When I was younger, I thought Korean food had a good amount of vegetarian options. We eat a lot of meat but there are also many side dishes that looked vegetarian. As I got older and started cooking, it was surprising to realize how little is available for vegetarians and vegans. Salted shrimp and fish sauce are common seasoning in Korean cooking, making the popular dish like kimchi inedible for vegans.

Dining out is even more complicated. For many of my vegan friends, eating out rarely means having Korean food. Unless they could get the owner to take out certain ingredients, which in many cases is difficult to do, most vegans are left with very few choices on their hands. There are some vegan and vegetarian restaurants but many serve western fusion fares, nothing close to traditional Korean.

Having said that, kongguksu is one of the few traditional Korean recipes that vegans can enjoy without hassle. Soybeans are boiled, blended, then cooled to create thick, milky soup. Some people add salt, others prefer sugar. But at Jinjuhoegwan, no bottled condiments or shakers are visible on the tables. From what I read about the restaurant, the only ingredient of the soup is yellow soybean and water.  I’m not sure if they add salt in the kitchen but the soup tastes well seasoned. If it is still bland, kimchi could add extra flavour but unfortunately the sidekick is not vegan.

Like most other matjib, the walls are decorated with stills from television broadcast and hand-written messages of the famous. Because the restaurant has been operating near Seoul City Hall for 55 years, there are traces of politicians including former presidents and mayors of Seoul.

In summer, only the noodle soup is available on the menu. Another popular lunch item, a stew of some sort, will be back after August 20th. I was eager to try the famous noodle soup anyways, so I pay for my order and patiently wait

A ball of noodles immersed in soybean bath is served in a cold metal bowl. The glutinous noodles are made with soybean powder and potato starch. What amazed me was the flavour of the soybean broth. It is just hard to believe that simple soup of blended soybean could contain such deep flavour.

Like many other Koreans, kongguksu is one of my favourite summertime meals and I have had them at number of popular matjib. However, Jinju serves the thickest, most flavourful soup. The secret could be the soybeans themselves, the restaurant gets fresh shipment of high-quality domestic beans from their exclusive farm in Gangwon-do. They seem to add just the right amount of water to keep the consistency nice and thick. Whatever the trick is, the masters at Jinju is keeping the traditional alive since 1962 through a bowl of cold noodle soup.

Jinjuhoegwan 진주회관
120-35 Seosomun-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul

Soybean noodles 콩국수 W10,000
Kimchi fried rice 김치볶음밥 W7,000
Kimchi stew 김치찌개 W7,000