One of the Oldest Restaurants in central Seoul
Myeondong may be famous for shopping, but it also carries some of the oldest, most popular restaurants in Seoul. Myeondong Halmae Nakji is so old that no one actually remembers the exact year it was founded. Current owner Yoo Ji-seon, the halmae behind the stove, couldn’t quite remember the name of the previous halmae who first started cooking nakji on streets of Myeongdong.
Yoo’s blurred memories take the humble joint back to late 40’s or at least 1950. Back then, there was just a stove and a few chairs and tables out on the street. As time passed, two modern buildings were built on either side of the restaurant, trapping it in between. A long, narrow hallway between two lavish buildings would take you to an old but recently renovated space. The kitchen area, however, is still untouched and has been the same ever since.
In the beginning, halmae would cook mostly squid because nakji was rare and expensive. Nowadays, the small, long-armed octopus are quite popular even among foreigners. They are displayed as exotic delicacy and a must-try in South Korea.
Traditional Kitchen Facing the Customers
Nowadays, patrons may choose between very spicy, spicy, and non-spicy. When they first started the business it was just one kind of spiciness: very spicy. I am a show-off when it comes to spicy food and I went for a “very spicy” for my lunch. I almost shed tear.
The price was relatively cheap compared to other restaurants in Myeongdong and surrounding area. However, I also noticed that the portion was small and most of it was veggie with only a several strands of nakji legs. I assume that if you are to pay the high rent in the center of Seoul’s hottest tourist spot, you either gotta up your price or lower your quality.
The taste, nonetheless, is nothing close to low quality. They make the broth and spicy marinade fresh everyday. Take the rice and mix it with the leftover sauce on the plate. When the heat lingers on your tongue, cool it down with some fish cake soup and steamed soybean sprouts.