Korea’s past and present mingle at Mu-A

20 Sep

Jong-ro, the neighborhood located northwest of Banwoldang Subway Station in downtown Daegu, is an interesting intersection of old and new. The buildings are older and the streets are quieter, removed from the blaring music, cell phone shops and cosmetic stores of Dongseong-ro. The area is home to an Oriental medicine market dating back to the Joseon dynasty and shops selling traditional Korean rice cakes as well as ultramodern department stores, cafes and Japanese restaurants frequented by young patrons.

A few blocks north of Donga Department Store is Mu-A, a hansik restaurant and dessert café that reflects Jong-ro’s unique feel. Mu-A’s design is undeniably modern, but its source of influence is unmistakably rooted in tradition.

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Restaurant owner Mr. Yoon Geum Shik has opened traditional Korean restaurants in the past, but he wanted to take Mu-A in a different direction. He said he feels as though many cafes today are “Westernized,” so he wanted to create a place that felt uniquely Korean while paying homage to the past. He hopes the restaurant will give visitors drawn to Jong-ro’s historic walking tour a place to enjoy traditional Korean food along the way.

“I wanted to incorporate traditional Korean culture including hanok and traditional Korean instruments,” he said.

To achieve the building’s award-winning design, Mr. Yoon employed the expertise of four designers. The result is a multi-level floor plan with a variety of seating options that range from open seating areas to private rooms that are available upon reservation.

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Mu-A is adorned with family heirlooms and each artifact contains a story, including the restaurant’s most impressive feature – the hanok, traditional house, on its rooftop level. The house is no reproduction; the home was transplanted from Pohang. The unique space is available to diners upon reservation.

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Seating is also available in the rooftop’s courtyard where a retractable awning allows open air dining depending on the weather. The surrounding walls on this level are made of stacked roof tiles which also have a story of their own; they were obtained from Cheongwadae, also known as the Blue House, from the era of former President Park Chung Hee.

“I could have used new tiles, of course, but I wanted to symbolize a connection with the past,” Mr. Yoon said.

Mu-A’s extensive menu – including traditional Korean fare, a wide variety of beverages, desserts and anju, side dishes that pair well with Korean alcohol – invites diners to linger well after the meal. In the evenings, patrons can enjoy a live musical performance featuring the gayageum, a traditional Korean string instrument.

The restaurant is largely casual, but the food’s careful preparation and beautiful presentation gives Mu-A the feel of a more upscale restaurant. Mr. Yoon prides himself on quality ingredients. For him, the restaurant is a venture of passion, not profit.

“I’m very proud of what I’m doing now,” he said of the restaurant’s mission to use fresh, all-natural ingredients and avoid the use of MSG and other artificial additives.

“Our juice contains 95 percent real fruit and only five percent added sweetener,” he said.

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Mu-A’s main course options are flavorful, healthy and filling. Two eye-catching dishes include the steamed rice and grains wrapped in a lotus leaf and served alongside banchan, Korean side dishes, short ribs and soup, and the ssam bap, rice wrapped in steamed vegetables. However, Mu-A’s signature dish is the Tteokgalbi Sigeumjang Table, comprised of seasoned meat patties, mixed rice and grains, banchan and soup.

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Beverages include traditional Korean liquors, craft beer, makgeolli cocktails, fresh juices, teas, ades, and coffee drinks. A one-of-a-kind dessert item that’s not to be missed is the pumpkin bingsu. A mound of melt-in-your-mouth “milk snow” is covered with pumpkin that has been steamed and pureed until smooth and topped with crushed pistachios. It’s unbelievably creamy and unlike other bingsu that use red beans or fruit.

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Meals are priced between 8,000 and 17,000 won while beverages are around 6,000 won. Patrons may order at the counter and food will be brought to their table. The menu includes English descriptions as well as photographs of most dishes.

Mu-A is located a short walk from both Banwoldang Subway Station Exit 15 and Jungangno Subway Station Exit 1.

Address: Daegu, Jong-gu, Jong-ro 2 ga 2-1

대구광역시 중구 종로2가 2-1

Phone: 053-255-4717/053-254-4717

Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. to midnight; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

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