[Published 02.24.12] Words by Ciaran Hickey, former executive chef of the W Seoul Walkerhill
Easy to make and easy to eat, sujebi can keep you warm on cold, rainy days.
It’s safe to say that a great deal of my Korean food learning takes place in our employee cafeteria. With our busy work schedule, it’s difficult to keep up with the myriad of specialty Korean restaurants and regional delicacies, not to mention seasonal dishes and special days.
That’s one reason I look forward to my trips to the “green room,” as the criteria is called here, as it gives me a great opportunity to try a ton of different dishes without going too far. This is where I first had sujebi, one of those dishes that, chances are, you may not come across unless you set out to look for it.
Sujebi is basically a dish of hand-torn pasta cooked in a broth which can contain potatoes, vegetables and seaweed. The broth itself is based on dried anchovies and laver (seaweed), garlic, of course, and onions. It also has a sister dish called kalguksu (칼국수) in which the noodles are cut in a more uniform shape like flat noodles, but we’ll save that for another day.
Of course, torn pasta is nothing new: the Italians have been doing it for years. The fact that the pasta is torn puts this dish in the category of easy-to-make dishes and no great skill is needed for most of it, a sure sign of sujebi’s roots in simpler times. It’s a sort of Korean minestrone, if you will.
As with most dishes that only require a few steps, the whole key to sujebi is the basic broth. Simmering it slowly for a long period of time is the key to extracting the most flavors from the ingredients. Of course, not everyone makes it the same way; fresh clams are sometimes used to give a deeper flavor to the broth. Leeks and scallions are also occasionally thrown in, with the scallions chopped and added at the end. When making the dough, regular flour is generally used, but it can also be made with glutinous rice flour. This makes the dough taste a little like tteok (rice cake) when cooked.
Koreans will tell you that sujebi is the perfect rainy day food and is ideal for warming the body against the elements. So if you want to experience the father of all Korean comfort food, wait for the next time you are caught in a downpour close to Insadong, dash into the nearest shelter and spend the afternoon with a hearty bowl of sujebi.
This back-alley Insadong restaurant has gotten the attention of everyone from Japanese students to TV execs. Ample portions of sujebi can be had for only W5,000. When the rain’s really coming down hard, amp up your wet weather response with pajeon (파전, W8,000) and dongdongju (동동주, W4,000). From the main Insadong street, turn in the alley by Sudo Pharmacy (수도약국). Go right at Woorim Hwarang (우림화랑) and stop at the second door. 29-2 Gwanhun-dong Jongro-gu, Seoul 02-735-3361
Boriul 보리울 [CLOSED]
Traditional décor gives way to a hip vibe in this sujebi joint located a stone’s throw from the youth-oriented Hongdae district. It may look like a café, but the sujebi and boribap (보리밥) here are the definition of good eating. From Hapjeong Stn. (line 2 & 6, ex. 5), veer right and go left at the fork. Boriul is just ahead on the right. 413-16 Hapjeong-dong Mapo-gu, Seoul, 02-325-8915
Nampo Sujebi 남포 수제비
You know you’ve found the genuine article when you see others trying to poach on its success. Past the menu—listing sujebi for the super-low price of W3,000—there’s a message reminding guests that they’ve found Busan’s original, 30-year-old Nampo Sujebi (and not one of its numerous imitators). Find it in Meokja Alley in the Gukje Market. 8-2 2nd floor Changseon-dong 1-ga Jung-gu, Busan. 051-245-6821
Edited by David Carruth and Song Lee