This Place Will Change The Way You Think About Kimbap
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.
It’s noon, and you’re in Anam-dong. Maybe you’re a Korea University student, maybe you spent the night with a Korea University student, maybe you’re just trying to get some local flavor. Whatever you’ve been doing in the hours leading up to this point, the ladies (and usually one or two men) at Goreun Haetsal [고른햇살] have been working harder than you. Their preparation for the unfaltering lunch rush is evidenced by a mountain of silver tin-foil logs piled in front of the window of this small, unassuming shop. This is the same window you’ll stand in front of, filling out an order card, if you’re short on time or don’t make it to one of the 8-ish tables in the joint.
Like any other old school kimbap jib [김밥집], Goreun Haetsal is stupid cheap. Nothing on their fairly standard menu is more than ₩3,500, and between friends a pretty decadent feast can be put together for under 10 Gs a head, easily. Their ramyun [람연] is solid. Their mandu [만두] is pretty good. Their soondae [순대] is the real old school stuff. Considering the price, everything is real nice.
Despite all this, it’s almost unfair to lump Goreun Haetsal in with Seoul’s other kimbap spots, and more accurate to give it the high honor of being a matjib [맛집]. Why? It’s all because of the kimbap. Yeah, really.
Look, it’s really hard to fuck up a kimbap. Generally, the roll you get from the lady in the train station will be the same as the one you get from the old guy in the tent on the street, will be the same as the one you get from the kimbap chunguk [김밥청국] around the corner. It’ll all be fine, it’ll all be cheap, and it’ll all be lunch. That consistency is, in a lot of ways, part of the charm of Korea’s go to to-go food.
But Goreun Haetsal is going to ruin all of that for you. Their kimbap takes one of the most basic items in Korean cuisine to another level, and they’re not even flexing about it. If you didn’t grab a roll from this spot, you wouldn’t know it from any other. If you do grab one, here’s what will set it apart from the others:
To start, Goreun Haessal makes them fat. Eating a slice in one bite is ambitious, and eating it in two while keeping it together at all is a skill that comes only with practice. The next difference becomes apparent after peeling back the foil; Goreun Haetsal does their rice purple. The heukmibap [흑미밥] they use not only makes their kimbap even more gorgeous to look at, but it adds a little extra texture, and maybe some more nutritional value. I don’t know. It looks dope though.
These rolls are so popular that they fly out almost as fast as the assembly line of ahjummas can make them (which, to be clear, is really fast). This means they are as fresh as fresh gets. The aforementioned purple rice is always fluffy and warm, the vegetables cool and crunchy. The right amount of perilla leaf [깻잎] adds a perfectly light herbaceous hit, and a careful drizzle of mayo blends the flavors together.
The varieties aren’t anything crazy, because they don’t have to be. In addition to the standard (which, by the way, is ₩1,500), they offer vegetable [야채], tuna [참치], cheese [치즈], kimchi [김치], and marinated crumbled pork [제육]. In each, the added item is stuffed in generously – the tuna and pork ones are basically going to fall apart no matter what you do. Though less orthodox, the cheese one will grow on you.
Remember how I said everything else was just standard? The kimbap is so good that, if you order it with a bunch of other stuff, it elevates the quality of the entire meal. No joke. As far as what else to order, if you fuck with soondae, definitely get the soondae. Their rabokki [라볶이] is a must, which can and should be topped with mozzarella cheese (instead of the American cheese in other menu items) for an extra 500 if you’re feeling freaky. Obviously, the rabokki sauce becomes a dipping sauce for the kimbap. No question.
Making a big deal out of basic comfort foods is becoming the name of the game not just in Korea, but in cities around the world. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with a classic, and there are some spots around Seoul City that do some really cool creative shit with classics like kimbap. But while that type of place is more conventionally exciting, and definitely more likely to get attention, it’s comforting to know that there are still spots being innovative not with what they make, but how well they make it.
Goreun Haetsal is open from six in the morning until midnight. It’s a hangover spot, a lunch spot, a drunchies spot, and everything in between. Everything they make can be done to take out, though while the kimbap are obviously conducive to taking on the road, the ramyun, mandu, ddukbokki, etc., are all a little more enjoyable if you get a table.
If you’re in the Anam area for lunch, or just looking to spend as little money on a meal as possible, Goreun Haetsal is a must. Just expect to be disappointed when you hit any other kimbap spot after.
If you’ve been to Goreun Haessal, let us know what you think. For another Anam-dong matjib, check out next week’s piece on the neighborhood’s best Dduk mandu guk [떡만두국] joint.
Photo Credits: @worldinyoureyes, @sangukbae, @manysun1217, author