This Place Serves Incredible Traditional Korean Food and Doesn't Close
Every month we pick a neighborhood and talk about one of the best food spots there each Monday. This month, we’re looking at Matjibs in Anam-dong, best known as the neighborhood housing Korea University. While it’s not well known for its food, Anam is home to a bunch of low-key spots that hold their own in Seoul’s culinary landscape. Especially for cheap, traditional, no-frills eats, Anam is worth the trek.
As a quintessential college neighborhood, Anam has its pros and cons. Unlike other universities (looking at you, Yonsei and Ehwa) it’s not a huge party spot, and instead the surrounding areas are more traditional and very distinctly Korean. Neighborhoods like Changshin [창신] and Bomun [보문] boast markets and traditional shops instead of hip cafes and bars, and there’s something pretty dope about that. At the same time, the lack of clubs means Anam has to be more of a pregame spot when it’s time to go out. If you’re down to spring for a cab from Hongdae [홍대] or wherever at the end of the night, that’s not really an issue. What is an issue, though, is the notable lack of quality 24-hour spots for when you get out of that cab at 5am.
Fortunately, one of the only joints that literally doesn’t close is also one of the best restaurants in Anam, period. Junju Wansangol [전주완산골] is a wide, low-key looking spot that sits right next to exit 4 of Anam station. Their large windows are plastered with pictures of their offerings: soy sauce crab [간장계장], kalbi [갈비], mandu [만두], etc. While they have a menu in English, it’s rare to see anyone other than older Koreans here, which should already tell you about the quality.
When you first sit down, banchan [반찬] arrive in the form of three large jars on a tray. One is kimchi, one is kkaktugi [깍두기], one is marinated green peppers [고추간장장아찌]. You’re provided with plates, tongs, and scissors, to take and cut what you want so that other diners can then have at it. And listen, this shit is fire. Kimchi is a natural first judge of a restaurant, and their kimchi is perfect if you’re into the real sour, garlicky, punch-in-the-face flavorful stuff (I am). Their kkaktugi is equally amazing, with a healthy amount of heat and sour funk. The peppers are in a sweet and vinegary soy sauce brine that mediates the spice, adds flavor and doesn’t take away from their crunch. Honestly, just a bowl of rice with these three fermented delicacies would be a really good meal.
But nah, fuck that, because the rest of their menu is just as incredible. Their homemade mandu are plump and juicy, and while they’re great on their own, they take on a new life in a bowl of Junju Wansangol’s dduk mandu guk [떡만두국]. A friend of mine, who is not Korean or from Korea, once described it as tasting like home. It’s delicately seasoned, with a light ginger scallion flavor and the added nuance of toasted sesame and seaweed [김]. It’s amazingly comforting at any time of the day in any weather, and yes, it’s great for hangovers.
The kalbi dol sot [갈비돌솥] is a fuckin treat y’all. The hot stone bowl of rice comes in a traditional wooden container, and when you remove the lid, you’ll find that this rice is loaded with nuts and seeds, adding a whole range of traditional flavor and textures. The kalbi comes on the side, braised down in a sweet soy broth until it literally rejects the bone. With the sizzling hot rice, this is Korean comfort food at its finest. You’ll also receive a kettle of rice tea, which is to soak out the really crispy rice on the bottom of the bowl when you’re done. This is some real traditional business, and I’m telling you, the mild nutty rice soup that remains is the absolute best way to end a meal like this.
Lastly, if you’re trying to really party, they do a jungol [정골] which is basically a massive boiling dish of every good thing they make. It’s the same stock as their mandu guk, loaded with knife-cut noodles [칼국수], dduk, mandu, vegetables, baby clams, and squid, and a bunch of other stuff I’m probably forgetting. It’s great for 3 or 4 people, and a pretty nice way to have a full, classic Korean meal.
One way in which this place exemplifies Korean cuisine is that, if you’re doing it right, you’ll walk out of this spot over-the-top full. But the thing is, as hearty and comforting as everything is, it’s all actually really light. You won’t feel sluggish, or greasy, or sleepy after eating a big meal here. Everything is really fresh and lite so not only does it taste amazing, it honestly just makes you feel good. This is the kind of food that’s good at any time, but really comes in clutch after a long night out or a bender of eating greasy shitty foods.
Whether you want a comforting bowl of soup at 5 am or a dank rice dish for dinner, Junju Wansangol is a shining star of traditional Korean goodness in Anam.
If you’ve checked out Junju Wansangol, let us know what you think. For another Anam-dong matjib, peep last week’s piece on Anam’s best Kimbap [김밥].
Photo credits: Author, @noelsunset, @rn_dahee