The last time my mother and I had seollungtang together was two winters ago. That was in Seoul at Korea's oldest restaurant. Today we're in America, heading over to Kunjip in Koreatown San Jose. The literal translation of "kunjip" (큰집) is "big house," but it refers to the eldest son's house. Or oldest brother's house. Traditionally Koreans would visit their kunjip for celebrations and feasts.
Kunjip Restaurant is sandwiched between a barber shop and a hair salon. It shares the Kiely Plaza with a Korean gift store, Indian catering company, as well as another Korean eatery proudly named "To Bang."
The logo reads:
Kunjip Seollungtang & Nengmyun
An indication that their ox bone soup and cold noodles must be damned good!
Within the five minutes we are seated, the middle-aged waitress asks us what we'd like. Within ten minutes after we get our food, she places the bill on the table. Don't be offended. This type of service is commonly experienced in Korea, particularly the hole-in-the-wall joints. Instead of feeling like the workers want you to leave asap, take it as a freedom to pay whenever you want without having to wait or ask for the bill.
Let's rewind. I flip through the menu, but have already decided what to order before even stepping into restaurant.
The waitress set three varieties of kimchi: napa cabbage, cucumber, and radish. And in that order I tasted. Each are spicy with varying levels of sugar. The napa cabbage kimchi is freshly made and is one of the sweetest kimchi my taste buds have ever experienced. I prefer super fermented kimchi that taste more like an entree than dessert, so I am not a huge fan of their version. Mommy Oh and I agreed the radish kimchi is the best of the three. Cucumber kimchi was a close second with its coating of sesame oil.
It may be a chilly November day, but as my bowl of nengmyun approaches, I greet it with a warm smile. All restaurants I've been previously served buckwheat noodles in their nengmyun; Kunjip uses sweet potato noodles.
Pierce the nengmyun broth with your chopsticks and lift. Strands of sweet potato noodles cling onto each other like a newly-formed couple. Forget trying to untangle. Take a bite, only to find out how easy it is to masticate in comparison to buckwheat noodles.
Buckwheat noodles are slippery, chewy, and grey brown with black specks. Sweet potato noodles are white in color and easy on the jaw. It is a friendlier option for senior citizens with fragile teeth. Mommy Oh and I are not grandmothers just yet. We prefer buckwheat over sweet potato noodles.
While the nengmyun is a tad too sweet, Kunjip's seollungtang we do recommend. It's perfect for those cold dark winter nights when you're feel like there's something missing in your heart. That missing puzzle piece is seollungtang, my friend.
Though born and raised in Korea, my mother is not a huge fan of soups with meat simmered in it. She views it as if a cow took a bath in the water. Moo sauna. Regardless she finds the seollungtang at Kunjip to be delicious.
Upon my initial visit, my mother's friend recommended Kunjip's galbijjim (steamed beef short ribs). I trust their opinion as they are an intelligent chef. So with confidence, I advise you to try it :)
Now we're ready to deal with the bill, which comes with ginseng and cinnamon-flavored candies. $24.90 USD for two people. Fairly priced.
Verdict: I'd return for the seollungtang. See you every winter, Kunjip!
1066 Kiely Blvd
Santa Clara, CA 95051