The kalguksu (칼국수) restaurant at General Kim Yu-shin’s memorial shrine is one of those hidden gems of Gyeongju; the operative word here being hidden. It’s actually located in one of the side buildings of Sungmujeon (숭무전), the Confucian Shrine venerating the spirit tablet of the famed Silla general Kim Yu-shin (595~673 C.E.). The shrine itself is a bit hard to find as it’s tucked in a little horseshoe valley down from Kim Yu-sin’s Tomb hidden by the train tracks. The restaurant is in a nondescript farm house to the side with just a small placard advertising 손칼국수, or ”hand-cut wheat noodles.” If you didn’t know where it was, you’d probably never find it. For as hidden as it is, it’s usually busy, which is a good sign.
And to be honest, calling the restaurant a “gem” might be a bit misleading. Really, it’s more like a diamond in the rough. It’s not really a restaurant I’d take my parents when they visit or somebody just fresh off the plane from Saskatoon. It’s more for those who enjoy a bit of adventure in their culinary lives and appreciate the deeper side of Korean culture, funky dwenjang and all. Once through the front gate you’re greeted by typical country courtyard, complete with a garden, a pen full of chickens and a few jindo dogs on a leash. If the weather’s sunny, you can slurp your noodles at tables outside on platforms. And you’re welcome to stroll around the Seowon next door while you wait for a table. It’s quite pretty.
The elderly proprietors are quite gracious and friendly, though I doubt they get too many foreign customers. Chair seating, forks or an English menu is definitely not an option here, which is all well and good, since they only have one thing on the menu: kalguksu. And it’s darn good, especially at just 3,500 won a bowl. I’ve raved about a few of the local kalguksu restaurants before. If you’ve never had the pleasure, kalguksu is a soup make with thick hand cut wheat noodles; hence the name kalguksu or “knife noodles.” Kalguksu was a delicacy during the Joseon Dynasty and is a seasonal dish typically served in the summer time. Not all kalguksu is the same, and the version on offer here has a light and clear broth, unlike the milky sort I’ve had elsewhere. It’s served with just a handful of veggies for flavor and is quite savory and filling. I’d almost say the kalguksu here is vegetarian, though it probably has anchovy broth and you might find a stray clam in your noodles, so no promises.
All in all, the kalguksu restaurant at Kim Yu-sin’s shrine offers good food at low prices in a unique and down to earth environment. So if you’re visiting Kim Yu-sin’s tomb and start feeling peckish, definitely stop by for a bowl. To get to the son kalguksu restaurant, follow the lane up to the parking lot for Kim Yu-sin’s tomb. At the top of the hill, turn right before the parking lot and following the road down to the shrine. From the parking lot for the shrine then, follow the road to the right back towards the train tracks. The restaurant is the last, brown traditional building on the left. It’s the building furthest to the right in the map below:
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