Two bowls of Udon in Hongdae
Udon at Kanemaya, Hongdae.
Food articles with the premise “it’s freezing dot dot dot soup” are as vacuous as “it’s summer therefore ICE CREAM”. Lovers of ice cream eat ice cream whatever the weather, if you can trust one thing you should trust that. And if you believe that winter and soup are conjoined twins, you’ve never experienced the joy of a steaming bowl of pho on a sultry Ho Chi Minh morning. Yes, soup will warm you up when it’s frosty outside, but probably not as thoroughly as your indoor heating will. That said, judging by the fat dawdling snowflakes it is still winter, and this story is about soup. Not just any soup, but a pair of peppery broths, with a surfeit of noodles and flavour.
Being no expert on Japanese food, this is not about authenticity, simply about quality of ingredients, flavour, affordability and enjoyment. Kanemaya sits in the backstreets of Hongdae next to Hongik University, the prices reflecting its student popularity. This place is simple, two options for soup, one hot, the other cold, plus a few sides. The room is concrete, with cute paintings on the floor and roof. Big windows let in light and a view of graffitied alleyways. The hot option (4,000 won) is all thick chewy udon noodles in a peppery, meaty broth with wok blackened spring onions and a dispensable sprinkle of fried tempura batter. A side order of tempura prawns and exceptional fried chicken (5,500 won) is both necessary and satisfying.
Fried sides at Kanemaya.
Chicken soba at Kyushu Jidori Udon.
The next, Kyushu Jidori Udon, is a noodle shop with a gimmick. All the sizes, from large to double extra bucket large, are the same price. But beware, if you order a larger size and don’t finish it, you have to pay more. You can get chicken, beef or tofu, with udon or soba, in soup or dry. The chicken soba (8,000won) is peppery hot and flecked with char from the generous portion seared spring onions. The small nuggets of chicken are chewy but in a pleasurable way, and incredibly flavourful. Beef options don’t have the same smokiness, and are bulgogi-sweet. All the noodles are deftly prepared as you’d expect in a noodle house.
Kyushu Jidori Udon is deservedly popular, at peak times there can be queues down the alley. But unless you’re starving and poor, don’t line up, head to Kanemaya.
Small chicken soba and medium chicken udon, Kyushu Jidori Udon.
A pair of soups, both affordable and satisfying in the backstreets of Hongdae. The long, humid summer is coming and these dishes are too enjoyable to be written off as winter-only affairs.
서울 마포구 서교동 360-10
Hours: 11:30 – 21:30
Order: Udon and fried chicken
Kyushu Jidori Udon
큐슈 지도리 우동
서울시 마포구 상수동 316-3
Hours: 11:30 – 22:00
Order: Chicken udon or soba.