The first time I ate golbaengi (골뱅이, sea snails) was in fried chicken joint called, unsurprisingly, Chicken Baengi. It’s a chain that reeks of old cooking oil, but it’s also the closest purveyor of fried chicken to my house. This particular branch is done up with fake flowers and trinkets hidden in niches in the brick walls, like a housewife decorated then decided to spice it up with different coloured neon lights. Our table was all ice cold beers, complimentary cardboard snacks and a decidedly strange platter with chicken, fruit salad (tomatoes included) and golbaengi somyeon muchim (골뱅이 소면 무침), a spicy salad of snails and noodles.
Golbaengi muchim, often with noodles (somyeon 소면), is a common anju dish, intended to be nibbled while drinking. And I’ll order it at any opportunity. The sauce is variations of heat, garlic and sesame, which softens when the accompanying noodles are mixed in. There’s usually cucumber, carrot, onions, chewy dried squid and a smattering of small, dense snails. Texturally interesting, punchy flavours, what’s not to like? I suggested eating it so much that even the most fervent fans may consider it overload. Golbaengi and kimchi jiggae are my current favourite Korean foods (can’t stop, won’t stop).
So it was time to take it to the next level. Golbaengi street. In the centre of the city, surrounded by printing presses and high rises, there’s a short street famous for golbaengi. Pictures of the snails adorn almost every window and decals profess celebrity and longevity. We just pick the one with the most people. There’s no menu. 25,000 won (~$21AU) buys you a serving of snails, fish cake soup and rolled omelette (gyeran mari, 계란말이), for extra they’ll dump a pile of noodles in your nearly empty snail bowl.
There’s cold draft beer, crunchy snacks and a spicy snail salad, but this meal is the same as Chicken Baengi in these generic components only. Here the snails are a meaty mouthful, tender with a pleasant chew and mild flavour. The bowl is generously filled with snails, a far cry from miserly portions of other places, where the flavour of the tiny snails is drowned out with sauce and other additions. Here, strips of spring onion are softened with a sesame oil heavy, garlicky red sauce, chewy flakes of dried fish and the gigantic snails are the only other ingredients. It’s paired back, simplified and divine. The focus is on the main component of the dish: astonishingly good snails. My only complaint, and it’s minor, is the substitution of dried fish instead of chewy tendrils of dried squid.
If you’re a golbaengi fan, this place is worthy of your time, but I’ll still be ordering golbaengi somyeon muchim (골뱅이 소면 무침) as my drinking snack of choice.
It’s the street that runs between exit 11 and exit 12 of Euljiro-3 ga station. If you see pictures on snails on the windows you’re in the right place.
We visited Pungnam Golbaengi but pick any place.
Golbaengi and unlimited sides 25,000won.
For more information about this street (and maps and stuff) check out Visit Seoul’s Haechi Food tour.