Neither Dave nor I are huge mushroom fans, so when we first arrived in Korea and were told that directly across the street from our apartment is an incredibly famous mushroom soup restaurant, we weren’t overcome with excitement. We watched the restaurant fill up night after night from our living room window. We weren’t gung-ho about giving it a try because of our lack of enthusiasm for mushrooms, but everyone raved about it so much and it was so close that we had to try it. Now it’s one of our favorite restaurants and staple foods in Korea.
The restaurant serves the same three courses to every table, the only difference is how many servings there are. Each table is equipped with a burner upon which a pot is promptly placed after you are seated. A good portion of kimchi with extreme amounts of garlic is available to nibble on while you wait for your first course to cook in front of you. After a few minutes of cooking on high, the lid of the pot can be removed and it is time to eat the soup. This first course is a red spicy soup filled with mushrooms, greens, onions, and small slices of beef. There are potatoes in the soup, but those are not ready to eat until the second course.
While you are eating, two other bowls will be delivered to the table. One bowl contains noodles and greens, while the other contains rice, an egg, diced onions, and diced carrots. After having a few servings of the soup, you can add the contents of the noodle bowl to the pot. Once the noodles are cooked, it’s time to chow down on the second course. At this point the potatoes are ready to be fished out and eaten. Removing the noodles from the pot is a tricky procedure. They are slippery little buggers and it’s hard for us not to make a mess while trying to get them into our bowls. We know not to wear light colored clothing specifically because the noodle extracting process will result in a Jackson Pollock painting all over our clothes and the table. Bright yellow aprons are available for this reason, but they do not offer sleeve protection. It’s best to wear black and smile at the tables around you as they laugh at your humorous and desperate attempts to serve yourself food.
After you’ve eaten all of the noodles and veggies, it’s time to pour out most of the liquid from the bowl. A little broth remains to cook the third course. This part is always a great debate for Dave and I. We never are quite sure how much broth to leave behind. This week was the first time that someone has actually come by to help us cook, so now we officially know how much broth to use. In all of our previous visits they have either been too busy to help us or assumed that we knew what we were doing. We are always the only foreigners in there, so we occasionally attract stares from neighboring tables as they watch us cook and eat our food. Once you have removed most of the broth from the pot, add the contents of the bowl containing the rice. Then stir vehemently while using a damp towel to grasp the pot to prevent it from falling over. The rice is then patted down with the ladle and the heat is turned down. The three courses really are in order of greatness, saving the best for last. The fried rice is a glorious finale and although it is the perfect amount of food, you are left wanting six more fried rice servings. It’s just too good!
Mushroom soup isn’t what you expect. There are mushrooms in the soup, but the flavor isn’t overwhelmingly mushroomy. I highly recommend trying mushroom soup if you visit Korea. Dalk galbi is my favorite Korean dish, but mushroom soup is definitely close behind in second.
If you are in Seoul and want to try our mushroom soup restaurant where people from all over Seoul flock, here are my directions. Take subway line 9 to Gayang Station. Walk out of exit 7 and walk straight for a few blocks. Pass Homeplus. Make a left at a store that sells mens suits called MG. Walk two blocks. The mushroom soup restaurant will be on your right in the second block. It is directly across from our English school which is quite obvious. The door has mushrooms on it.