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[College eats] Daehangno: decades-old eateries and cafes that have stood the test of time

College students look for cheap grub, parents reminisce about the good old days

March 25, 2023 - 16:01 By Kim Da-sol

March is a busy season for many university students in South Korea as it is the beginning of the new academic year. The arrival of spring has seen bustling subway stations and streets near universities, all packed with varsity jacket-clad students making their way to eateries and cafes nearby.

Daehangno, which directly translates into “University Road” in English, is located in Hyehwa-dong in Jongno-gu, Seoul. The name dates back to the Joseon era when its top educational institution, Sungkyunkwan University, was established in 1398. Sungkyunkwan University is still located in Myeongnyun-dong, the neighborhood adjacent to Hyewha-dong.

For some, Daehangno is a popular date spot and student haunt. It is an area famed for its eateries, arts and culture, as it is home to a number of small theaters. For others, Daehangno is a place where they can journey down memory lane and reminisce by spending time in the old, cozy eateries and enjoying the comforting food. For many people in their 40s and 50s, Daehangno holds a special place in their hearts, because it was where they came for affordable, good food as college students themselves, a few decades earlier.

Young students visit the cozy and modest eateries in this unique area in hopes of finding good food, rather than opting for the franchise restaurants and fast food stores that now dominate college towns. Meanwhile, people of their parents’ age still frequent the area, basking in the tastes and the memory of their youth.

Hyehwa Kalguksu (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)
Kalguksu (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)
Deep-fried fish (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)

Hyehwa Kalguksu

The history of this homely broth-based noodle soup place goes back to the 1980s. Inspired by Gyeongsang Province-style Andong Guksi, the plain kalguksu with minimal toppings is served with pungent kimchi, soy sauce and red pepper-based seasoning to add some spice to the broth.

Although a bowl of kalguksu looks simple, the taste is anything but. The noodles are not too chewy and the flour absorbs the deep taste of the long-boiled broth. It is worth trying a few spoonfuls of the soup first before adding kimchi or other seasonings to fully experience the flavor.

Beef bulgogi and bindaetteok (mugbean pancakes) are also on the menu, but the must-try item is the fried fish. After 15 minutes of patience, you are rewarded with steaming fried Pollack, which is a beautiful golden yellow; pleasurable for both the eyes and the nose. The batter is so thin that after taking a bite, the crispiness of fried fish fills your mouth. After that, you can sip some of the broth from your soup and refresh your taste buds with kimchi.

The price of kalguksu is 11,000 won ($8.60) and the deep-fried fish is 19,000 won for a small portion of 10 finger-sized pieces.

It is open every day from 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. except on holidays and the day after national holidays.

Nanumi Tteokbokki (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)
A woman cooks at Nanumi Tteokbokki. (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)

Nanumi Tteokbokki

Also known as H.O.T. Tteokbokki after the first generation K-pop band H.O.T. who visited the restaurant, Nanumi Tteokbokki is a place frequented by many, from alumni to current students at Sungkyunkwan University, who all love to visit.

Chewy, chopped rice cake is mixed with a gochujang-based chili sauce. It is sweet enough for the enjoyment of those not familiar or comfortable with spice, and a chewy yet filling meal.

The price has increased year by year and now costs 5,000 won for a bowl of tteokbokki. Skewered fish cake is also a must-eat.

Nanumi Tteokbokki is open 24 hours a day, every day.

Inside the storied cafe, Hakrim Dabang (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)
Hakrim Dabang's signature Vienna coffee. (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)

Hakrim Dabang

Opened as South Korea’s first cafe in 1956, Hakrim is a symbol for not only the country’s first coffee place where small groups could gather, but many remember it as the “25th classroom” of Seoul National University whose College of Liberal Arts was located in Daehangno. After students finished with their lectures, they would gather at Hakrim Dabang and exchange ideas and discussions over steaming cups of coffee, in an era when freedom of thought and freedom of speech were restricted. Hakrim comes from the name of a student festival at SNU, known as Hakrimjae.

It also featured in the 2013 hit drama “My Love from the Star” as a place that protagonist Do Min-joon (Kim Su-hyun) enjoys to visit. After its appearance in the drama, Hakrim Dabang became more popular among young students and foreign travelers.

Vienna coffee topped with whipped cream for 6,000 won is a flagship item at decades-old cafe and a must-try. A variety of other items, including tea and cheesecake are also available.

It is open every day from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.