OLD KOREAN RESTAURANTS THAT KOREANS LOVE
Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (한국인이 사랑하는 오래된 한식당) is a book. It features 100 restaurants, describing their histories and claims to culinary fame. The book was published in 2011 by the Korean Food Foundation (KFF), a quasi-governmental agency established under the Ministry of Food & Agriculture to promote hansik (Korean food) (incidentally, this was the first Korean-language book that I read of my own volition). As per the introduction, every restaurant in the book was at least 50 years old or has been owned by at least 3 generations; otherwise, no inclusion/exclusion criteria are explained. The oldest restaurant dates back to 1904, the youngest 1967.
I took it upon myself to visit and review as many as I could, getting through 11 before the project was scrapped. The average rating of the 11 meals came out to 1.86. What a joke.
- Woo Lae Oak (4.173 Jeontong Pyongyang Naeng Myeon)
- Kangseo Myun Oak (4.185 Pyongyang (Mul) Naeng Myeon)
- Imun Seolnong Tang (4.192 Seolnong Tang)
- Hwanghae Sikdang (4.204 Mul Naeng Myeon + Wanja + Pyeonyuk)
- Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan (4.206 Jeonju Gobdol Bibim Bab)
- Myeong-Dong Halmae Nakji (4.215 Nakji Bokkeum)
- Korea Samkyetang (4.219 Samgye Tang)
- Yeolcha Jib (4.223 Wonjo Bindae Ddeok)
- Jinju Jib (4.229 Ggori Tomak)
- Mapo Jinjja Wonjo Choidepo (4.234 Dweji Galbi)
- Cheongjinok (청진옥) (4.237 Haejang Guk)
Previous to and subsequent to the project, I have visited additional restaurants on the list.
- Hanilkwan (2.361 Bulgogi)
- Kangseo Myeonok
Food aside, the book didn’t deliver on the promise of its title. Some of the restaurants have become so successful, moving to newer locations with shinier interiors, updating the menu to match modern sensibilities, raising the prices to target the upper middle class, that they’ve lost any trace of their “old” world roots, what had made them popular to begin with (e.g, Woo Lae Oak, Kangseo Myun Oak). On the other end, some restaurants now seem to have so few customers that they’re apparently no longer “loved,” if ever they were (e.g., Myeong-Dong Halmae Nakji, Yeolcha Jib).
Whereas the book doesn’t specify selection criteria, my experience with the 11 restaurants doesn’t provide any further insight as to what the fuck the authors were thinking in deciding which places to feature. I’m left to wonder whether some restaurants simply paid their way in.
Finally, the research is laughably shoddy. The years of establishment, for one thing, were ludicrously calculated in many cases. Kangseo Myun Oak: 1948, a guy opens a noodle shop of unspecified name up north; sometime during the 1960s, moves to Seoul and opens a different kind of noodle shop of unspecified name; therefore, Kangseo Myun Oak was established in 1948. Myeong-Dong Halmae Nakji: sometime around 1940, an old woman whose identity nobody remembers starts selling octopus on the streets of Myeong-Dong; after about 10 years, she opens a restaurant of unspecified name, which was eventually taken over by the current predecessors of the current owners sometime in the 1960s; therefore Myeong-Dong Halmae Nakji was established in 1950. In most cases, I was stunned that the authors had the audacity to attempt explication. And all those origin stories – which restaurant supposedly invented what dish; surely, the inventor of rice would’ve come up at some point – based solely on whatever the restaurants claimed, no evidence to support the claims. After awhile, the prolonged suspension of disbelief got to be too much. In fact, I began to feel insulted that I was supposed to buy into any of it.
Though well-intentioned, this was one GMTD’s dumbest side projects.
(See also FOODS)
(See also PLACES)