What I ate – Korean restaurant edition.


Dwaeji kimchi jiggae

In September I left Seoul. After the rush and heartbreak of finishing work and moving out of my house I had a little over a week to say goodbye to this city that kept teaching me new ways to love it. Here’s what I ate.

Friday:
Dinner: Dwaeji Kimchi Jiggae – Kimchi stew with pork and tofu. Banchan: Korean leeks with a spicy sesame sauce, candied black beans and peanuts, dried squid, kimchi and rice cooked with another grain. An incredibly fresh meal for the price (5,500₩ at 고집 Hongdae.)

Saturday:
Brunch: 1 (surprisingly good) sausage, 1/2 rasher of bacon, 1 fried egg, 2 yorkshire puddings, green salad with flaked almonds and a free Americano (15,000₩ at Organic Cafe, Hongdae). An excellent example of the dire western food situation in Korea. This is tiny, average and pricey.
Cafe latte at Coffee LEC in Hongdae. (4,800₩) An empty cafe with passable coffee, free and fast wifi and comfortable couches.
Dinner: Pulled pork sandwich from Linus’ pop-up restaurant. Served with slaw and baked beans (10,000₩).
Nok cha bingsu. Patbingsu, sweet red beans, milk ice, red bean ttoek, with green tea ice cream and green tea. (15,000₩, shared)
Midnight meal: Dolsot bibimbap and gogi mandu from kimbap chonguk (~7,000₩). A necessary midnight breakfast after a few drinks.


Brunch from Organic Cafe

Sunday
Breakfast: Buttered toast and hot coffee. The hostel provides this for free, with the added warning to ‘butter your bread after cooking’.
Lunch: Mul Naengmyeon with grilled meat at Yookssam Naengmyeon (5,500₩). Disappointing.
Dinner: Korean/Mexican – spicy pork burrito with perilla leaves and cabbage, 9,000₩ at Grill5 Taco. Spicy, packed with meat, beans and leaves, this really hit the spot.
Dessert: Rum raisin ice-cream from Fell + Cole  (4,200₩) Good texture, lacklustre flavour.

Monday
Breakfast: Toast and coffee.
Lunch: Bibimbap/sujebi. Rice cooked with other grains, mixed with gochujang, leafy greens, nuts and seeds. Kimchi varieties, seaweed and hand-cut noodle soup with mussels. 6,000₩ at U-Sujebi near Ewha University. Huge portions, clean tasting, I came away from this meal feeling healthy, but stuffed.
Iced cafe latte from Berlin Cafe, Hongdae. (5,500₩). Nice space, blargghhh coffee
Dinner: Donburi – rice with egg, onions and tempura prawns. (7,500₩) No.
Kahlua and Makgeolli popsicle from Molly’s Pops, Hongdae. (2,800₩). Great flavour, icy crunch.


Sundubu jiggae.

Tuesday
Breakfast: Toast and coffee.
Lunch: Sundubu Jiggae – Spicy soft tofu stew served with rice, steamed soybean sprouts and various kimchi. (4,500₩ at 뚝배기집) Delicious, and not nearly as spicy as it looks. Everyone else at the shared table had doenjang jiggae. Next time.
Frozen yogurt with raspberry compote and flaked almonds.
Chocolate croissant from Paul and Paulina (3,700₩). So expensive, so good.
Dinner: BBQ pork and 7 minute kimchi jiggae at Saemaul Sikdang (새마을 식당) a popular BBQ franchise.
Dinner round 2: Makgeolli (Korean rice alcohol) sweetened with honey, white kimchi with tofu, pork and spicy octopus at Wolhyang, a famous makgeolli house. Yet again ‘fusion’ food disappoints.
Patbingsu with fruit and ice cream.


Kimchi rolls from Wolhyang

Wednesday
Breakfast: Blueberry bagel and coffee
Lunch: Doenjang jiggae – Korean style fermented soybean soup with mushrooms, greens and tofu. With rice, jeon and many kinds of banchan including simply cooked mushrooms, zucchini, dried squid with chilli and sesame and raw cabbage salad. (7,000₩ at BaB, Hongdae). An affordable and expansive lunch option.
Earl grey macaron and drip coffee from Belief Coffee, Hongdae (8,800₩). Average, all around.
Dinner: Taiwanese eggplant pork and tofu stew with rice, salad, sides and dumplings and dessert at 아우미식 Chinese Restaurant (15,000₩). Too much good food.


Doengjang jiggae from BaB.

Thursday
Breakfast: Nectarine and coffee.
Boribap – Kind of like bibimbap but with barley instead of rice. Doenjang jiggae and banchan, D-Cube shopping centre, Sindorim. (9,000₩). Incredibly disappointing, but I was eating in a shopping centre.
Lunch – BLT on walnut bread at D’Avant, Hongdae (12,000₩). A pretty good sandwich if the thick slices of raw onion and extra bread was removed.
Yogurt and peach gelato from Gelati Gelati, Hongdae (4,000₩). Punchy flavours, creamy texture and friendly service. Excellent.
Dinner – Beer and kimbap – Korean style seaweed rice rolls, stuffed with vegetables, danmuji (yellow pickled daikon) and tuna or kimchi.

Friday
Breakfast: Nectarine and coffee.
Lunch: Grilled pork meal.  Rice, doenjang jiggae and banchan, including pickled garlic, odeng, and perilla kimchi (6,000₩  at 고집 Hongdae). This is a lot of grilled meat, the kimchi jiggae is a much better option.
Cafe latte (4,800₩ at Coffee LEC Hongdae).
Dinner: Samgyeopsal (삼겹살) at Seorae (서래) a BBQ franchise. Wrap the grilled pork in perilla leaves with beansprouts, spring onions and chilli sauce. Finished with a few mouthfuls of bibim naengmyeon.


Samgyeopsal cooking.

Saturday
Beef and gochujang samgak kimbap (700₩ at a convenience store). A stabiliser, necessary to combat hanger.
Lunch: Hamburger with havarti cheese and homemade bacon, skin-on chips and dill pickles. (15,000₩ at Salt and Butter, Apgujeong). Delicious but decadent. We both felt sick afterwards from over-indulgence.
Coffee with thick cream (LEC Coffee Sinsa, 6,000₩).
Patbingsu from Meal Top, apgujeong (7,000₩). Satisfaction.
Dinner: Spicy seafood with rice (7,000₩), steamed dumplings (3,500₩).


What turned out to be too much burger from Salt and Butter.

Sunday
Brunch: Tteok mandu guk – Rice cake seaweed soup with big dumplings. (7,000₩)
Dinner: Bibim naengmyeon (5,500₩ at new noodle house in Sangsu).
Patbingsu (8,000₩ from  경성팥집 옥루몽). Portions meant for two, good, but not amazing.

 

A final meal of a superlative dolsot bibimbap (mixed rice in a hot stone bowl) left a good taste in my mouth for Korea.

Posted in Korean, Seoul, Seoult and Pepper | 2 Comments

Mindeulle Cheoleom 민들레처럼


Omija alcohol (5,000 won per jar)

Hyehwa is a spirited neighbourhood, half university town and half theatre district. The alleys off the main thoroughfare are dizzy with shops, eateries and theatres, providing interest in excess of the usual Seoul cookie-cutter neighbourhood. We’re here to visit a traditional Korean pub with a twist. This place infuses its own alcohol, and serves it at a dangerously low price alongside makgeolli-house-style food. It’s a dank basement room down some unsigned and nondescript stairs, and has the distinctive scent of soft furnishings in a smoking area. Racks of glass bottles of alcohol steeping, potplants and fake flowers decorate the space.

This is a drinking place, and as well as the expected  makgeolli, dongdongju, soju and beer, there is homemade alcohol in Cornelian cherry (산수유주 Sansuyu ju), mint (박하주 bakha ju), plum (매실주 maesil ju) and jujube (대추주 daechu ju) flavours. Omija alcohol (오미자주) ( is made from dried berries and is so named because it has 5 distinct flavours (오 is five in Korean). It’s pale pink, sweet and bitter and dreadfully easily to drink.


Golbaengi at the 2nd location.

These drinks are interesting, homemade and affordable, and the food competes. Free tastes of dried octopus and soft spicy tofu are high quality, disappointing only in that they’re not refillable. Jeon (전), the standard dish in a place like this, is a cut above. Crisp, puffy and devoid of raw patches that plague this dish, it’s packed with vegetables and seafood, a happy surprise for kimchi jeon. It may be all that omijaju but we dive on this platter with zeal.

Mindeulle Cheoleom (민들레처럼) means ‘like a dandelion’. The second branch of this restaurant, poetically named ‘like a dandelion spore 2′ (민들레처럼 홀씨 둘),  is above ground and is an altogether more pleasant place to dine. The prices are slightly higher, but to enjoy the same food outside on a summer evening is worth it. Half and half jeon (it’s commonly described as Korean pizza, to which I strongly disagree) is available, we order haemul pajeon (해물파전, seafood and spring onion pancake) and kimchi jeon (김치전) (15,000won). It arrives moon sized, crisp and full of seafood. The beautifully presented golbaengi (골뱅이, sea snails, 15,000won) are fatter and chewier than is usual and we over-eat the spicy sauce which is freshened with greenery and spring onions. This is too much food for three people, but we clean the plates regardless, with a pot of dongdongju (동동주) for company.


Jeon and dongdongju at the 2nd location.

Dongdongju (동동주) and makgeolli (막걸리) are traditional Korean rice-based alcoholic drinks. They are fizzy from fermentation and come in flavours like scorched rice (누룽지, nurungi), chestnut and honey. The former is sweeter, unfiltered, and is my favourite drink and one of the great things about Korea.

If you find yourself in Hyehwa, visit 민들레처럼 for the home-infused alcohol and the impressive food.

 

Mindeulle Cheoleom 민들레처럼 

Open 5:30pm – 1am

Jugs of alcohol from 5,000won
Food from 15,000 won.

Google Map Location

Posted in Korean, Seoult and Pepper | 1 Comment

Places to eat in Korea

Restaurants in Korea fall into a few different categories, to state the bleeding obvious, this is the same case everywhere. But for a foreigner in Korea it can take a while to recognise and be able to classify eating places. Language barriers, unfamiliar food, social mores and expectations can combine to make the simple act of eating overwhelming.

A proper Korean meal consists of rice, a spread of banchan, a soup or stew and some kind of main dish. Many of the eateries you see lining the streets don’t serve these baek ban (백반)-ish meals, they’re drinking places. In Korea it’s unusual to drink without eating, and sometimes it can be difficult to find a place to get a drink without being forced to order anju (side dishes that accompany drinks).

What follows is by no means a definitive list of eating places in Korea, but it’s a start.


Kimbap Cheonguk is a popular eatery. 

Bunsikjib (분식집)
Bunsik (분식) means food made from flour, think ramyeon (라면, Korean style instant noodles), tteokbokki (떡볶이, cylindrical rice cakes in spicy sauce) and twigim (튀김, lightly battered and fried vegetables, egg or seafood). Odeng (오뎅,  Korean style fish cakes) threaded on to long wooden sticks and warmed in fish broth are common, as is Korean style blood sausage (순대, sundae). These are eateries that serve inexpensive Korean ‘street food’ inside. To me, this is the kind of food that you eat when you’re drunk, but definitely not while drinking. After many pre-sleep 5am breakfasts at Hongdae’s Gangster Ttoekbokki, I can only rarely eat this food when sober.

A type of bunsikjib are kimbap joints like Kimbap  Nara (김밥나라) and Kimbap Cheonguk (김밥천국). These serve an extensive menu (handy translated version here), and are often open 24 hours. They’re franchises, so quality varies dramatically. As the name implies, rice based dishes like kimbap (김밥) and bibimbap (비빔밥) are also served here. These are great places to eat if you’re starving, poor and no where else is open.

Pojangmacha (포장마차)
These streetside eateries are what passes for ‘street food’ in Korea (top picture). Mostly they’re stand up and eat places, serving ttoekbokki, twigim, kimbap, odeng and sundae. Some transform in the evening into tents with tables serving noodles or more elaborate food alongside an endless supply of soju.

Local Markets (시장)
Local markets often have an area to sit down and eat some pojangmacha-style food, or something a little more complex. Different preparations of noodles (국수, guksu) are common and some markets have specialities, Kwangjang Market is famous for mung bean pancake (빈대떡, bindaetteok) and also has a raw-beef alley.

 


Chinese restaurants are often distinctive and not terribly delicious.

Chinese restaurants
Korean style Chinese restaurants or take away/delivery joints abound. I’ve discussed them and their dissimilarity to actual Chinese restaurants before. Come here to eat inexpensive black noodles (자장면, jjajangmyeon), sweet and sour pork (탕수육, tangsuyuk) or spicy seafood noodle soup ( 짬뽕, jambong) but don’t expect anything resembling the food in China.

 

Fried Chicken
In Korean, 치킨 (chikin) means fried chicken. Popular franchises include KyochonNene chicken and Two Two. The menu varies, but only slightly. Spring onion, spicy, garlic or boneless versions are available, but don’t come here if you’re interested in eating a balanced meal. Chicken is ordered by the bird, and often not much else is available. Banchan is limited to cubes of sweet and sour pickled radish known as 치킨 무 (chicken radish). Draft beer (생맥주, saeng maekju), or soju, or a killer mixture of the two (somaek) are obligatory beverages. Chicken is a popularly taken-away or delivered.

BBQ Joints
They’re everywhere, obvious for their hanging exhaust fans and table-top grills. From local divey joints to stylised franchises, they all have cook at the table facilities and an abundance of meat. Pork, intestines, chicken, beef or seafood are all popular items, listed by weight and arriving raw at your table to be cooked over charcoal or on a gas grill. Of course there are sides, often lettuce and perilla leaves to envelop your cooked meat, kimchi and vegetables. Common drinks are soju, as it pairs well with fatty pork, and beer. Rice (공기밥, gonggi bap) is optional, but if you order it, you’ll also often get a bubbling pot of fermented soybean stew (doenjang jiggae, 된장찌개). Naengmyeon, or other cold noodles are common ends to a BBQ meal.

Hof
This is a Korean pub. Due to reasons I don’t totally understand, most hofs require that you order food (안주, anju) with your booze. The food offerings at these places range from average to worse. Overpriced fruit platters and fried things covered in plastic cheese are common, while a simple bowl of chips is notably absent. But they are open late into the night and can be quiet and cheap places to drink.


Jeon outside a popular makgeolli place in Hongdae, crates of milky-looking makgeolli in the background.

Makgeolli Houses/Traditional pubs  막걸리집 / 전통주점
Korean style rice alcohol can be enjoyed anywhere from the seats outside Buy The Way, to restaurants and hofs, but these wood panelled rustic houses are the place to drink makgeolli or dongdongju. Jeon (전, pancakes) are often paired with makgeolli. It’s traditional to eat these foods on wet days, as the sound of the sizzling jeon is reminiscent of the sound of the falling rain. Spicy chickens feet, golbaengi (골뱅이, snails), dubu kimchi (두부 김치, tofu and kimchi) and Dotorimuk (도토리묵, acorn jelly) are also common foods. Be prepared to get drunk for cheap. It’s little wonder that these moodily lit, dusty joints are among my favourite places in Korea.

Above is just an introduction to some of the more common and confusing places. There are also loads of cafes, foreign restaurants, izakaya, burger places and fast food joints, as well as smaller Ma and Pa spots. The good news is that you’ll never go hungry in Seoul.

Posted in Seoult and Pepper, South Korea | 2 Comments

Chinese Dim Sum Restaurant 아우미식

To find a passable Chinese restaurant in Seoul is a rare and beautiful thing and to rediscover one is even better. This dumpling house is hidden down an alley opposite Hongdae Playground and after visiting on a Monday, their day off, I assumed it had become yet another casualty of Seoul’s fickle restaurant scene. Lucky for everyone, it’s still alive and kicking and nearly full on a Wednesday night.

The menu is full of specialities rarely seen in Seoul like mapo tofu and noodles fried in XO sauce. The pricey set meals deliver, but are really only an option for the ravenous. Yet I can’t go past the Cantonese style eggplant and tofu meal. Testament to it’s appeal, there isn’t enough rice for the more-viscous-than-traditional sauce. It’s intensely savoury, with soft tofu rounds, luscious eggplant, minced pork and the occasional fiery chilli. A selection of dumplings, an unlikely green salad, raw salmon, tofu with century egg and cucumber, and spicy jellyfish round out the tray. I dare you to finish it all. And then there’s dessert – choose from almond, mango or coconut pudding, all provide flavours outside the Korean norm.

Recognisable dumplings like shu mai, har gao and xiao long bao sit beside sticky rice rolled delights and other surprise packages. They’re all full of crunchy prawns or juicy meat and seem to be handmade onsite, with nary a noodle in sight.

This place gives a shocking taste of China in Seoul,  one I hope doesn’t suddenly disappear.

아우미식 Chinese Dim Sum Restaurant.
서울 마포구 서교동 358-40
358-40 Seogyo-dong (28-8 Wausan-ro 21-gil) Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Google Map Location

Set Menu 11,000 won – 18,000 won.

Opening Hours
11:30 – 15:00 and 17:00 – 22:00 Tuesday to Friday.
11:30 – 16:00 and 17:00 – 22:00 Saturday and Sunday.
Closed on Monday.

Posted in Chinese food, Hongdae, Seoul, Seoult and Pepper | 1 Comment

Korean style grilled beef and a meat market.

The list of Korean food I’ve never eaten is long and stacked with local specialities, seasonal dishes and seafood. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve eaten Korean style beef. I’ve never even had bulgogi. This isn’t some cultivated curiosity, the stars have just never aligned for me and that famous Korean marinated and grilled meat. It’s commonly done with beef, the most expensive animal in Korea. Beef here is of two camps: imported, cheaper and mediocre; or domestic, expensive and most likely breathtakingly marbled.


Our marbled-enough plate of meat.

For a recent special occasion I decided to right this perceived anti-bovine stance and search out some Korean beef. Hanwoo beef is prized in Korea. It is from a special breed of cow that has been raised in a certain way, but not all Korean beef is Hanwoo. Possibly the best preparation of this speciality is simple grilling Korean style.

After baulking at high restaurant prices and being unable to find many believable blog posts (in English or Korean) we decided to take a chance on the Meat (Livestock) Market. Majang-dong, in western Seoul, is a meat lovers paradise. Lines of butchers stalls sell beef and pork. Buckets of tripe soaking, animals heads and feet, ruby-red glistening lobes of liver and huge slabs of meat, are all on display in surprisingly sterile surrounds for a covered market. In the evening they’re cleaning up and shutting down, but there are still plenty of places open so you can buy your dinner. The gimmick here is that you can choose your meat, then go upstairs to the restaurant and cook it. The butchers all have pre-prepared plastic wrapped plates of sliced beef ready to go, but can be sweet-talked into making one up to your specifications. We got a bit more than 300g of Korean beef, half of it heavily marbled, for 40,000 won, plus a few freebies thrown in, thankfully the common dish of raw liver and tripe was omitted. Shopping around would likely find you an even lower price.

The drill is basically the same as at any BBQ restaurant, except here you bring your own meat. For a small fee you get all the necessary banchan, this time it was kimchi, spring onions with spicy sauce, onion, garlic, lettuce and perilla leaves, spicy bean sprouts, raw green chillis and garlic and dipping sauces. The usual extras are also available: rice with doengjang jiggae, mushrooms, naengmyeon and drinks.

After a quick blush on the beef fat slick grill, both cuts of meat tasted just as I remembered beef should. The heavily marbled pieces were delicate and tender, but I preferred the deeper flavour of the other cut, intensified by chewing. Beef fat cooked mushrooms (king oyster, button and enoki) could well be Koreas answer to duck fat potatoes. This meal would have just been a plate of premium beef, were it not for the simple yet strongly flavoured sides. They bring life and endless possibilites to a Korean meal. Wrap a seared morsel up in perilla with spicy spring onions, or dip it in sesame and salt, or make yourself a lettuce wrapped rice and ssamjang packet. Then take a spoonful of fermented soybean soup (doengjang jiggae) or a bite of a raw green chilli dipped in ssamjang. I’m discovering that these limitless combinations are only part of the joy of Korean food.

If you’re not afraid of a bit of raw meat, and would like to eat some premium Korean beef at a cut rate, give Majang Dong Meat Market a visit.

Majang Dong Meat Market
The restaurant I visited is called Meat Village Butcher Shop and it’s on the 3rd floor above the street side butchers shops.
Banchan: 4,000 per person
Open: 10am-10pm

Google Map Location

Exit 2 Majang Station (Purple line) 0r take Exit 4 of Yongdu station (Green line offshoot). Alternatively you can stop at Wangsimni station (lines 2 and 5) and take a bus from exit 3.

Posted in Seoul, Seoult and Pepper | 3 Comments
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