Saga Ramen: Affordable Authentic Ramen in Seoul's Upscale Food District, Garosu-gil

Saga Ramen: Affordable Authentic Ramen in Seoul's Upscale Food District, Garosu-gil

In the heart of Seoul's touristy food street, Garosu-gil, sits an authentic ramen spot sure to wake your taste buds up.

9 min read

Originally reviewed on May 4, 2020

Name

한글 🇰🇷 ENGLISH 🇺🇸
사가라멘 가로수길점 Saga Ramen, Garosu-gil

Price

Korean Won 🇰🇷 United States Dollar 🇺🇸
₩15,000 ~$12

Price is a rough average per head, excluding drinks.

Operating Hours

Day Open Close
Every Day 11:00 01:00

Last order is taken about 45 minutes before closing.

Location

The front of this joint is very Japanese in architecture; hard to miss.

Seoul Seek Recommendations

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한글 🇰🇷 English 🇺🇸 Price 💵
돈코츠 스테미나라멘 Tonkotsu Stamina Ramen 👑 ₩9,700
돈코츠 차슈라멘 Tonkotsu Char Siu Ramen ₩10,700
교자 Gyoza (Japanese Dumplings) ₩4,000
감자고로케 Potato Croquette ₩3,500

You may order extra noodles or toppings for any ramen listed; they come at a price of ₩800-₩1,000 depending on what you select.

Overview

This is an authentic ramen spot with Japanese and Korean chefs. In reality, what makes a ramen authentic is up for debate and varies depending on which critic you ask. Having been to Japan several times, and tasted many bowls of ramen, this was spot on.

Unbeknownst to many, real Japanese ramen is extremely salty, based on the regional tare, or seasoning make-up of a ramen broth. In almost every case, it is the sole source of salt within the final product. Various recipes found online tend to curtail this fact, for dietary reasons.

Tonkotsu ramen is more focused on the soup itself, being a pork bone reduction, than the actual tare. The main event going on here is the physical pork bones simmering for many hours, not the small (usually a 1:10 or 1:12 ratio) of tare mixed into it. Tonkotsu shoyu ramen, a more soy sauce-based version, is very popular and gives more spotlight to the tare. The stamina types contained within this review used some plain Yamasa soy sauce to spice up the tare. There were three salt levels offered, and we chose the middle for both.

The ramen noodles are handmade daily with non-bleached flour and kansui, known as alkaline water. A quick inspection will indicate the noodles are also knife-cut; uneven and lumpy in places, the flaws add to their authenticity. That's what people always strive for, but seldom get in tourist-heavy spots like this. The tare here uses

The dumplings were frozen but very good. The croquette seemed to be purchased from a nearby Tous les Jours, but I'm not complaining.

It seems as though the real focus at this spot was making high quality ramen, while cutting corners on the other menu items. Despite this, it was still a very good quality meal, and savory. Very worth the cost.

Arrival

This is the sign you're looking for; anytime a spot has Konglish in the sign, it's going to be fire
These are wood boards you can write your name on; very popular for tourists
There are three different broths which simmer; one solely pork bone broth, the other two contain tares
The bar at the front near the kitchen
Sounds good to me
Usual pop-out for spoons, chopsticks, some napkins, and light pepper flakes for the ramen
A front-facing shot of the bar
This is the spot in the back of the restaurant; one side is sort of closed off for privacy; cool
The entire inside is lined with these

The Side Dish

Singular, not plural. A sole small dish is put on the table by the wait staff, containing one of my favorite side dishes in Korea, and it's only usually found at Japanese spots; it's soy sauce-marinated ginger, which is cut more thick than you'd find in say a sushi bar or izakaya place.

This is because the purpose of this is to eat it alongside the main dishes, not to refresh or clean the palate, as is the case elsewhere. The sauce is unique but familiar; it's a mix of what seems to be a homemade teriyaki and some Yamasa soy sauce. I ask the wait staff, and they smile and say it's a secret.

You can buy this in bulk, or premade, but this was for sure made in-house. The taste was way more fresh, and the ginger had a crunch to it. When you buy this premade or jarred, the ginger doesn't have near the snap.

As you venture around Seoul, you'll notice that this is becoming more common in Korean establishments, seldom seen a few years prior. Is it just something which Korean cuisine has absorbed and put their own twist on? No one can say for sure.

You may get refills, but it's not self-serve. If you run out, request some more formally from the wait staff. They'll kindly oblige.

The Ramen

Dinner is served; let's break down the tonkatsu char siu ramen
The two bowls of ramen arrive; this is the tonkatsu char siu; we added extra slices
Each extra piece is ₩800 and is hand-torched upon request
The broth is very milky and not too oily; exactly what you should look for
A few drops of soy sauce can be seen in the top right; the dark brown stuff is hijiki seaweed
One more shot of that glorious pork belly
You can see the fat separation is like an accordion; that's tenderness
Three stacks
That smoke was billowing off; this was straight out of the kitchen
The noodles are mostly uniform, and have a very firm texture; you never want soggy noodles
You can see the pepper spattered throughout; this is Sansho pepper
The way the noodles wrap around the chopstick are a clear indicator of its quality
A shot of the broth shows this is perfectly balanced
Some garlic is charred prior to throwing it into the final bowl; skin-on for flavor
This is the more thinly-cut char siu found in the stamina ramen
Can barely tell them apart; in fact, this slice is even thicker than the first bowl

The Egg

This is the part that gets posted on Instagram the most. You all know what I'm talking about.

This is the climax of eating a bowl of ramen if you're a photographer or someone who likes to snap pics of what you eat. It's not the assortment of beef brisket or pork belly, nor is it the noodles which are handmade, or the broth which mountains of effort go into.

It's usually an egg, marinated in a simple blend of onions and soy sauce, which is aged for a few days in a fridge, and cooked to be runny to perfection. Known formally as the ajitsuke tamago in Japanese, they strike the perfect distinction between a soft and hard boil. These were kept at room temperature, as the weather oustide was not too hot, and then added in at the last minute.

They have a history all their own, if you dig deep enough.

An aerial shot of my wife mid-stir, being careful not to touch the glorious ramen egg
Ok, that's what we're looking for, it's time to break that sucker open
Make a small incision on the top with your chopstick, and enjoy the show
A perfect ramen egg
With the ramen being served at a very high temperature, be sure to eat it quick
Nothing comes close to accenting a bowl of ramen

The Other Dishes

Almost forgot about the gyoza and croquette. Got lost in that egg.

Let's take a look at what the gyoza looks like here; there's really nothing close to the level of the ramen happening here. They're simply frozen dumplings and an (obviously) store-bought croquette.

Six dumplings, stuck together by the bond of Japanese ramen house goodness
I assume it was the butter used to fry these up on the flat-top?
Not complaining though; this is what I love to see; a side of soy sauce is offered
Looks cool
Forgot to take a cross-cut pic, but it was just your average frozen dumpling
It was perfectly cooked, and upon further tasting, that is 100% Yamasa soy sauce
The sauce offered with these is a cookie-cutter tonkatsu sauce
Had some cheese inside
Tasted identical to a McDonald's hash brown, but slightly more sharp texture
Quick dip
There you have it

Summary

It's clear that when you take a minute to check out the flavor profiles and effort put into the ramen here, there's something special. Although a chain, they serve high quality bowls of ramen for an affordable price. A lot less than what you could find on the same street, at better quality.

Perhaps it is due to the lapse in care for the other dishes they offer, but even then, it's negligible. Very rarely will you find a chain finding handmade dumplings and croquettes, let alone the ramen itself.

The chefs care, the people are happy, and this is a huge hit among those who know of this place.

If you do not like salt, this is not the place for you. The broths here are extremely salty and authentic, and utilize bonito as well; if you are looking for something more tame, seek elsewhere and look for a Korean soup spot, perhaps something like Gamjatang (pork back-bone stew) or the like.

Overall, satisfied with everything they had to offer here. The seats are uncomfortable, but this isn't a place you'd have a get-together at, so I digress.

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