Review: Kal Guksu, Bossam and Wang Mandu at Bukchon Kalguksu

For most, the place that comes to mind for kal guksu (knife cut noodles in a light seafood or meat based broth) is Myeongdong Gyoja which has long been, and currently remains, an immensely popular joint but I have yet to understand the hype behind the place.

Venture further north and there are a number of much better places for kal guksu and this includes one joint I'm about to introduce today near the Samcheongdong area. 

The kal guksu here is a beef-based one in which the broth is simmered with beef bones and meat and other spices for hours to create its milky broth. It also specializes in wang mandu (extra large-sized dumplings) and bossam. The restaurant is housed in a beautiful hanok and near the tourist-friendly areas of Samcheongdong and Bukchon, making this a really fantastic establishment to take friends from out of town to (especially those that are spicy food adverse).

When our friend Rian came to town from Japan, my friends and I took him here and he ended up liking it so much that when he came to town again, this time with a friend, he asked we go here again! 

The wang mandu is 8,000 won for 7 dumplings (you can also order individual mandus in addition to the 7-piece order) and is a big favorite for all. The size of a kid's fist, these babies come piping hot from their steam baths. Their skin is ever-so-slightly translucent to give a small glimpse of their scallion, pork and veggie fillings inside. 

Wang Mandu

Cutting into the mandu, the brimming mandu will practically explode with its contents. Chives, ground pork and other goodies makes this mandu pack a flavorful punch. Big winner for all.

The large-size order of bossam (there's only a medium and large size) comes with a ball of bossam kimchi, some salt-pickled green lettuce leaves and the bossam (pork shoulder that's been boiled with spices). Jeot gal (brined baby shrimp), ssamjang, garlic slices and spicy pepper slices are also provided on the side.

To eat, simply take a leaf and put a slice of the meat (dipped in the shrimp sauce) on top. Add some of the bossam kimchi, the garlic and peppers if you want and just a slight dab of the ssamjang. Roll up or scoop up with your chopsticks and enjoy.

Clean and without any game-y smell, the bossams were also a hit with both the Koreans and our Japanese friends. There's a slight cinnamon-y scent to the pork which gives it a nice grounding for the spicy kicks.

Each order of the kalguksu costs 8,000 won but the servings are huge and can be split into portions. Between the four of us, we put in two orders of the kal guksu and asked them to split it into four. Even with the split, the servings were sizable.

The beef broth comes swimming with a few ribbons of green onions, some onions, zucchini slices and a bit of meat. The knife cut noodles are on the thinner side here but you can tell they've been cooked right as they don't break apart when picked up. Both a garlicky regular kimchi and plain white kimchi are provided for accompaniment and go well with the kal guksu as usual. The broth tastes like it's been simmered for a while and if you're not in the mood for noodles you can opt for the wang mandu soup which uses the same broth as its base.

Bukchon Kal Guksu also serves Soo Yook and Baek Soo Yook (boiled beef instead of pork) for beef loving friends but they are pricier than the bossam. A mushroom jeongol (mushroom stew) is on the menu which may or may not be suitable for vegetarians (you'll have to ask the server what the broth is made from).

All in all, Bukchon Kal Guksu is a fine establishment to take your friends for solid good food. It's unfortunate the prices have gone up in recent years (Kal Guksu used to be 6,000 won in the past if I recall and a large order of bossam 30,000) but it's somewhat understandable given how real estate in the area has skyrocketed.

The setting and location is a bonus as well allowing you and your party to stroll around the lovely neighborhood if you choose to. :)

Ratings: 3 out of 4 stars

서울 종로구 소격동 84
84, Sogyeok-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-200

Telephone: 02-739-6339

Parking: Free valet parking in front

Alcohol: Beer, soju, etc all available

Tip: If you order large dishes such as the bossam, you can order about half the number of kal guksu (per person) and ask to have it split which they will do for you. Great way to try the kal guksu without over ordering for your meal. 

There's a number of fine and quaint cafes on the same street as Bukchon Kal Guksu so you can grab coffee/tea/dessert in any of those places after dinner (if you have room).