Yesterday was the coldest day of the winter so far. It was a very chilly minus 14 degrees. So where’s the best place to go on such a cold day? The beach of course with a nice sea breeze… So we decided to venture out of hibernation and go for a drive to the island of Yeongjongdo (the island where Incheon International Airport is also located btw).
Away from the airport, the rest of the island is still pretty rural. There are rows of sashimi restaurants along the beaches, with some hotels and motels nearby. Apart from sashimi, another food that is famous in this area is haemul kalgugsu – seafood and noodle soup. In fact, some of the noodle restaurants here are so renowned that customers are willing to wait up to an hour to get a seat!
So would the restaurants be really busy even on a freezing day? And if so, would the noodle dish really be worth waiting for? We set off to find out…
The beaches were pretty much deserted. I’m not surprised. There was a biting wind from the sea, so I only managed to jump out of the car to take a couple of snaps of the ice on the Yellow Sea before hurrying back to the car. brrrrrr
Driving past another beach we saw a small group of hardy enthusiasts determined to enjoy a walk. Then these young ladies (below left) caught my eye due to their lack of SOCKS. And HAT. WOW.
Anyway, our attention now turned to food. There are several kalguksu noodle shops in the area so we chose one that was fairly big – it can seat over 100 customers. We arrived early before noon but already the restaurant was half full. But by the time we got our noodles the place was packed. So, so much for the weather deterring customers! Then a BUS LOAD of people arrived, but they had to wait outside (in the plastic tent-like area below) for a while before they could get seats. (arriving at 12:30pm was clearly a very bad idea!)
The seating is all at low tables so customers have to take their shoes off. But the shoe area gets so full that latecomers have to bring their shoes in with them in plastic bags to their table to avoid a shoe mountain blocking the entrance to the restaurant!
Anyway, I was very keen to see if the food was going to live up to its reputation – some of the more recent comments on Naver have been mixed reviews.
There is only one dish on the menu so the only thing we needed to order was the number of portions we wanted. It was 8,000 won per portion. So we ordered two and they arrived in one large bowl.
The noodles came with two kinds of kimchi – 깍두기 (kkaktugi radish cubes) and 겉절이 geojeori new cabbage kimchi. There was also a small bowl of pickled chilli to add to the soup. I was really glad when the soup arrived because it was so cold in the restaurant I had to keep my coat on.
So what was the verdict? Well, on the plus side there were a lot of clams in the soup and the broth was tasty as it was made with dried pollock. I didn’t get a headache afterwards so perhaps it didn’t contain MSG in the broth. And the noodles were nicely chewy – not too soft. The kimchi was also really tasty.
But, the clams were sandy. Very sandy. I kept crunching on them, and this got tiresome after a while. And apart from clams there wasn’t much else in the soup – just some rice cakes and a few slices of leek. kalguksu often has some other vegetables too like courgette and potato. So this one got a bit samey after a while.
So I thought the noodle dish was just ok. We didn’t have to wait to be served, but on the other hand, if we had had to wait outside in the cold for any length of time, I would have been very disappointed (and vexed). They don’t make their own noodles either (I asked) so to be honest I don’t see what the big attraction is with this particular place.
Another problem as I mentioned was that the restaurant was cold inside. Every time the door opened cold air blew through and many people were sitting with their coats on. Including me. So to sum up .. it was ok but I wouldn’t go again.
I do want to explore this area more though, when the weather gets warmer. In a couple of months I’ll go back to try one of the sashimi restaurants lined along the beaches ….