Review: Gonghang Kalguksu in Gimpo (공항칼국수)

It's very uncommon for me to cover a restaurant here outside of Seoul unless it's in a travel post but I decided to share this place as it's a popular restaurant located just by Gimpo International Airport (which quite a few readers I'm sure may utilize during their travels in Korea) and also the fact that its kalguksu is a bit different from others.

Gonghang Kalguksu makes no attempt to be modest about its popularity as its walls are absolutely covered in hundreds of autographs and pictures of various celebrities who have dined here. In fact, it was the numerous mentions about this restaurant's popularity with Korea's various famous individuals (from K-Pop idols to politicians) that piqued my curiosity. After all, just how atypical could a bowl of kalguksu (knife cut noodles) be?

As the name of Gonghang Kalgusku (apparently "Gonghang Noodle Soup" is its official English name?) implies, this restaurant is located just across the street from Gimpo Airport. "Gonghang" is the Korean word for "airport" so the literal name of the restaurant is "airport knife cut noodle soup" or "airport kalguksu".

As Seoul's secondary international airport, Gimpo International Airport mainly services neighboring Japan and China as well as Korea's major cities. Undoubtedly the restaurant's popularity and notoriety among Korea's celebs is largely due to them looking to catch a simple but good meal before or after one of their trips but the restaurant is also sought after by humble folks like us as reflected in the many cars that are lined up to enter the restaurant's premise in peak hours.

The restaurant itself is interestingly located in the basement of a mid-sized office/residential building and parking, although offered, is a bit of a headache as they utilize one of those car elevators that individually puts in and takes out cars, one by one.

The interior of the restaurant is quite spacious although in a rather odd elongated shape. As the restaurant's name suggests, their kalguksu is most popular but interestingly its not the regular kalguksu (7K) that most order but their mushroom kalguksu (8K) or naejang kalguksu (9), "naejang" meaning beef entrails. In fact they even have a naejang bokkeum on the menu (or stir-fried beef entrails) which one can order in either small or medium (20K and 30K respectively), and a naejangtang or naejang soup for (8K). Kalguksu, for those who aren't familiar with the dish, usually comes in a meat or seafood base but a variety with entrails is certainly new to me. Their other menu items are also rather unexpected for a kalguksu restaurant including sooyook (boiled beef slices) for 20K or 30K in small or medium, and a spicy-sweet mixture of wooreong, (a kind of freshwater snail) for 15K.

Ordered the mushroom kalguksu and the sooyook (small) and the latter arrived first on the table. The pieces of beef come with a scattering of sliced onion and chives which has also been partially cooked. The dish is accompanied by a simple soy sauce-based dipping sauce.

The beef is nice and tender and moist. The last bit of blanching of the onion and chives transfers the subtlest of scents to the beef. The hard part of sooyook is perfecting the exact time and temperature as often a less fattier cut is used, meaning, if it's cooked too long it gets tough and dry. With the dip, it's a great way to kick up your taste buds.

The kalguksu comes in a big ol' pot like this with the noodles buried under a big heaping helping of mushrooms and ssook. They have these high-tech heating pads that boils up your soup at your table without any fire. I still don't understand how the technology works but it's kind of crazy.

Once the soup starts to boil you'll notice that the soup has a reddish hue. Give it a few minutes to boil (basically to get the mushrooms and ssook cooking) and the server will come back around with the plate of noodle pre-cooked to add to the soup mixture. Usually kalguksu is served with the noodles and soup altogether but here they add it in separate steps to ensure the mushrooms, ssook, and noodles don't turn into a coagulated mush.

For those who are familiar with kalguksu, you'll know that it's served already cooked, usually in individual bowls or in a big bowl with a ladle for dishing out for a group. Stew/soup dishes that are cooked at the table are usually reserved for Korean jjigaes or braised dishes which is what makes the table cooking process for the kalguksu here unusual. But try a spoonful of the soup at the beginning of cooking and later after it cooks. The soup takes on a considerably deeper flavor which is the strong point of the kalguksu here.

The soup has a strong beefy flavor to it with a spicy kick that makes one think of the hearty comfort dish of yookgaejang. It's on the same branch of sorts with the, also famous, yook kalguksu except the soup has an earthier and herb-scented tone to it from the mushroom and kalguksu.

A robust soup like this deserves a thicker, more formidable counterpart to it which is what makes the thicker kalguksu noodles a great match. The soup clings beautifully to the thick noodles while the soup thickens from the noodle's starch as it cooks.

At the near end of the meal this now considerably thickened and flavor-filled soup provides all the punch for fried rice. Technically it's more of a porridge but rice, seaweed crumbles, egg, etc are added to the leftover soup base to cook. What results is a plump and tasty cooked rice dish that's comfort carbs for the soul.

Final Thoughts:
A rather unusual take on the common kalguksu dish that combines several elements of other Korean dishes. The beefier, deeper broth here may even makes fans out of those who don't normally like this dish. A great pit stop for anyone traveling through Gimpo Airport!

서울특별시 강서구 공항대로 18-1
18-1, Gonghangdae-ro, Gangseo-gu, Seoul, Korea

From exit 4 of Songjeong Station, walk straight for about 150m and you'll see a large office/residential building with Gonghang Kalguksu in the B1 level of the building. 


9AM-10PM everyday


The building has a parking machine that takes vehicles in and out but only one at a time which means on weekends and peak times you may find yourself waiting for your car for quite a bit of time. 

Regular Korean alcohol varieties available

You can always add extra mushrooms and vegetables or extra noodles when you order the kalguksu.