Return to Hanoi

Yesterday Hanoi’s air was like a smog-scented foam at some ostentatious restaurant. The drive from the airport was the usual honking and unexpected lane changes, passing dusty food shops and booming tea stalls. Some factory had just let out and a section of the road was full of blue and white uniformed workers, looking like lego-men until they piled onto motorbikes.

The house was sparkling in the damp dreary grey, full of apricot roses and purple orchids. It’d be an oasis of calm if it weren’t for the karaoke music and construction happening right next door. There was cut up apple at in the fridge, peeled and cored, sweet and crunchy. Boxes of pomelo segments and perfectly peeled pineapple too, spirals cut out of the sides in that way the sellers can do with their eyes closed. Mum and I snacked, a much-needed respite from airplane food,  and gossiped and I layered on more clothes.

We went out into the drizzle and sat at a local expat bar, drinking gin and surprising acquaintances who didn’t know I was back in town. The menu was all takes on western food, a good thing as local food in a place like this is usually half-hearted at best. The nachos were crisp, cheesy, spicy and lacking only in avocado, a deficiency I find more often than not.

This morning, on closer inspection, I realise the fridge is bare. A few bendy carrots and a large packet of garlic, leftover from when I was here last. There wasn’t even any coffee, so I’m drinking earl gray, sweetened from a glass 70’s-style jar kept in the fridge with memories of the last several bags of sugar stuck up the sides, the different varieties mottled. And with, embarrassingly, high-calcium, low-fat UHT milk. I really need to go shopping.

But first, I’ll stop for my favourite hidden local bun cha. They play music and serve up a particularly garlicky brew washed down with glasses of strong, icy green tea. Every visit there are different tiny creatures in the fish tank, crabs, frogs, see-through prawns. Then I’ll brave the traffic and the expats and sit on my favourite balcony for thick sweet coffee, preparing me for the supermarket shopping. Tomorrow, early I’ll head to the market, no preparation necessary.

Posted in Vietnam | 2 Comments

Che Hoang Anh

Vietnamese bean dessert - Che

Hanoi traffic is the kind of thing tourist nightmares are made of. But once you become a part of it, and as a pedestrian you’re likely already playing, you notice that the zig and zag of the bikes runs along some kind of demented reason. Same goes for the bikes that block up the footpaths and cause you to enter the maelstrom. Some are codified parking zones, others are reserved for patrons of certain shops or restaurants. So when we were denied parking in one of the latter places, all hope for dessert was lost, until my friend uttered the secret code ‘chè’. The parking boy perked up, filed away the bike and as we crossed the road, he followed, excitedly navigating us to Che Hoang Anh.

Vietnamese bean dessert - Che
Chè is a general term for Vietnamese puddings, sweet dumplings and drinks. They come in countless varieties and are enjoyed as snacks, rather than after-dinner treats.

A colourful sign for Che Hoang Anh marks the narrow entrance. Walk past someone’s living room and an interior courtyard parking lot/washing up area. Go up the stairs that make you feel like you’re walking into someone’s house and around the corner is the bright box full of sweet treats. We visit in the afternoon, and sit in the tiny dining room – a cool pre-fab fluorescent cell – and devour the speciality: sua chua mit (yogurt with jackfruit).

Vietnamese bean dessert - Che

Ice-capped bowls are handed over by giggling girls. Underneath is tapioca, jellies, sour and berry-like red versions of basil seeds and vivid slices of jackfruit. These components have been prepared and portioned with a steady hand, though I’d like to throw the balance out with more jackfruit. Sua chua means yogurt, and the milky liquid in this bowl has the suspicion of coconut. You could almost pretend to be on some tropical island paradise, if it weren’t so hilarious to be sitting on a mini-stool in a box suspended in a crumbling Hanoi house, eating a wonderful dessert soup.

It could be the novelty of the experience or the actual dish, but this sua chua mit is extraordinary. It’s even enough to turn a jackfruit-casual into a fan.

Che Hoang Anh
22 Ba Trieu

We went after lunch and the place was deserted, but I hear it’s pumping in the evening.

Sua Chua Mit (17,000 dong ~$0.80AU)

Posted in Vietnam, Vietnoms | 1 Comment

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.

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.)

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 | 2 Comments

Places to eat in Korea

Street food in Seoul 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
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 Restaurant in Korea
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 Restaurant in Seoul, Korea

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.

Korean Fried Chicken

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.

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 in Korea
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
Page 5 of 67« First...«34567»...Last »