Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halmae Nakji

Halmae Nakji baekban consists of spicy stir-fried octopus with rice, fish cake soup and sides. By Lee Jee-eun
Autumn is the time of year for colorful trees and hearty appetites. It is a season when hot food is an ideal complement to the cooler weather, and it’s hard to beat a plate of spicy stir-fried octopus.

Other than the decision to order the traditional Korean dish, there aren’t a lot of other choices to make. Most spicy stir-fried octopus recipes call for chili paste, chili powder, sliced vegetables, and, of course, the eight-legged cephalopod mollusk.

For a simple, homey dish with no artificial flavors,  Halmae Nakji (Grandma’s Octopus), which is supposedly one of the oldest and most distinguished restaurants to feature this food. The restaurant has been in business for 62 years.

When  order for the Nakji baekban meal - spicy stir-fried octopus, a bowl of rice, fish cake soup and side dishes - the server asked how spicy one can have in their palate of octopus. Many customers seemed to have a preference for “very spicy” .

One of the side dishes was the familiar plate of boiled bean sprouts, frequently served to help alleviate the heat.

Fortunately, octopus arrived just as  ordered it; although, it is also a short of meat. With  chopsticks, peole counted eight pinky-sized pieces of octopus overloaded with vegetables, and the taste was not what it should have been for a restaurant regularly found in many tourism-related magazines.

According to the customers ( I searched for more octopus, I noticed that nearly all the customers around me were elderly people who seemed to be Halmae Nakji regulars, ordering their usual dish and wiping their sweat-covered foreheads).

The restaurant is clean enough given that the chairs and dining tables were fairly old and a bit shabby.
Taking into account the quantity of the food, the 8,000 won ($7) price seems okay. But I had to wonder why Halmae Nakji receives so much publicity.

Halmae Nakji is located near Myeongdong subway station, line No. 4, exit 5.

(02) 757-3353. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Menu is available in Japanese. 

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