5 of the Best Gamjatang Restaurants in Seoul: Korean Potato and Pork Stew

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Seobu Gamja-guk
One of the dishes that came out of necessity is gamja-tang or pork-bone potato stew. This dish has its origins from the Incheon dock area where laborers that were working in the construction wanted to have a cheap and hearty food after a long day of work. The soup consists of pork spine that is slowly cooked with potatoes and topped with sesame leaves. The result is a satisfying dish that goes great with a bowl of hot rice. This was often cooked throughout the day and then eaten at the end of the work day. This dish goes perfectly with a chilled shot of Korean soju.

After the first train line was built that would connect the Incheon area with Seoul, one entrepreneur decided that he wanted to make a restaurant focused on this dish. The first restaurant of this type was built near Noryangjin station, which was near the end of the han river railway construction. The dish became a big hit and soon many copycat restaurants started popping up all over Korea.

The name gamja-tang is a play on words. Gamja means potatoes, but the dish isn't named because of the tuber. The name refers to the pork-spine bone which is also called gamja. It is this bone that adds all the flavor to the broth. The best restaurants simmer the broth overnight until golden globules of fat float on top. The broth is seasoned with bean paste, chili powder, garlic, and other seasonings topped with boiled potatoes. It is brought to the table where it finishes cooking. The pork spine usually has some meat still attached and it is fun to pick and eat the meat out with chopsticks. As the broth cooks down, the dish gets even more flavorful. My favorite part of the meal are the potatoes. When they are finished cooking at the table, I like to put the potato to my bowl and mix in the broth, veggies and meat to make a steaming-hot mashed potato.

The unique flavor for this dish comes from the wild sesame seed which is round and darker in color than the normal, oval sesame seed. The seed has an earthy, anise-like flavor that melds well with the pork broth and potato. To add a bit of green to the dish, flavorful sesame leaves and green chives are also added.

The famous area for this dish is in the Eungam-dong area which is in the north-western part of Seoul. There is an entire street filled with these restaurants. These days, it is a popular meal among taxi-drivers and they will often visit this area because the restaurants offer free parking, car washes, clean bathrooms, free refills on rice, coffee and friendly service. If you are still hungry after eating all the soup, potatoes and meat, you can make a fried rice with roasted seaweed and veggies with the leftover broth in the pot.

This dish is also a popular hangover cure so early in the morning, you can find these restaurants usually filled with people recovering the from the night before.

The popularity of Gamjatang is not just a native thing. These restaurants are very popular with tourists. There are also restaurants that specialize in this dish in the United States, Europe, and South East Asia. If you happen to be in Korea, here are my favorite places for this hearty and delicious dish. 


Seobu Gamjaguk

1. Pork Gold at Seobu Gamja-guk

My favorite place is called Seobu Gamja-guk and it is a bit far, up by Yeonsinnae (line 3). This place has the best broth that I have ever had at a gamjatang restaurant. The quality of bones they use is top notch and the broth is almost golden. The place is very rustic and has been around for a long time. There is only the one item on the menu in a large, medium or small size. After enjoying your stew, get the bokkeumbap. The fried rice here is amazing.
Seobu Gamja-guk (서부감자국)
Click here to open in google maps 
Seoul, Eunpyeonggu Nokbeondong 181
서울시 은평구 녹번동 181
02-356-4555
Price: Small is 20,000 won 



Songgane Kamjatang

2. Dine with the Taxi Drivers at Songgane Kamjatang

Get a bubbling bowl of potato and pork stew with the taxi drivers at this local hotspot. If you see a restaurant with a lot of taxi drivers, you know it must be good because they can travel anywhere they would like. Taxi drivers work hard and they want hearty Korean food to eat- nothing fancy. Here, you can also get a plate of bossam (poached pork belly) with kimchi wraps and a side of fresh oysters. You'll get a nice assortment of kimchis and other side dishes as well. If you're feeling particularly hungry, you can get a side of the poached pork belly (bossam) with raw oysters. 

Songgane Gamjatang (송가네 감자탕)
Mapo-gu Yeonnam-dong 258-3 
click here to open in google maps
마포구 연남동 258-3 번지
02-3141-6557
Price: 6,000 for individual stew
Open 24 hours 
Gumbawei Kamjatang picture by aaaaa0330

3. Fun for the Whole Family at Gumbawei Kamjatang

This is a good place to go if you are over by Jamsil and you're looking for a good meal. This is a very large restaurant that specializes in Gamjatang but they also serve pork belly and spicy baby octopus. The place even has a playground for the kids inside which has a trampoline and slides. The place specializes in putting moogunji (aged) kimchi in the broth which adds a sour and spicy note to this dish. The broth here is quite rich and it goes great with a side of rice and steamed egg soup. I would recommend you check this place out. 

Gumbawei Gamjatang (금바위감감자탕)
Gyeonggido Namyangju-si Wabuop Deoksori 194-1 
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경기도 남양주시 와부읍 덕소리 194-1
031-521-8677 
Dongwon Jip. Picture by Hee Dongi

4. Hearty Servings and Great Kimchi at Dongwonjip

This is one of my favorite little local joints. It is located in the industrial area of Euljiro 3-ga and it is just authentic gamjatang as it should be. What you get is a little rich, red soup topped with lots of potatoes, pork spine meat, and green onions. There is so much meat and potatoes in fact, that I think it would be better referred to as 감자돼지고기버꿈. The flavor of the soup here is rich but it is the potatoes that are the star. When you have some beers with it, you can easily mash the potatoes into the pork to make porky, spicy mashed potatoes.  Yeah, I know I mentioned I like to do that before, but here the ingredients to do it are top notch.  The kimchi here is wonderful as well and works to balance out the The ajummas here are all business so go in order beers and soju and get your food. Don't ask them if it is gluten free or for vegan options. Actually, do it. I would be very interested in hearing what they do. 

Dongwon-jip 동원집
Seoul Junggu Ipjeongdong 272-2
서울특별시 중구 입정동 272-2
Phone: 02-2265-1339
Price: 7,000 for the meal 
Wondang Gamjatang

5.  Honorable Mention

Reliable Gamjatang at Wondang
Even though it is a franchise, this restaurant serves up hearty portions of pork spine stew with plenty of side dishes. You can find these all around Korea and in Seoul. The menu is a bit more extensive than others so you can get spicy chicken, bibimbap, and many other Korean favorites. The gamjatang comes out in a hot pot and they have a great selection of side dishes with it. If you have a gamjatang craving, this is a reliable place to get some.
Wondang Gamjatang
Seoul, Junggu Myeongdong 9gil 13
서울 중구 명동9길13
Phone: 02-776-7612
Price: 7,000 for the meal
Locations throughout Korea 
http://www.onedang.com

Information sourced from KFF (Korean Food Foundation) Great Food Great Stories from Korea

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