Heavily salted, dripping with oil, and often slightly stale street food is still one of the most popular and, arguably, most delicious Korean cuisines. Yet, even when a serious sodium craving hits, the local street food stall doesn’t always satisfy. In fact, street food doesn’t have to equate with low quality, unhealthy ingredients. At Gukdae Tteokbokki in Hongdae, traditional Korean street food gets a makeover.
Gukdae Tteokbokki is indeed a restaurant, not a street stall. The atmosphere is bright and casual. The ceiling is lined with big light bulbs that are reminiscent of makeup mirrors in old hair salons. The floor has been left unfinished and the walls are a simple cream colour. The table and chairs are done in a light wood to match the brightness of the dining area. On the back wall, the menu (in Korean — no English menu) has been mounted in metal and there are two unusual wire wall-hangings at the entrance-way. In keeping with tradition, the food is prepared in the open, and large vats of tteokbokki and odaeng sit in the open window tempting passerbys. Diners have options to eat inside, outside at the window, or get takeout.
The menu offers the same foods (and prices) that typical streets stalls offer: tteokbokki (rice cakes in red pepper sauce – 2,500won), sundae (blood sausage – 3,000won), twigim (assorted deep-fried meats, seafood, and vegetables – 2,500won), udong (noodle soup – 2,500won), and odaeng (fish cakes – 500won), along with a few other options. The food at most street stalls, in contrast, lacks the freshness and flavor that the food at Gukdae Tteokbokki possesses. The udong and odaeng at Gukdae Tteokbokki were salted lightly and I felt that broth was refreshing rather than overpowering. The sundae was especially well-prepared; the moist stuffing was a proportionate combination of blood and glass noodles. The rice cakes in the tteokbokki were a smaller, thinner variety, which I prefer to the larger, chewier kind commonly found in street tteokbokki.
The staff at Gukdae Tteokbokki is memorable. While we were waiting for our table, the staff entertained us with silly faces and comments. They posed for the camera, and their humorous personalities transcended the language barrier.
Worrisome qualities of the food at local street stalls such as unsanitary conditions, reused food, or the use of spoilt food are not an issue at Gukdae Tteokbokki. The food is prepared with care and an obvious focus of the restaurant is to offer a higher-quality menu without deviating from the street food cuisine that everyone loves. Rather than leaving with a bloated stomach and an oily brow wishing I hadn’t succumbed to my immediate cravings, Gukdae Tteokbokki left me feeling content, and for once, I wasn’t regretting my choice to indulge.
- Well-prepared street food favorites
- Humorous staff
- Clean dining area
- Washrooms are in a very obscure location
- There is almost always wait and the dining area is crowded
- No English menu
(18 locations in Korea)
Hours of Operation
12pm – 12am
서울 마포구 서교동 486
From Hongkik University Station (Green line # 2): Take exit 5 from the station and turn left at the first street you come to. KFC will be on the left. Walk two blocks and turn right. Walk straight until you reach a larger road, and turn left. (This road leads to the entrance of Hongkik University). You will see a KB Bank on your left followed by a small road — turn left on this road. Gukdae Tteokbokki will be on the right.
From Hongkik University: Walk straight down the road leading directly out of the main university gates. Stay on the right hand side of the road. You will see a KB Bank on the right side and small road on the right before you reach the bank. Turn right on this road and walk straight. Gukdae Tteokbokki will be on the right after a short walk.
View Gukdae Tteokbokki (국대 떡볶이) @ Hongdae in a larger map