Sambangmae: Cozy Ramen Joint Near Lotte Tower

Sambangmae: Cozy Ramen Joint Near Lotte Tower

A great lunch meetup spot, nestled in the northern alleyways of Songpa-dong's best food street.

10 min read

Reviewed numerous times between '18 & '20

Name

한글 🇰🇷 ENGLISH 🇺🇸
삼방매 Ramen Three Ways

Funny enough, they only have two ramen items on the menu:

  • tonkotsu ramen
  • spicy tonkotsu ramen

This place has its shutters closed year-round, due to sunshine glaring in.

Seems weird at first, since it faces north, but there's a building in front of it that the sun reflects off of.

If you're wanting good lighting, come through during lunch, or you'll be taking your phone's flashlight out.

The pictures you'll see were taken right as they opened, on a very sunny day; it still turned out a bit dark, but I left all pictures 100% unedited so you could see the real light.

Taken before the COVID-19 spikes.

Price

Korean Won 🇰🇷 United States Dollar 🇺🇸
₩10,000 ~$9

Price per head, including drinks. Water is free.

Operating Hours

Day Open Close
Everyday 11:30 20:30

Open daily unless stated otherwise; hours have shifted due to COVID-19 as of 2021.

Location

Seoul Seek Recommendations

  • 👑 Signature
  • ✅ Counting Calories
  • 🌶️ Spicy

 

한글 🇰🇷 English 🇺🇸 Price 💵
차슈덮밥 Chashu Bowl ₩9,500
돈코츠라멘 Tonkotsu Ramen 👑 ₩8,000

They're known for their tonkotsu ramen. If you aren't feeling that, grab a bowl instead.

Overview

This place is hard to glance over, since it's in a side street without many other shops around it. Right next to it begins a residential area, so tourists tend to stick more towards the middle of Songridan-gil, a famous food street just south of Seokchon Lake. Seokchon Lake is the lake directly south of the Lotte Tower.

The outside; look for this if you go
Most ramen spots these days have kiosks which automate your order turn-in

Due to the COVID-19 virus, there aren't that many customers. Otherwise, you'd often find young adults posted up on the wooden stoop, waiting for a spot. The inside is very small, and only contains 2 tables and 6 enclosed cubby-like eating stations.

Side Dishes

Side dishes are very minimal here. Nothing out of the ordinary for a ramen place. It's self-serve, so you can refill anytime you'd like, to your heart's desire.

This place stripped down its side dishes to be even more simple: aged kimchi, and self-pressed garlic. No radishes, strangely.

Two garlic presses, a kimchi box, garlic box, chopsticks, and some pepper for ramen
Aged kimchi has a much stronger flavor than normal
You are given a dish of garlic
Load the garlic in
Squeeze and cut it off with a chopstick; don't use your hands

The Goods

The chefs in the back will start cooking your order as soon as you submit it on the kiosk. Wait time varies, but it rarely goes over 10 minutes. We'll take a look at my wife's tonkotsu ramen first, then switch over to my chashu bowl.

Tonkotsu Ramen

Fukuoka is the origin of a wide variety of ramen, namely the Kyushu region. Hailing from it are Hakata, Kurume, and Kumamoto styles, amongst several others. The common factor between them? A familiar and distinguished tare in the stocky broth—the result of many hours of simmering rich pork bones and drawing out their most savory flavor offerings.

Derived from an udon vendor in the late 1930's named Nankin Senryo, tonkotsu ramen was the result of fusing Chinese soba influence with a shoyu (soy sauce) ramen. It would be a decade after its genesis that the now-famous milky and thick broth would become commonplace.

Within the Kumamoto Prefecture, you'll find Tamana City. Going a level deeper, you'll find a legendary ramen shop, Sankyu. Argued by many as one of the most influential establishments within the realm of ramen, it has birthed some of Japan's most elite ramen chefs.

As the culinary scene continues to shift, more chefs are electing to go for a clean paitan approach, utilizing seafood or chicken as a base.

In all its glory

The broth is surprisingly deep and thick, but lacks the perfect oily mouthfeel. As you try more ramen around the world, you'll eventually get accustomed to the right balance of natural oils in the broth, and an almost specific mouthfeel. It's hard to find outside of Japan.

Even without it, this is a strong showing. It'd be hard to match this sort of price point and quality elsewhere in Jamsil. Any closer to the Lotte Tower and you'll be forking over at least $13 a bowl.

What you see in the bowl, going clockwise:

  • finely-chopped scallions
  • ramen egg
  • pork belly
  • pepper flakes
  • brown seaweed

In Japan, tonkotsu specialty shops tend use black fungus and seaweed of a higher grade. Pepper flakes like this are also rare; these specifically, reminded me of those Cici's Pizza shakers (in a bad way). They'll also pre-soak their bones the night prior, for several hours, which enhances the flavor. Here specifically, the chefs in the back use a mix of neck and femur for the broth, simmered overnight, but not pre-soaked. The tare is a usual mix.

The temperature was a little less heated than I would have liked, but not too bad. On a first sip of the broth, it's evident they like their kombu and niboshi. It's salty, but not overwhelming.

You'll find that real ramen, the stuff you'll eat in Japan, is actually a lot more salty than you may have expected. The places outside of the tourist regions also very rarely use MSG, contrary to popular ramen guides and blog posts which exist.

If you simply ask the chef or cook preparing your meal, it is almost always purely a flake sea salt, which varies by region. High end spots in NYC also subscribe to this mindset, such as Kajitsu.

Why no other sort of salt? A good question, and one that can be answered at length some other time, but the jist of it was that in the early days of Japanese cuisine's evolution, rock salt was not present in Japan.

Sea salt was, however. By extension, residue of fermentation from various foods resulted in the creation of what we know today as miso (bean paste) and shoyu (soy sauce).

You can see the oil is there, but it just isn't the "perfect" consistency
The seaweed seemed a bit pickled, but no complaints
You'll see a few egg split pics later; I came prepared
The lead actor 
Full shot
Zoomin'
As you can see the oil is just a bit lackluster here; this is a shot of the broth
The noodles and bean sprouts are fresh and dance with the broth well; they don't become soggy
Handmade every other day, according to the chef; they have some instant characteristics, however

One thing I would advise is that unless you are attempting to get some pictures specifically for blogging like we were doing above, do not take your pork out of the broth like that.

The temperature of the ramen took a huge hit, and if we were eating casually without the intention of blogging, we wouldn't do this.

This is a lesser-known downside of blogging, specifically for ramen or other types of soups. Although the broth and noodles themselves are heated prior, the pork is torched on the spot and acts as a little stove within the bowl. Take it out even for a few seconds, and it becomes room temp fast.

Egg split time
Squeezin' for a reason
A quick shot of the yolk coming out
That's a hit
You'd take this and eat it with noodles, then follow up with a nice full spoon of broth

Chashu Bowl

The name is somewhat misleading, and difficult even to split hairs about. Closer to yakibuta than chashu in this case (taste-wise as well), this rice bowl contains some of the best shoyu-braised pork you'll find in Seoul. It is nearly identical to the piece found in the tonkotsu ramen, except it is more tender and has a very distinct glaze.

Two fat pieces of pork belly, torched to perfection
You won't get better than this; you can see the meat tearing on its own
Had to throw a little zoom on there 
The red is ginger, accented with pointless seaweed strips, and some scallions

The cultural significance of rice within Japanese cuisine can be traced back to the Jōmon period. For the sake of this post, we'll skip that for now.

If you're reading this post, chances are through some sort of media, you've heard rice called gohan or meshi before. This was the very basis of early Japanese cuisine, where a normal meal would consistent of only short-grain rice, mixed with side dishes, called okazu.

Emphasis on only short-grain. Long-grain rice was present in India, as well as some rural areas of Southeast Asia, but never made its way to Japan.

This is the main reason why still, to this day, both Japan and South Korea have predominantly short-grain rice, while China have what would be considered medium or long-grain rice.

It is somewhat interesting that Japanese cuisine eventually transitioned to such dishes with high oil content like ramen, considering early on, the Japanese diet as a whole sat perpendicular to oily dishes. This stemmed from the decrees of Shinto, where eating animal flesh was forbidden.

By proxy, this is part of a larger and more complex dissection of why the Japanese admire fish so much, and have become masters of cuisine containing fish. Coastal regions provided pristine conditions to acquire seafood. Go even further into preservation of fish, and you'll stumble upon the roots of what we know today as sushi.

The further you observe Japanese culture, specifically the cuisine and history of the country, the more you'll see parallels.

Many often wonder why there was such a shift in Japanese cuisine between the 1850's and turn of the 20th century. The answer would be the Meiji Restoration and how society as a whole was kicked into high gear, rapidly changing and re-inventing itself. Following this, we see the surfacing of many foods, as well as refreshing takes on existing ones. The two dishes in this post being examples.

It's cooked to perfection on the inside as well
Cut it up so it's easier to eat, and so you don't waste time later; more enjoyable this way
That red stuff is aged and pickled ginger, which is more potent than the sushi store stuff

The purple rice is fresh and has a good consistency; a bit dry, but not to the point where it becomes a chore to lug it in your mouth with the meat.

This place has an extremely generous ratio of rice to meat, which I often look for when seeking out go-to places. As close to a 1:1 as I've come across in my food adventures, it's a place you can't pass up.

A perfect spoon
Real wasabi, too
Another shot from the side

Summary

Come through for a bowl of ramen or meat if you ever find yourself in this area. If you ever visit Seoul, chances are you'll be somewhere around here. Lotte Tower is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, and this is no more than 10 minutes from subway station (Jamsil station sits beneath the tower).

If the above didn't entice you enough to check this go-to spot of mine out, they have hundreds of anime figures inside. Literally hundreds; this is one of 6 seats with a figurine case, and the entire opposite wall has shelves of figures.

Way better than a box TV showing old daytime soap re-runs; guy in the hat was watching an anime, too

What more could you ask for?

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