In Search of a North Korean Restaurant

January 10, 2013 

Deep in the concrete jungle of downtown Seoul, far below the tall precipices of office buildings and Seoul City Hall, down a twisting, narrow alley, there is a house guarded from burglars by barbed wire. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the demilitarized zone just 40km (25 miles for us yanks) away. But you’ll only see this if you look up.Image

Below is a much more welcoming hanok, currently hosting a friendly restaurant claiming hometown taste (고향의맛). Welcome to Ribuk Sonmandu (리북 손만두)!



My coworker, Jo-Anna, found out about this place. She blogs quite a bit about Korea and her experiences as an ex-pat. I would highly recommend checking out her blog “The View from Over Here” Originally we were to head out with a full cadres of diners in order to partake of the whole gamut of dishes the restaurant had to offer. This veritable army of foodies quickly dwindled to just Jo-Anna and myself due to changes of schedules, distance, cold and just lack of energy after a long week. Dauntless, we decided to test the place ourselves. And we weren’t disappointed. 


We ordered kimchi-mari-bap (김치말이밥) and manduguk (만두국). They came with the simple side dishes of odaeng and radish kimchi. Let’s have a closer look at the main dishes. 

Manduguk (만두국)

Dumpling Soup

Manduguk is one of my favourite Korean soups in general. Ribuk Sonmandu’s was a tad bland for my taste, not enough salt, but a bunch of pepper. Even with that, the dumplings were good and despite the lack of salt, the broth was still good. While the manduguk was a tad disappointing, it wasn’t the star of the evening. That was stolen by…

Kimchimaribap (김치말이밥)

Kimchi and Rice in an Ice Broth 

Jo-Anna and I tried to get the kimchimariguksu, a similar dish with noodles rather than rice, but evidently the noodles were unavailable at the time. Initially the look of the kimchimaribap did not inspire much confidence, particularly as it vaguely reminded me of kimchiguk, a minor dish I reviewed during my 2012 Chuseok meal post. However, this fairly simple soup was put together so well. It could just be that I am a sucker for sesame, but I think a liberal usage really added to the flavour of the soup.Image

The name is initially a tad confusing. Usually when you see ‘mari’ (말이) in a food name, it means something was rolled up. Yet we look here and there is nothing rolled up. Turns out the verb ‘malda’ (말다) means not only ‘to roll’ but also ‘to put food into soup’. Huh. There it is!

We talk and eventually leave, going our separate ways. Though before we do we notice a public phone booth.


I have yet to make use of their services, but the phone is equipped not only for coins, but also credit card and transit card usage. Nice. I don’t make a call, but I couldn’t help the photo-op.


If you want to visit Ribuk Sonmandu, you can find it here:

리북 손만두
서울특별시 중구 무교로 17-13

And a helpful map to guide you from exit 4, City Hall station. Line One. Line Two is there too, but there’ll be more walking.


Or you could ask me, and I’ll be happy to take you there. I’m friendly and don’t bite! 

ImageMmmmmmm…. kimchimaribap…..


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