Mun Hwa Og may be just another old seolleongtang restaurant in Seoul, but there are number of reasons why this place is worth a visit. Since its opening in 1952, the restaurant stood in the exact same spot for past sixty-five years, unlike other old restaurants on the list that were forced to move out of their original location due to redevelopment. I asked the owner Lee Sun-ja, a humble lady with friendly smile, if she has a photo of the old structure. “Oh, our building is the same as it was before when we first started,” she replies, “we’ve only done minor interior renovation.”
It was 6:05am when I rode my bicycle into their front door which probably just swung open for the day. At first, no soul was in sight. Ms. Lee, the owner, was the only one working both in the kitchen and in the hall and she was busy preparing the first order of the day. I asked the only other customers–an old couple waiting for their meal–if the place is open and they reassured me that someone will come out and serve you in few minutes.
As I rested my helmet on a table and looked around, I first noticed how clean and well-organized the place is. With the modernization and renovations, the place has lost its old look and feel but instead it was left with a pristine, spacious dining hall. On a wind ledge were neatly aligned plaques of recognition and appreciation for the restaurants longevity, dedication, and achievements.
When Ms. Lee’s eyes first met with mine, she seemed a little startled. It may seem odd for a woman in her thirties with her bike visiting at opening hour. I have read the reviews and articles about the place beforehand and it was concluded that most of the patrons are elderly. Some of the negative reviews (usually a complaint about the “stink” of the soup), that I had noticed, were most likely written by someone of my age or younger.
The brief look of curiosity soon dissolved behind a warm smile when I made my order. A bowl of beef brisket soup, please. Ms. Lee advised me to take a sit near the air conditioner as it was scorching hot outside then disappeared into the kitchen. A female worker, who just walked in as I settled in to my chair, brought me a simple bowl of meaty soup along with a bowl of rice and a small plate of kimchi.
Mun Hwa Og is the second oldest seolleongtang restaurant in Seoul after Imun, but many acknowledges the sixty-five year old soup recipe as the most “Seoulite”. The current owner, as well as the chef and the founder (Ms. Lee’s late mother-in-law), are all Seoul tobagi (born and raised in Seoul), and they emphasize that their recipe delivers true taste of the city.
The meat is the fresh, daily pick from Majang-dong Seoul Livestock. A source they have been kept as is for sixty-five years. A reason their soup taste always the same.
As I was finishing up my bowl, an elderly gentleman walked in and ordered three take-outs. He exchanged friendly greeting with the owner. Must be a long-time regular. Mun Hwa Og has been supported for decades by loyal patrons, but like many old restaurants in the, my concern lies on the its destination as younger generation tend to prefer more pungent flavour.
Hopefully restaurants like Mun Hwa Ok stay firmly in its place for decades to come as they have been for past years.
Mun Hwa Og 문화옥
118-3 Jugyo-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
Beef Brisket Soup 양지설렁탕 W9,000
Ox Knee Soup 도가니탕 W15,000
Ox Tail Soup 꼬리곰탕 W16,000
Ox Foot Soup 족탕 W20,000