Cheontong Son Kalguksu
206-3 Cheongun-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
Returning to another report on another stop from my August stay in South Korea. I remember this lunch well, as we were racing to leave Gyeongju City as the powerful typhoon ravaging the coast was approaching fast and already the rain was falling horizontally due to the swirling winds. We spotted Cheontong Son Kanguksu from the road as we approaching this area that was populated by a few restaurants. The lights seemed to be on inside but nobody could be seen, so one brave member of our party stepped out into the falling rain and knocked on the door to see if they were indeed ready for customers. Perhaps it was the weather and the lone female proprietor felt sorry for us, as it seems she was still doing her preparation work, but she let us inside and told us to make ourselves at home.
The wet, humid weather made it perfect for something hot to try and warm up our cores. Kalguksu or hand-cut wheat noodles served in a bowl of rich, mainly seafood (shellfish)-based flavorful broth, topped with a mix of thin sliced vegetables. While the ambiance was nothing special, perhaps even on the dilapidated side and I could spot a few flies spinning around in the air, I was just grateful to be indoors and away from the storm. Although being in a fully glass encased building was not something one should probably do when powerful winds are ravaging all around.
The timing of our visit was a touch unfortunate as I began to feel sorry for interrupting a restaurateur in the middle of their setup time. But she was kind and accommodating, and brought out a trio of banchan to get us ready to eat. The cabbage kimchi was not overly tasty, as I felt it was “too young” in the fermentation process to really infuse some deep flavor. Some cold pitchers of barley tea were also on hand. It came in handy later when I was spooning up the hot broth, as my mouth was on fire from the scalding heat.
I loved hearing the distinct cutting sound of a heavy knife on some dense wood cutting board, a signal that the noodles were indeed made in-house and cut fresh to order. Our entire table had the same dish. Below is an image of mine as I swirled the contents around and tried to expose the chewy noodles on my metallic chopsticks. The fact that this dish is usually cooked together (noodles and broth) rather than separately gives it that added thicker consistency in the broth that I think you can gather from the photo. These noodles were excellent, cooked to the right textural consistency and cut so they were not too long to slurp in one go, and not too short to end up with too many short strands sunken in the bottom of my bowl.
This was a pleasant way to end our tourist jaunt in this resort city, part of my first ever visit to this part of the country. Finding a hole-in-the-wall establishment that serves up quality and inexpensive hearty dishes was fantastic! And plus, we even outpaced the typhoon and made it back to Seoul a few hours later, safe and sound. And what awaited me there was amazing home cooking, and served up was some savory samgyeopsal! What a day it was!