After a night of heavy drinking, especially on days when the wind is chilly, many Koreans yearn for a steaming bowl of haejang-guk (hangover soup), a dish that is inextricable from the lives of Koreans. Made with spicy broth and generous amounts of meat and dried radish greens, haejang-guk is a long-time favorite of Koreans. And in Cheongjin-dong, numerous restaurants offering this nourishing dish have clustered together over the years.
Cheongjin-dong haejang-guk has a special place in the hearts of the Korean people.
Haejang-guk and bossam (napa wraps with pork) are among the most “Korean” dishes that Koreans regularly enjoy when eating out. Now, let us take a closer look at these delicacies in Cheongjin-dong and Jongno 3 (sam)-ga.
During the Joseon era, there was a wood market located near Cheongjin-dong. Braving biting winds, woodcutters felled trees and lugged them more than 40 kilometers to the market, where they would need shelter to warm themselves and rest. By the time they reached the market, they were already exhausted and hungry, so they sought out a hearty meal that could fill their empty stomachs.
The dish they favored the most was haejang-guk, as it was served almost immediately upon ordering and was very filling. The combination of rice, potatoes, and bean sprouts cooked in broth and served with makgeolli (rice wine) or moju (crude liquor) made a perfect meal.
It was back in the 1930s when more such gukbap (rice soup) restaurants began opening in Cheongjin-dong, leading to the formation of Haejang-guk Alley. Pyeonghwagwan, the first restaurant of its kind to open in the area, was always bustling with not only woodcutters but all kinds of traders. Later, the Jongno-gu Office that we know today opened just across the street from this alley.
At first, the restaurants were simply street stalls selling sulguk (hangover soup) for the merchants at the wood market. At the time, the soup was made from beef bones, dried radish greens, bean sprouts, potatoes, and soybean paste, creating a savory taste, and served with rice. But after the Korean War, in 1950, seonji (ox blood) and intestines, such as yang (tripe), were added to created haejang-guk. In the 2000s, haejang-guk restaurants were literally scattered all over Cheongjin-dong, but after numerous urban redevelopment projects, only a few remain today.
The seonji haejangguk (ox blood hangover soup) found in Cheongjin-dong is notable for its refreshing taste. To make it, a spoon of regular soybean paste is gently melted into thick beef bone broth, then the meat is boiled in the broth once more, and finally seonji and dried radish greens are added and cooked for many hours.
Customers with an affinity for spicy food can add red chili paste or red pepper powder to taste. The complimentary side dish is only a plate of kkakdugi (diced radish kimchi), but it is always more than enough. Of particular note is that the seonji-based haejangguk of Cheongjin-dong has had a major influence on the seonji haejangguk made in other regions across the country.
A special food fills the stomachs of the many couples that often go on dates in Jongno 3 (sam)-ga, which is also home to several movie theaters, making it a hub of film in Seoul.
For those looking to refuel after watching an over two-hour-long movie at one of the theaters here, bossam has always been an excellent choice. The generous portions of lean pork, oysters, and kimchi make this an ideal meal on its own or as an accompaniment for drinks. Due to this versatility, an entire alley serving this dish was formed.
Located at Supyo-ro 20, Jongno 3 (sam)-ga Bossam Alley is a narrow street about 150 meters long and three meters wide located next to Seoul Cinema. The bossam restaurants here are densely packed within a 100 meter section of the alley.
Take a few steps into the dark alley, and you will soon spot the red and white signboard of a bossam restaurant and billowing clouds of milky-white steam escaping from large pots filled with boiling pork.
The intersection of Jongno 3 (sam)-ga has long been famous for the movie theaters that surround it— Danseongsa, Seoul Cinema, and Piccadilly Cinema were all located here. After catching a movie, Koreans would flock to the back alleys of the area to fill their growling stomachs and share a few drinks. A mix of good friends, shots of soju, and mouthwatering bossam—who could ask for more?
The main dish in Bossam Alley is, of course, bossam. Among the different types, gul bossam (napa wraps with oyster) is by far the best choice. An order of gul bossam features a tray piled high with soft lean pork, kimchi, white radish, and fresh oysters, creating a dish that goes perfectly with a few drinks.
First-time visitors to Bossam Alley are always amazed at the generous servings. A plate of gul bossam is accompanied by ojingeo bokkeum (stir-fried squid), gamjatang (pork back-bone stew), and gyeran jjim (steamed eggs). These complimentary dishes alone would be enough to satisfy any empty stomach. Althgough Bossam restaurants in other areas of the city usually charge customers for extra servings of kimchi, additional kimchi is complimentary here.
The delicious food and excellent service at these restaurants have continued to attract people for decades. In the evening, the alley is always noisy and crowded, mostly with white-collar workers who have just left the office. This popularity has lead Bossam Alley to be featured on numerous television shows. Unfortunately, there was a huge fire here in 2012, but the alley has been restored and now has a much cleaner look.
Bossam is a traditional dish of the Joseon Dynasty, when the yangban (aristocrats) would cook a pig to treat their servants for having worked so hard to make kimchi for the winter, called kimjang, and they would fill their stomachs with the meat and kimchi they made.
Today, bossam is popular not only among Koreans; in a recent survey of foreigners titled “Seoul’s Tasty Foods,” it proudly ranked eighth place.