Due to the emersion of food-based TV shows in Korean cable, the title of "Nice Restaurant" has become popular nationwide. Any restaurant with that title is considered to be a restaurant that tastes good while presumably not using any chemically engineered ingredients while the food is created, most popularly MSG. Although I personally believe that the words "Nice" and "Restaurant" should never be placed together to form a legitimately correct phrase, that idea is delivered nicely nationwide.
Due to this, the general public has been on the search for any restaurants with a plaque that labels them as a "Nice Restaurant" no matter how much the food might actually cost to eat fresher, healthier food.
Ironically, however, even the labeled restaurants cannot hide the reality behind their food making ways. Often times, cases of MSG are found in corners of "nice" kitchens and bottles of acetic acid is visible in these "nice" trashcans. These ingredients have unfortunately become almost inevitable to use for most restaurants in Korea, greatly nullifying any significance behind the labels they receive upon passage of a list of criteria.
For that reason, at times, it might be wiser just to head towards a cheaper restaurant rather than trying to find a "nice" restaurant only to be disappointed.
Near Gwanak-gu's police station, I found such a restaurant that serves a soup called "Haejang-guk" at an affordable price. The restaurant's called "Chung-jin-dong Haejang-guk" (청진동 해장국).
To those who do not know, haejang-guk, according to Wikipedia, "consists of dried Napa cabbage ... and vegetables in a hearty beef broth."
The exterior and interior design of this restaurant is actually no different to any traditional restaurant that serves similar food items. The main menu in this restaurant is "Haejang-guk" but it's not ordinary haejang-guk.
It's haejang-guk with congealed animal blood, most notably cow blood and sheep blood.
Yes, I know what you are thinking. But in Korea, it is actually not uncommon to see "seon-ji" (선지) in soups because it is not considered to be as discussing as Western cultures might consider it. It's definitely one of those curious try-outs for foreigners.
Nevertheless, in this restaurant, the haejang-guk is served alongside cabbage kimchi and radish kimchi. If you order haejang-guk with sheep blood, you also get some sauce to eat the congealed blood with.
The haejang-guk finally came out.
Two huge pieces of congealed blood are floating atop the soup together with kongnamul sprouts and other vegetables so it is often eaten in Korea to "cure" hangovers. It doesn't have to be necessarily eaten in that way, like in my case, and it will nevertheless taste good.
Honestly, the haejang-guk in itself is not very special when compared to other restaurants but what really drops jaws is the price of this meal.
It only costs 3,500 won for one bowl of this traditional Korean soup -- add 1,000 won and you can get yourself a much larger bowl that most people probably aren't able to finish.
Choosing between a "nice restaurant" and a cheap restaurant is a decision ultimately made by the customer, but in a time when the economy is not at its best, going to a cheap restaurant might be better than heading towards a more expensive yet suspiciously uncertain "nice restaurants."
If you're looking into a cheap food experience more than a meal, this is one place to check out.
Address: Gwanak-gu Bongcheon-dong 1592-9, Seoul (서울 관악구 봉천동 1592-9)