If you live in Korea, you know that Itaewon is the locus of foreign-activity in Seoul. Walking down the streets of Itaewon you hear one language after another, you see kebab stores next to Vietnamese joints and pizza parlors, and you can almost forget, for a sliver of a second, that you’re in Korea.
On Sunday night me and Cain decided to head to the Itaewon area for a nice, non-Korean dinner. It is hilly area, and wandering around looking for a place to eat is hard on the legs. You have to decide quickly if you have found a place worth stopping for before you’re hit with exhaustion as you navigate the seemingly endless alleys of restaurants, cafes, galleries, and oddities.
We decided on 구루망, a Japanese restaurant. With a simple and alluring exterior, we made a gamble on the basement restaurant. Basement restaurants are tricky, because you can’t gauge how many people are inside, and thus if the food is popular. And if its popular, you don’t know which crowd! Luckily for us, our gamble paid off.
구루망 has a sweet set-up, with only four or five tables. Japanese knick-knacks, art, used books, and unopened Hello Kitty sodas line the shelf that runs along the wall. By the entrance there is a spool of brown paper with information written on it in Sharpie (I can only guess what it is – the announcement of a new menu item? the daily special?) The menu is simple, and serves five different dishes. We decided on the Crab Meat Udon with Cream Sauce and the Short Beef Rice Bowl.
Our food was presented elegantly on wooden trays with wooden chopsticks (a change of pace from the slender, metal Korean ones.) Each dish came with a side of miso soup. We were both a bit nervous about the Crab Meat Udon dish, but it was delicious! Sprinkled on top were fish eggs that added a delectable texture to the otherwise soft Udon noodles bathing in sauce. The beef rice bowl had the distinctly Japanese wiggling, runny egg balanced perfectly on top.
Overall, we were quite impressed, and with two draft beers the meal came to about 30,000 WON. Not bad at all for the location.
Next, we headed to “Craft Beer Alley.” In a short stretch of alleyway are four to five different breweries and craft beer bars. We knew we found the right spot when we saw American G.I.’s loudly chatting next to a table of Korean girls with bleached hair and facial piercings. Artist-types crouched in the street smoking cigarettes and sipping on imported beer. An American man walked barefoot down the road.
We chose Magpie Brewing Company, which now has several locations around Seoul. The brewery was tiny, with a great selection of beer on tap. I drank the Kölsch and Cain drank the “6th Birthday IIIPA”, which had an alcohol content of 11%(!!). There was no choice but to get comfortable with everyone else inside, so we shared a table with several other folks and enjoyed the best craft beer we had had since Incheon.
On the outskirts of Itaewon, the hustle and bustle of the main stretch quiets down, and within the sprawling alley ways you can stumble upon some truly unique and international parts of Seoul.
Both Magpie Brewing and 구루망 are within walking distance from Noksapyeong station, exit 2.
구루망 – 16, Noksapyeong-daero 46-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (Tel. 02-749-2082)
Magpie Brewing (Itaewon location) – 244-1, Noksapyeong-daero, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (Tel. 02-749-2703)