With the weather unexpectedly nice Sunday (the forecast had been for rain), the wife and I headed downtown to Seoul’s “old downtown” of Gwanghwamun to have a bit of kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) and stroll about, camera in hand.
Hidden in a claustrophobic alleyway behind the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts is Gwanghwamunjip, known for its outstanding kimchi jjigae and gyeranmari (Korean-style omelet). From the outside — and indeed, from the narrow, cramped inside — it doesn’t look like much, but if you’re of the opinion that there’s an inverse relationship between the appearance of an eatery and the taste of its food, this is certainly the place for you. The place has been around for over 30 years and suffers from no shortage of customers. It’s even got the Zemkimchi seal of approval.
The house specialty is kimchi jjigae — a stew of kimchi, tofu and pork. With stew, the older the kimchi, the better, and Gwanghwamunjip uses kimchi aged at least six months. Wonderful stuff, it is.
The other must-order on the very-short menu is the gyeranmari, a Koreans-style omelet. Plentiful and well-seasoned, it complements the stew well. In fact, it’s almost worth ordering as a stand-alone dish.
Gwanghwamun Plaza is a relatively new addition to Seoul’s collection of public spaces, opening in summer of 2009. Featuring prominently in the plaza is the landmark statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, erected by late sculptor Lee Se-choong in 1968. Interestingly, Lee also crafted the Korean Bell of Friendship in Los Angeles.
In back of the plaza is Gyeongbokgung Palace, Cheong Wa Dae and Mt. Bugaksan, the northern guardian mountain of the old royal capital. In the days of the kingdom, the area that is now Gwanghwamun Plaza was known as Yukjo Geori, or “Six Ministries Street,” as it was lined by — as the name would suggest — six royal ministries. To some extent, this is still the case, as Gwanghwamun is home to the Central Government Complex, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Culture.
Found just in front of the Kyobo Building, the Bigak Pavilion was erected in 1902 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the coronation of King Gojong (by that time, Emperor Gwangmu) and his 50th birthday. It’s a little piece of old Korea in the bustling heart of modern Seoul.
To get to the Gwanghwamun area, just take Seoul Subway Line 5 to Gwanghwamun Station. Most of the places described above are fairly easy to find, with the possible exception of Gwanghwamunjip, which is in an alley just behind the Sejong Center — see the map here.
Map: A Lazy Sunday Afternoon, Part I: Gwanghwamun
View Gwanghwamun Map in a larger map