With the return of the 1990s nostalgia, gyeongyangsik restaurants have been springing up around Seoul. Modern Girl's Living Room on Garosugil, southern Seoul, serves simple Western food in a Japanese style. [JoongAng Ilbo]
Nostalgia-inducing broadcasters have been revisiting the 1990s of late and the retro trend has now arrived in Korea's restaurant industry in the form of popular menus of the 1970s and 1980s known as gyeongyangsik.
Gyeongyangsik literally means simple Western foods with an Asian twist that were introduced to Korea by Japan in the late 20th century.
Soups, mostly cream or sweet corn, are made with instant powder. A bowl of salad is served with dressing that is a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup.
A main dish is deep-fried tonkatzu, or Japanese-style hamburger steak, served with brown sauce.
Shoddy tables, chairs and cutlery complete the gyeongyangsik style. Though it is far from a multicourse fine cuisine, gyeongyangsik was and still is a special food to many Koreans older than 30.
In the 1970s and 1980s, gyeongyangsik was the only Western food option for ordinary people. Whatever you order on the gyeongyangsik menu comes with butter rolls, soup, a main dish, side dishes and a beverage.
Since gyeongyangsik was expensive compared to other dining options even though its moniker suggests simplicity, people used to eat gyeongyangsik on special occasions, such as birthdays or graduations.
Targeting these people with special memories with the modified Western food, restaurants that serve gyeongyangsik have sprung up in central and southern Seoul
One of them is Modern Girl's Living Room on Garosugil, a trendy street in southern Seoul. "Modern girl" refers to a group of educated women who were open to foreign culture back in the 1920s.
"I thought people need dining places where they could reminisce", says Yu Ji-young, an owner of the restaurant. "The huge popularity of [the movie] 'Architecture 101' and the drama series 'Answer to 1997' is a reminder that many Koreans are comforted by reminiscing the good old days".
Opened in June, the restaurant has a retro-style interior with turquoise, red and black colors. Jazz and songs from the '30s through '50s fill the restaurant.
Top: Tonkatzu from England Wang Tonkatzu Above: Hamburger steak from Manten-Boshi Provided by the restaurants
"People in their late 20s and 30s recall childhood memories when they were eating out with their parents, and people in their 40s and 50s think of their awkward first dates", adds Yu. The main item on the menu of Modern Girl's Living Room is hamburger steak for 14,000 won ($12).
Another restaurant on Garosugil is Huhu Yangsikdang, which means Huhu Western food restaurant.
"There are many restaurants on Garosugil but none of them serves Japanese-style of hamburger steak. So I decided to open this place", says Park Young-who, who runs the restaurant. Signature items on the menu are hamburger steak served with demi-glace sauce (15,000 won) and omelet rice (13,000 won).
The restaurant boils ox bones for hours and makes demi-glace sauce by itself based on the beef stock.
Since the restaurant sticks to old-style food, young customers unfamiliar with gyeongyangsik often complain about the salad dressing, a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup.
"There are simply many good dining places in Seoul where you could eat French, Italian, Japanese and Chinese", says Lim Mi-ah, a 32-year-old librarian in Seongnam, Gyeonggi. "Even if you don't fly to those countries, restaurants serve excellent foods, but I sometimes feel like eating gyeongyangsik. It's like my childhood food.
"I remember how I was excited about using a knife and fork".
Modern Girl's Living Room and Huhu Yangsikdang are new gyeongyangsik restaurants but there are older restaurants in neighborhoods such as Incheon and Songpa District, southeastern Seoul.
England Wang Tonkatzu is one of the long-running gyeongyangsik places in Incheon.
Unlike trendy gyeongyangsik spots on Garosugil packed with twentysomethings, the restaurant attracts customers who are mostly in their 40s and 50s.
Its menu features a king-size tonkatzu that is 8,000 won and signature pea soup. At one corner of the restaurant there is an all-you-can-eat dessert bar.
The House of Tonkatzu in Samjeon-dong, Songpa District, is another long-running gyeongyangsik establishment. When placing an order, customers choose between rice and soup. Tonkatzu is 7,000 won.
Manten-Boshi is a franchise gyeongyangsik restaurant run by Maeil Dairy. Opened two years ago, there are four branches, including in Euljiro, central Seoul, and Incheon. Hamburger steak (15,000 won) and omelet rice served with demi-glace sauce (14,000 won) are two best sellers.
By Sung So-young [firstname.lastname@example.org]
* For more information contact: Modern Girl's Living Room at (02) 3448-0815; Huhu Yangsikdang at (02) 511-9220; England Wang Tonkatzu at (032) 772-7266; The House of Tonkatzu at (02) 413-5182; Manten-Boshi at (02) 6353-8943 (Euljiro branch).
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2015 51st PaekSang Arts Awards