(THE KOREA HERALD/ANN) - Guarding the entrance of Seoul National University, located at the foot of the city’s southwestern mountains, is a monument that looks like a triangle with a pronged pole to its right. Created by rearranging the Korean letters in the school’s name, the sculpture resembles the letters for the sound “sha,” which is why a newly bustling alleyway near the university has come to be called “Sharosugil".
The street, located behind the large boulevard that stretches in front of Seoul National University Station Exit No. 2, only recently emerged as a hot spot for students and foodies. The approximately 550-metre path is currently home to a number of exotic eateries - featuring French, Thai, Latin American, Vietnamese cuisine and more - that coexist with the homey Korean street food of the Nakseongdae Traditional Market that was there before.
While most universities throughout Seoul boast crowded commercial streets in front of their gates, full of restaurants and bars frequented by students, SNU students for years had to travel to the nearby Sillim-dong or Gangnam neighborhoods for a night out due to the campus’s secluded location.
“It’s great that we have a place like this near our school now,” said Cho Su Bin, an SNU sophomore who was standing in line to grab dinner at the restaurant Egg Thumb, which specialises in omelets, with her friend Friday evening.
“Before, when I met with friends from high school, I would always go to their school neighbourhood because there was nothing to do or eat near our school. Now, I always invite them over.”
The atmosphere was lively on Friday evening. Lines of restaurantgoers, both students and older visitors, stood waiting to be served, as most of the stores’ premises are under 33.3 square metres in adherence with the area’s construction laws.
“The restaurants in Sharosugil are authentic,” said Park Seung Bin, a graduate of the university. “By that I mean that they’re run by individual owners. They’re not chain restaurants run by companies. That gives (the restaurants) a more customised and personal feel, and a unique taste to the food.”
Just a decade or so ago, the area surrounding Gwanak-ro 14-gil, where Sharosugil is situated, was largely a residential district, peppered with office workers and students living in studio apartments.
The relatively cheap rent of Gwanak-gu - much cheaper compared to the nearby Gangnam area - and its young population began to attract adventurous, budget-constrained restaurateurs to the area in the early 2010s, real estate agents say.
“There are a lot of one-person, two-person-owned restaurants in the area,” said the head of Lotte Real Estate, located in the alleyway’s entrance. “Rent prices have risen significantly now. The monthly rent for a small store is about 1.5 million won (S$1,854). But demand is still high, especially due to young entrepreneurs.”
Sweet Balance, which serves salads, green juices and other healthy dishes, was opened by two SNU graduates who majored in aesthetics. The owner of Kiyoi, which serves homemade Japanese dishes, was inspired by the Japanese TV series Midnight Diner, about a chef who offers both solace and food to his customers.
The following is a list of some popular eateries that line the alleyway.
The Melting Pot
It serves homemade burgers with fat, 200-gram patties, mozzarella, mushrooms and a special white sauce.
2 Gwanak-ro 14-gagil, Gwanak-gu
Moules Francaise & Frites
Owned by a Korean chef who craved genuine French food after returning from his studies in Europe. It serves French-style mussels, delivered fresh daily, french fries, beer cocktails and pasta.
22 Gwanak-ro 14-gil, Gwanak-gu
It serves quality hand-drip coffee varieties, including the Yemen Mocha Matari beloved by legendary artist Vincent Van Gogh, with porcelain drippers.
22-13 Nakseongdae-ro, Gwanak-gu
It serves a number of cocktails by an experienced bartender and over 20 types of flavoured beer (yam, cookie, red bean paste, and more).
30 Gwanak-ro 14-gil, Gwanak-gu
It serves hearty salads topped with duck, chicken, salmon and avocado as well as green juices with kale, apple and beet.
99 Gwanak-ro 14-gil, Gwanak-gu
Art meets food in this museum-like space, which serves fusion dishes with Korean, Chinese and Japanese influences. Works of art by local, amateur artists are hung on its walls.
22 Gwanak-ro 14-gil, Gwanak-gu
It serves charcoal-grilled prime beef with an assortment of rare craft beers.
27 Nambu Ringway 234-gil, Gwanak-gu