Cycle 14 – Item 192
16 (Sun) July 2023
(Double) Gye-Ddeok Ramyeon
-Jangcheon, Mapo, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
Teumsae Ramyeon (틈새라면) is a Korean restaurant chain. Specializes in Korean-style instant noodles, each bowl customizable according to the customer’s preference. Initially made with various third party brands, now using the company’s own brand, which is also sold in supermarkets. The original restaurant was founded in 1981. Currently 51 locations across the country.
The original restaurant was located in Myeong-dong, not in its own building but rather in a narrow space between two buildings, about 10 meters long, less than 2 meters wide. The word “teumsae” means “gap.” The kitchen, just a couple of portable gas stoves, was located at the back. The dining area, max capacity of 8 customers if squeezed together, was simply a shelf bolted into the wall, with detached round stools to sit on. It was so tight that if a customer on the inside needed to get out, all the customers closer to the entrance had to get up and leave to make way. The absurdity was the whole point. Funny to think that this kind of unregulated food business was still possible in the 1980s.
From the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, my mother ran a series of cafés in Myeong-dong. The first one – which was called “Osun Dosun” (an idiom that translates loosely to “harmonious/agreeable”), a tiny place comprising 6 tables where customers would be asked to share tables with complete strangers at peak hours (again, the absurdity was the point) – was located directly across from Teumsae’s entrance. When I would drop by the shop, I would often eat at Teumsae.
I don’t know for sure what happened in the end, except that the original place was shut down sometime in the early 1990s, probably due to stricter regulations. By that point, the brother of the founder had opened a secondary location in Myeong-dong and began to claim that it was the original one, never mentioning the actual original, or acknowledging his brother.
Beyond the oddity of the location, Teumsae Ramyeon was notable for allowing customers to customize their orders – a revolution at the time. In ascending order of complexity/price, options included: Ddeok (with rice cakes), Gye (with egg), Bbal (with extra chili powder), Gye-Ddeok (with egg + rice cakes), Bbal-Gye (with extra chili powder + egg), Bbal-Ddeok (with extra chili powder + rice cakes), Bbal-Gye-Ddeok (with extra chili powder + egg + rice cakes). Other gimmicks included specialized jargon: for water, the customer had to ask for “ori bangseok (오리방석) (duck cushion).”
While waiting for IZ to finish playing in a chess tournament nearby, I had an early lunch at Teumsae Ramyeon, my first experience beyond the original restaurant.
The ramyeon was fine. I used to get the all-in-one deluxe Bbal-Gye-Ddeok, but internet reviews suggest that the bbal – “bbal” derives from “bbalgang (발강) = red” – is now insanely hot, and I wasn’t in the mood to sweat on a Sunday morning, so I went with just egg and rice cakes.
(See also HANSIK)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)