(Closed) Seoul Vegetarian: Gamrodang Review

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By the time we have finished touring the majestic Seoul’s main palace complex (Gyeongbokgung) and watching its hourly change of honour guard, the time was already 12.30pm. We will like to stay a while longer but our stomach were growling with hunger. As Gamrodang is very near to the palace, we made a beeline to the restaurant. Alas, finding Gamrodang takes a while as even the policemen could not pinpoint the exact location. The restaurant is tucked at a corner in an alley. At least the receptionist cum sub-chef could speak good English and was able to confirm that Gamrodang is a vegetarian restaurant. We eagerly went to the second floor to await what Gamrodang will serve us.

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Unlike Gosang, Gamrodang is not extravagantly decorated and renovated. All the walls were all painted white like what we have seen from the outside. There is a Zen-like calm to the restaurant ambivalence. The restaurant is brightly lit hence we were able to shoot better photographs for your viewing pleasures.

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The cheapest course meal is available at 26,000 Won (S$30) per person and can go up to 110,000 Won ($128) per person. We liked the menu from Gamrodang. It is very tourist friendly and spells out clearly what will be served per course meal in Chinese, English and Japanese. No doubt the restaurant has served many tourists before. As there are only 2 of us, we chose the 26,000 Won course meal. From the picture in the menu, it looks somewhat similar to the offering from Gosang. We silently hope that it is not the case.

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First comes the Kimchi and the smallest serving of porridge I have ever seen in my life. The Kimchi tastes slightly sour instead of spicy. The hot porridge served as a good way to warm up the stomach for the food to come.

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The first major dish is actually the salad. The lemon flavoured salad dressing is somewhat similar to what we have tasted at Gosang. We also noticed that all the major dishes are served in lotus shaped plates. This is a nice touch on Gamrodang’s part as lotus flower is a popular symbol of Buddhism.

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Next dish is interesting in the sense that there is a slice of lightly grilled mushroom, lotus root and yam rested on a plate of greens. The reason for the presentation escapes us. There might be some Buddhist philosophy hidden in the dish. We think this dish represents the essence of what Korean temple food is about. Simplicity and attuned to Nature. The dish comes with a small plate of salt if you need some more flavourings.

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The menu stated that the dish is Fried Tofu with hot pepper paste. We love the texture of the beancurd with its fried exterior and soft tender interiors. We wish that the dish could be spicier with more beancurd ;)

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Finally we get to eat some authentic Korean pancake. The black pancake is made of seaweed topped with a ginkgo nut. The yellow one is made of potato and vegetables while the pink one from cactus. The glasswort sauce tastes like the light soy sauce.

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The rice pancakes are chewy though slightly oily. Unfortunately, there is no difference in taste between the white and yellow rice pancakes. At the centre of plate, you will find a delicious mixture of mushroom, bean sprouts and cucumbers.

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This dish returns us to Nature from the previous pancake dishes. The sweetness of pear carries the dish with a subtle tinge of spiciness. The sliced wild lanceolate root and pear are almost indistinguishable, only that the texture of the pear is softer than that of the lanceolate root. This seem to be a recurring theme in the Korea Buddhist Temple cuisine, in which the dish requires us to slowly savour the ingredients. It is definitely a refreshing change of taste from the pancakes.

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The rice is a rich blend of barley cereals and brown rice. We love the hot cabbage stew which bears a similar taste to the Japanese Miso soup.

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The rice and soup also comes with a plate of seasonal wild vegetables and pickles. The wild vegetables are not seasoned in any way. Among the pickles, we love the delicious ginger seaweed.

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To our delight, the sub-chef helpfully suggested that we could make Bibimbap with the Korean chili sauce and sesame oil. We readily sprinkled the chili sauce on the rice and vegetables as they are not seasoned.

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The last item of the course meal is the dessert. After the lackluster tea dessert at Gosang, we did not keep our hopes high. The dessert comes in the form of rice nectar and honey pancake with small bits of ginger cookie. Both are pleasantly but not overwhelmingly sweet. To our surprise, the sub-chef also served some Korean jelly which is not part of the course meal. She explained that Korean jelly are traditionally made from red bean. She has used mango and grape for the rest of jelly which are not the usual ingredients. Like all Temple food, the taste of the jelly are very subtle.

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Conclusion:
This is our second Temple food course meal. As you can see from the photos, presentation is a big part of Korean Temple food. According to Wikipedia, Sanggung or royal court maids typically became nuns when they became old and have to leave the imperial court. Hence, imperial culinary techniques were passed on to Buddhist cuisine. Our experiences fully authenticated this observation. Compared to Gosang, Gamrodang did a good job of serving us the various dishes progressively. Also, we get to taste a larger variety of dishes. Granted that we paid 4,000 Won more, this is really a big difference. If you only have time for one Temple food course meal, we recommend that you come to Gamrodang.

Address:
Gamrodang (감로당)
서울 종로구 통의동 35-106
Seoul-si, Jongno-gu, Tongui-dong, 35-106
Tel: 02-3210-3397
Operating Hours: Lunch 12pm – 3pm / Dinner 6pm – 9pm
Open on Weekdays. Closed on New Year’s Day, Seollal, Chuseok, & Summer Vacation.

How to Get There:
1. Take the Seoul Metro to Gyeongbokgung station
2. Get out of the station from Exit 3
3. Walk straight along the road till you see a Starbucks Cafe on your right
4. At this point, turn right into the small road
5. Gamrodang is located at a small alley to your right along the midway point of the road

Alternatively, if you are coming from the main entrance of Gyeongbokgung palace complex,

1. Assuming that you are now facing the palace entrance (光化门), turn left and walk straight along the road the cross junction
2. At the cross junction, cross the road and turn right
3. Walk along the road. Turn left at the second small road to your left
4. Gamrodang is located at a small alley to your left along the midway point of the road

We recommend that you grab a Korean map of the vicinity from Daum should you get lost along the way.

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