newly-opened, modern beef soup restaurant with the old local joint with over 70 years of history and experience that could not be beaten.
Although there are concerns with their service, Hadonggwan is a place that contains stories that are worth to check out. I seek for tasty Korean food with unique setting and interesting stories. The old, stubborn beef soup place in Seoul was just the one that I was looking for.