Gourmet Trips

Friendly Octopus by the Stream

I finished a meeting in Seoul late and was looking for a late lunch. I walked past this really normal hole-in-the-wall with all these Korean TV stations recommendations, I decided to give 원조 우정낙지 a try despite not knowing what they served because everything was in Hangul.

Original Friendship Octopus 원조 우정낙지 sells octopus, stir-fry spicy octopus to be precise. Since ancient times, Koreans ate octopus to replenish their energy. Also, since octopus is rich with various nutrients, it’s popular as a healthy dish.

The place has rows of tables, typically of a Korean salaryman eating place that you see in a Korean TV series. The shop owner and waitresses did not speak any English, and out of desperation another customer said the magic word, “Octopus”. And I replied, “OK”.

Very quickly, the pickles were served with a bowl of rice on boiled vegetable. I was starting to worry what I was getting into as I attracted sniggering looks from neighbouring tables.

Mugyo-dong-style stir-fried nakji bokkeum 낙지볶음

The dish, nakji bokkeum 낙지볶음, which originated in the Mugyo-dong neighbourhood of central Seoul, is red and spicy beyond belief. Just by looking at it, I can feel the irritation of the salivary glands in my mouth and the pinching of my tongue…

Koreans mainly enjoyed octopus as sashimi or stew until it became popular as a stir-fried dish in the 1960s in Mugyo-dong, South Korea. This is thanks to the deliciously spicy and addictive Mugyo-dong-based sauce that made the octopus irresistible in stir-fry.

Octopus sujebi (hand-torn noodle soup) 낙지 수제비

As part of the meal, it came with an octopus sujebi (hand-torn noodle soup) 낙지 수제비. Instead of reducing the heat from the stir-fry, it accentuated the spiciness. Strangely, it reminded me of banmian 板面 as the soup stock was anchovies and kelp, but a lot more peppery.

Original Friendship Octopus at the original location at 17, Cheonggyecheon-Ro, Seoul South Korea+

While this restaurant was called Original Octopus Wonjo Nakji, the root of the dish can be traced back to more than 40 years ago, to Grandma Park Mu-Sun. Ms. Park Mu-Sun began working in the kitchen of an old acquaintance’s roasted sparrow restaurant. Coming from the port city of Incheon, where octopus was common and cheap, she started serving pan-fried octopus as a side dish. It quickly drew in many customers, leading her to launch a restaurant serving her specialty in 1965. 

Wall of fame

Stimulated by the return of the “Original Grandma,” other owners have renovated their restaurants and replaced worn-out signs with bright new ones, attracting media coverage for their claims to originality. 

Rundown building in the middle of the CBD

Original Friendship Octopus has moved from its original location at 17 Cheonggyecheon-Ro, Seoul South Korea to the 2nd storey of the building behind.

Original Friendship Octopus 원조 우정낙지 (Wonjo Woojeong Nakji)
Woojeongnakji, 2nd floor, 19-16, Gwancheol-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Tel : 02-720-7991

Cheonggyecheon 淸溪川

It was a stream that was refurbished to become part of the sewerage network during the Joseon Dynasty. Subsequently during the Japanese occupation, it was left to deteriorate and was a scar to the downtown. During the rapid development during the 60-70s, it was filled with concrete for road and a highway was built on top of the roads. In 2003, the Mayor of Seoul proposed a redevelopment of the area by removing the highway, and renew and beautify the old stream.

The stream park opened in 2005 and since it has been a popular destination for locals and tourist alike. Happy water, indeed!

Date Visited : Jan 2015

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