Guksu, or a bowl of noodles, is very special to Koreans. Like burger franchises in the United States, guksu restaurants are very common in Korea and can be found virtually anywhere, but unlike such franchises, guksu is a much healthier choice that also is rarely a direct cause to obesity. From simple and inexpensive "janchi-guksu," which are flour noodles in a hot broth made from anchovies, to "kal-guksu," which are thicker noodles in a hot broth topped with numerous ingredients, there is a diverse array of guksu that can be tasted throughout the peninsula.
Korea is special in that there are actual meals that are exclusively eaten in the summer because the food itself is cold. While Americans may cool themselves off in the midst of a sweltering summer drinking some ice-cold beverages or desserts after eating a dinner that was at the least warm, Koreans eat guksu, most commonly a guksu named "naeng-myun," which literally means "cold noodles" to both quench their hunger and wipe the summer heat off. It's delicious and it really does have you forgetting that it's summer, but that's not the only guksu-crave Koreans when it's sweating season. Cold noodles (not "naeng-myun" but cold noodles in general) can be found as commonly as hot ones and when it's reaching 30 degrees Celsius even during cloudy weather in Seoul, cold noodles are definitely the go-to guksus if you're itching to satisfy your slurping desires.
Like I've mentioned a couple times already, guk-su can be found anywhere in Korea, but a few days back we found a restaurant named Mapo Instant Buckwheat Village (translated from 마포즉석모밀촌) located in Hapjeong that offered something very unique. The "all-you-can-eat" trend in restaurants has been increasingly popular in Korea as of recent, and this restaurant offers exactly that at the mere price of 4,500 won. It offers several guksu options mostly made out of buckwheat noodles and if you feel like stuffing yourself with some noodles, you just have to ask for more noodles and they'll give you more noodles for no additional cost (although getting more broth will cost you an extra 1,000 won; for more information, proceed to "How much does it cost?")
Due to the rainy climate, it was humid and I was sweating quite a bit when we entered the restaurant, so at first I was disappointed when I realized that they didn't have any air conditioners or electric fans around the restaurant. When our ice-cold guksu came, however, we knew why such temperature controllers were completely unnecessary. All that was needed were a couple chopstick dunks to say bye to the irresistible heat and hunger.
There's nothing too special about how this restaurant looks. This restaurant looks like the typical Korean traditional restaurant that doesn't seem to place design as a priority. Personally, I think it's perfectly fine, seeing that most Korean restaurants that sell this type of food are like this.
There are quite a few tables and chairs, so it accommodates quite a bit of people. When we were there in the afternoon, not too many people were there, but according to Korean blogs that write about this restaurant, it's often packed with customers waiting out the door at their busiest hour. As we headed out after eating our food, we realized that the restaurant was suddenly packed and a few decibels louder than when we first arrived. We were lucky that day to be granted the freedom to choose whichever seat we wanted when we passed through the door.
All of the tables were clean and tidy, and each table was set up with a few sauces that you can add unto your guksu, a tissue box and a wooden box that only holds chopsticks. This restaurant strangely didn't have spoons alongside the chopsticks in the wooden box but it does make sense because using spoons to eat noodles just isn't right in Korean culture. It's also highly uncomfortable, but if you need one, you can just ask one of the employees and they'll happily give you one.
One thing to note about this restaurant is that the number of guksu bowls purchased must match the amount of people eating for the unlimited refill policy to go into effect. For that reason, from the five guksu types this restaurant offers, my father, sister and I ordered three of their most popular guksu: the Soba, Mak-guksu and Bibim-guksu.
Upon ordering, we were given yeolmu kimchi and danmuji (단무지) which is yellow picked radish. Danmuji is most often eaten with Koreanized Chinese food such as jjajang-myun or jjam-pong so it was a bit strange seeing it served here, but it does seem like more and more han-shik (Korean food) places are implementing this into their banchan set.
Then, the food started coming out, starting with what seems to be this restaurant's primary specialty, the Buckwheat Soba. It's strange that it's called that way because soba is Japanese for buckwheat which means that "Buckwheat Soba" is really saying the same thing twice. There's no need to be too technical, though, because it really doesn't matter.
Nevertheless, for those who are unfamiliar with what this is, soba is Japanese noodles that are eaten after dipping and swirling the buckwheat noodles in a broth that is often mixed with wasabi, giving every dip a spicy kick. Koreans (and I'm sure other foreigners might as well) think the way it is eaten is unique, which is why it has gained quite a bit of popularity in Korea and even around the world.
The cold broth came first on a relatively small bowl alongside a plate with some diced scallions and grated radish. I put the scallions and radish right into the broth and swirled it together, forming the delectable dip for the noodles that I was eagerly waiting for. Liquefied wasabi is also available on every table, so I added some of that into the broth as well.
After mixing all of the ingredients together, the noodles came, and our mouths just fell open to how much they gave us.
Although it's not outrageous, it's definitely a large portion of noodles placed atop a plastic zaru. Seeing that you can eat an unlimited amount, it seems like they just give you an immense amount to start with.
In terms of taste, it tastes like soba. It's nothing extraordinary, but you can't expect that with the prices they're selling the noodles for. Personally, for me it lacked that kick that I was looking for but I think it may be because I put only a little bit of wasabi, fearing that putting too much would be overwhelming. It does taste like soba though, and it IS undoubtedly soba so it tasted good. It felt good seeing the stacked noodles on the side as well because I knew that I would never be running out. Having that made each dip more enjoyable and even relaxing.
The ice-cold broth really cooled the lukewarm noodles almost instantly as every bite was really refreshing. I didn't need to drink any cold water while eating because the noodles really brought my temperature down. The scallions, radish and even the dried seaweed mixed well with the broth and it felt like any other solid ingredients were unnecessary. Even to the last bite, I continually craved the next dip.
The next guksu that came out was the Bibim-guksu, which essentially means "Mixed Guksu." The "bibim" in this guksu's name is the same "bibim" as that of "bibimbap", so both dishes are similar except one's mixed rice and the other is spicy mixed noodles.
For the bibim-guksu, the cold buckwheat noodles were topped with different ingredients, including different kinds of lettuce, radish, etc. The thick spicy gochujang (red chili paste) broth was on the bottom of the noodles so you need to mix it in order to start eating it and feeling the heat. By nature of what the bibim-guksu is, there is not too much broth, as compared to other conventional guksus so it serves more as a sauce used to give the noodles that spicy flavor.
I personally really liked the bibim-guksu. It tasted like traditional bibim-guksu but it wasn't too spicy. It was undoubtedly spicy, but it was a mixture of spicy and sweet, with spicy taking over about 70% of the mix. For me personally, it was a perfect mix and when I was finished with my soba, I couldn't stop eating from my sister's bibim-guksu. If you're looking for something spicy, this won't be the spiciest option, but it's nevertheless really flavorful and refreshing.
Last but not least was one of the restaurant's most popular guksus, the Mak-guksu. I'd say that mak-guksu is similar to naeng-myun, except mak-guksu is spicier and contains more ingredients. This mak-guksu had some of the yeolmu kimchi that was served to us before the guksus came out and it seemed to contain similar ingredients as the bibim-guksu. It's definitely more broth-based than the bibim-guksu, however, so if that's your preference, this would be your ideal guksu.
The Mak-guksu was really refreshing. Although it was spicy, I'd say that it's the same spiciness Koreans feel after eating kimchi. To say it simply, it was a spiciness that was definitely felt but not a spiciness that gets you sweating because of the heat. If you want to taste a truly traditional and original Korean guksu that is most popular in the summer, mak-guksu is definitely the way to go.
After we all surprisingly finished our respective guksu's, we decided that we could eat some more so we ordered some extra noodles. This is where the "unlimited refill" comes into play. We asked one of the employees to give us a bit more and she came back with some noodles on one of the guksu bowls. We still had quite a bit of our broth left so all we needed to do was put the noodles into the broth and start eating again. Unfortunately, they didn't give us more vegetables or anything, so the refill was quite bland and it was definitely not as refreshing as the first time, which was a bit disappointing. Having eaten a whole lot of vegetables and ice-cold noodles from the huge amount they gave in the first place, however, it really wasn't that devastating.
In the end, we were filled up after that first refill. I was slightly disappointed to only have eaten one noodle refill, but the amount that they served initially was so much that everything I ate actually amounted to quite a lot. Also, due to the affordable price, it didn't feel like I was not eating my money's worth -- rather, it felt like I was eating much more than the amount I was paying for. Considering that other guksu places cost about the same amount for the same food and serve much less than this restaurant offers, this restaurant is a place to check out if you want to taste some healthy cold guksu and wouldn't mind eating large quantities of it.
All five of their specialty guksus cost exactly 4,500 won except for the only warm guksu from the lot, the buckwheat janchi-guksu, which costs 4,000 won. If you order a guksu for each person you are with, you can order as many noodles as you can eat and they'll start you off with quite a bit of food.
The most unfortunate part may be that the vegetables or broth are not included in this deal, so if you want more broth you need to pay an extra 1,000 won for every order. It's honestly not too expensive, but it still sucks to see that 4,500 turn into 5,500 on your bill nevertheless. For most normal people, however, you won't have to worry about that because the broth that they serve you from the start will be enough to get you filled up.
Beside the guksu's they offer and each of their prices on the menu, there are 4 points that they want you to be aware of. These points are translated and slightly explained by myself within the parentheses so mind that "you" means you, the customer, and "us" means the restaurant or the employees when written outside of the parentheses:
1. If you do not order the same amount of guksus as the amount of people who are with you (for example, ordering 2 mak-guksus for 3 people), you will only be given a "regular" amount of noodles for your order (which is probably not the amount we received from the get-go).
2. If you will be eating a lot, let us know beforehand.
3. We do "wrap" your noodles if necessary (wrap as in: you do not have to eat the food at the restaurant; they will wrap it for you so you can enjoy the guksu at home).
4. If you need extra banchan (the yeolmu-kimchi and danmuji), you need to get it yourself.
This restaurant is unfortunately not close to a station, so you will need to ride a bus to get here. It is walking distance, but it's much faster just to take a bus to that area. It will only take a few minutes and exactly 4 stops so it will not be too bad. It won't cost you more money either because you will most likely be getting off from a subway station anyways. If you're not, however, it will still be worth your 1,200 won or however much the bus costs.
If you will ride the bus, here's how to get there.
Location : Mapo-gu Hapjeong-dong 449-5, Seoul (서울 마포구 합정동 449-5)
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