Busan Food: 충무로 (Chung Moo Ro)
Last weekend I got the urge to explore, so I took myself off to near Busan station, Bosco-dong. It’s just next door to the more well-known Nampo-dong. I stumbled across something I’d heard tell of from other Busan-ite’s but never seen for myself. Book Alley. It’s basically hundreds of little book stalls all clustered together, selling the most wonderful array of used books you can imagine. You can find anything from decades old-Korean cookbooks to second hand new thrillers. It’s really quite fascinating. Amongst all this is the restaurant I had been trying to find. 충무로 (Chung Moo Ro), a cute little bistro, serving traditional Korean food with a fair few tricks up its sleeve. Charmed by the quaint exterior and kooky interior, I ventured in quickly.
The first thing you notice is how eclectic the design is. Ancient TV’s and faded old LP sleeves jostle for position with colorful pop art and retro Japanese toys. There’s enough kitsch and kooky things to distract the eye for hours. I was hungry however, so dived straight for the menu.
The menu is fairly simple, and exceptionally well-priced. Most items come in between 3-5,000 won, with only a few dishes creeping up to the 7,000 mark. Its broken down into 3 easy sections. Rice dishes, noodle dishes and combo’s, or sets. Knowing I was visiting for busanfood.com and BEFM 90.5MHz, the owner quickly set about making us a feast, featuring things from each section of the menu.
Whilst we waited we were served with a couple of 충무로’s signature drinks. First, Pumpkin Sikhye. This incredibly sweet drink is a traditional Korean drink. This one however, had the addition of real pumpkin juice. This added a slightly rich flavor, a bright orange colour, and made the drink a little more refreshing! Coming in at 2,000 for an iced glass, it’s a delicious palate cleanser before your meal. We also had a Vietnamese iced coffee (also 2,000). This was served the traditional Vietnamese way, with a splash of condensed milk at the bottom, giving a distinct sweetness to the coffee. Sweet coffee isn’t my cup of tea (pardon the pun), but my fiancée loved it.
Whilst we were waiting four our food, the affable owner pointed us to his extensive collection of LP’s. He went on to explain that these aren’t just for show, a customer is free to choose any LP to play whilst they enjoy their meal. What a fantastic personal touch! The selection is a mix of classic and modern, Korean and western. In a retro mood, we opted for some Billie Joel. As Piano man drifted out the speakers, I began to get a good feeling about the restaurant. It’s just so darn cool.
The food arrived, and I was eager to try everything on offer (see photos below). The bulgogi kimbap was meaty, well-seasoned and generous with the meat, a classic done well. The cold udon noodles were refreshing, cold and delicious. With plenty of chopped cucumber on top to give that fresh, fresh flavor you want from any cold noodle dish. The cream curry udon was soft, with a mild curry flavor and a rich, smoothness from the cream. People who aren’t fans of the strong taste of curry should give this a try.
For me however, the two signature dishes were the undoubted stars of the show. The Hawaiian shrimp set was a hit. Plump, juicy, well-cooked shrimp with a sweet and spicy chili and mango sauce came perched atop a bed of rice and fresh, crisp salad. The dish was simple, well thought and excellently executed. It’s also an absolute bargain!
The other stand-out dish was the tofu salad with Daenjang dressing. This was fantastically original. Soft, mellow, crumbly tofu, atop crunchy baby leaves and soft white rice. Very simple and elegant. Them a generous layer of punchy, flavorsome dressing brings the dish to a new level. Salty, rich and slightly spicy, the dressing contrasts perfectly with the mild flavors of the other ingredients. This was a huge hit with me and my companion.
충무로 (Chung Moo Ro) is well worth a visit if you are in the area. The restaurant is small, charming and relaxing, and the owner is knowledgeable and accommodating. The food is original, tasty, and unbelievably well priced. If I lived a little closer I would be lunch-ing here extremely regularly. That, I guess, is the biggest compliment I can offer!
The nearest station is Nampo-dong or Busan station. The best way to find the restaurant would be to search for the book market. The restaurant is at the western end of the book market, near Busan station.