Street Food in Seoul

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

One of the things Asia is generally good for is street food, whether it’s the local stuff we’re used to in Malaysia (and Singapore to a degree), or the slightly more exotic things in Bangkok that involved insects. Anyone who watches Korean dramas would have definitely seen many a scene of people eating street food while hitting shot after shot of soju, and we were naturally keen to try the food too.

Gwangjang market

In Gwangjang market, we actually had a dinner a few hours beforehand already, but were keen to have a bite or two here. Lacking proper homework, we decided to do the safest thing and to go for the stores that had the most people. There was a pancake stall which was absolutely packed with happy looking people, so we took a seat there too.

Gwangjang market-bindaeduk

Luckily, the waitress knew some Mandarin, so ordering food was reasonably easy. However, we struggled terribly before we found out she spoke Mandarin, even with the two kind girls on the next table trying to help with their limited English. Anyway, they only had two types of pancakes: mung bean (bindaeduk) or with minced meat.

Gwangjang market-bindaeduk

Gwangjang market-bindaeduk

The pancakes arrived sizzling hot off the griddle. Personally, I preferred the minced meat version, which had a bit of minced pork with the ground beans and had a texture slightly reminiscent of hash-browns. Both were very good though, especially with a bottle of makgeoli or fermented rice liquor.

Gwangjang market-makgeoli

All this for just KRW9,000 too. I felt like we were robbing her!

Sadly by this time, it was about 10 pm and it looked like a lot of places were closed. I was really keen to try ddeokbokki and gimbap so we just decided to sample at another random store.

Gwangjang market-street food

Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication, we got double the amount we wanted to (I only wanted 1 portion each) and we couldn’t finish it. Also, the ddeokbokki was in really huge chunks and was too chewy, while the gimbap (or Korean sushi), which was essentially a futomaki, had a bitter tinge to it (probably from the sesame oil).

Gwangjang market

This cost us KRW15,000 and needless to say, we felt more than a bit cheated as this cost more than the pancakes, but was nowhere near as tasty.

Gwangjang market
Add: 6-1 Yeji-dong, Jongno-gu
Directions: Subway Line 1, Jongno 5(oh)-ga Station, exit 10.

On the fourth night, the PigPig and I decided to walk over to Namdaemun market from our base in Myeongdong.

Namdaemun market-street food

It was actually a pretty short walk, only 5-10 minutes or so at my slightly brisk pace. Even so, it was about 11 pm when we reached, and after learning our mistakes from the previous night market, we carefully cased the area before choosing a reasonably popular looking stall that had more patrons than others.

Namdaemun market-street food-ddeokbokki

Limited by language, I only knew of two things I wanted to try. One of which is haemul pajeon, which is seafood pancake. It was similar to the one mentioned earlier, but this version wasn’t as nice as it didn’t feel so “fresh off the griddle” as it had undoubtedly been sitting there for a while, but admittedly it isn’t a specialist pancake store.

Namdaemun market-street food-jeon

Namdaemun market-street food-gopchang

The other is gopchang, which are basically grilled intestines. Now, I’m fairly used to eating this, but I appreciate that for some readers this is hardly appetizing; TomEatJenCooks offers a real good read on his experience. Anyway, our version here came with loads of vegetables (mainly onions and cabbage from what I could make out) and glass noodles. The little pieces of intestines were really nice and chewy, and were definitely well cleaned beforehand.

Washed down with a bottle of soju and makgeoli, we paid KRW23,000 which was a bit more expensive than I expected for street food, but then the portion size was really big. The kind lady even threw in a complimentary couple of ddeokbokki and a bowl of soup with some fishcakes for us.

Namdaemun market-street food

On the last night, we stumbled upon a street of hawkers just north of the Euljiro-1-ga station. Being particularly greedy, we decided to stop by for some munchies. Sadly, I haven’t learnt any new words or dishes from the previous night, so we had the same two dishes. The gopchang here was much spicier though, and didn’t have the glass noodles. We also had a bottle of beer, and I can’t remember how much it cost but was in the region of KRW30,000 or so.

gopchang

We also had a couple of bites from random vendors while walking around Myeong-dong too. We saw lots of people walking around with this skewer of spiral potato, which we had eaten before in Taipei. However, this was slightly different as the edges were rimmed with a cheesy powder, which gave it a little extra special something.

Myeongdong-street food

Another random munch was of a grilled squid. It was quite interesting as she first grilled it, then pressed it through a machine to give it the papery thin squid. It’s slightly different from the normal stuff we get in Malaysia as it had a distinct sweetness to it, probably from a marinade.

Myeongdong-street food

To finish off the random street vendors, while walking around Euhwha University, feeling a bit peckish I tried this meat skewer. It was not bad, with a slightly sweet sauce, and the meat was quite tender. The owner also indicated that I could eat the ddeokbokki.

Seoul street food

Miscellaneous notes
  • Makgeoli goes well with seemingly everything!
  • I wish I knew of more street food to eat. The only things we definitely knew we wanted to try was the ddeokbokki, gimbap, gopchang, and jeon. But I’m sure there are loads of other things too. Next time.
  • If you’ve eaten the rice cakes in other things like Mukshidonna for example, then there’s not much point trying the street food version, as it’s just the rice cake in a spicy sweet sticky sauce.

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Soy-Marinated Crabs: Pro Soy Crab 프로간장게장

Sunday, 28 October 2012

In Seoul, there are a fair few alleys which are full of restaurants that specialise in a certain dish. In Sinsa-dong, there’s ganjang gejang alley, which is basically crabs marinated in soya sauce, and apparently the best (or most famous anyway) of them all is Pro Soy.

Pro Soy Crab 프로간장게장

Housed in one of the nicer looking buildings, the interior was even better looking, and positively reeked of affluence. Once inside, we quickly made our choices, and were soon snacking on the provided kimchi, which felt a bit more delicate than other places. However, the plain boiled cabbage and seaweed was rather unusual (we assumed it was part of the banchan, and not meant to be eaten with the crab).

Pro Soy Crab 프로간장게장

The crabs were marinated in soya sauce and presumably other stuff like garlic, sesame oil and sugar. For those who know their crabs, there are certain seasons which is best to eat them, and apparently winter is mating season, and when the females are full of roe.

Pro Soy Crab 프로간장게장-soy-marinated crabs

We only had 2 crabs to share between us 4, which turned out to be somewhat of a blessing as the PigPig had a strong allergic reaction to it (known allergy to raw crustaceans), and another girl wasn’t that keen on it. I wasn’t complaining, and happily wolfed down a crab myself. The meat was exquisitely delicate, naturally sweet, but tempered with the soya sauce. It had a texture similar to the raw prawns typically seen in Japanese sushi.

Pro Soy Crab 프로간장게장

One of the things we were keen on trying was sannakji, which was essentially live little octopi sliced up and served on a plate while still squirming. One is then supposed to eat them with a bit of soya sauce and sesame oil, which makes them squirm even more. I found picking them up a bit tricky, particularly as I’m not really good with the Korean metal chopsticks to begin with. Once picking them up though, they tended to stick to the chopsticks, as their suckers are still active.

Sannakji-live octopus at Pro Soy Crab, Seoul

Tastewise, they honestly weren’t that interesting. The natural taste of octopus is rather bland, to say the least, so mostly the flavour is soya sauce and sesame oil. The appeal is probably from the texture and the implied freshness of the produce.

Anyway, I was informed that the octopi are well and truly dead, and they squirm due to a reaction to the salt within the soya sauce. There is a slight danger though in that the suckers can cling to the oesophagus if not chewed well, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to chew this dish properly. I also didn’t feel them squirming within my mouth, if anyone was wondering.



To round off the meal (more of a light snack by our standards), we also ordered an egg and rice dish. We honestly weren’t really sure what the egg dish was supposed to be, but the table next to us was eating it so we decided to copy them. The egg wasn’t as smooth as the Chinese or Japanese style steamed eggs, and felt a bit rough, while the bottom was burnt from the hot stone bowl (?intentional). The rice meanwhile, was just plain rice, some parts a little burnt, in a very plain broth (more like water).

Pro Soy Crab 프로간장게장 egg

Pro Soy Crab 프로간장게장-burnt rice porridge

Altogether, the bill came up to KRW92,000, which was our most expensive meal in Seoul. I’m sure there are other cheaper places to try eating this crab, and they might be better or worse, but all I can say is that the crab at Pro Soy was really amazing. However, I wasn’t too keen on the egg and rice soup dishes, and you’re advised to just stick to the crabs, although the sannakji is worth checking out if you’re interested.

Pro Soy Crab 프로간장게장
Add: 27-1 Jamwon-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul
Directions: Subway line 3, Sinsa Station, exit 4.
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Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤

Monday, 22 October 2012

One of the things people associate with eating in South Korea is samgyetang, or ginseng chicken soup, and Tosokchon is virtually legendary for this. Finding the restaurant was easy enough, albeit tucked away in a little alley. We reached there at 10:30 am to avoid the queue, which worked a treat as we were immediately seated within.

Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤

Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤

The restaurant seemed quite quaint and pretty, and certainly looked as if it’s been around forever, while still being clean, bright and airy. To our surprise though, we had to sit on the floor and tuck our lets underneath the table Japanese style, which was slightly tricky for my inflexible limbs.

Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤

The kimchi was straightforward, but quite good with just the right degree of spice and fermentation for me. There was just two types available (cabbage or radish), and the waitress left a big pot containing each at our table for us to consume away.

Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤

The main thing to eat here is ginseng chicken. The menu reflected this, as despite the 4 apparent options, there are only two real decisions to make. First is the colour of the chicken: black or white. The other is if you want extra 100年 山参培养根,which translates into cultured roots of 100-year-old Korean mountain ginseng. We had a black and white chicken in the end to share between 4 people.

Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤 menu

Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤

Essentially, the dish came in a claypot containing a little chicken, stuffed with rice, swimming in a rich delicious ginseng broth. Whilst both soups were really good, we found the one with the white chicken a tad sweeter, possibly as black chickens tended to be leaner.

Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤

Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤

Each of us also got a little glass of ginseng wine, which packed a mean punch both in terms of the alcohol and ginseng aroma. I took a couple of sips throughout my meal, but apparently some people add it into their soup for extra oomph! Wish I had known that before.

Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤 ginseng wine

We also ordered a haemul pajeon (seafood pancake), which was not bad, but a bit on the dense and floury side. Also, it was much bigger than we anticipated!

Tosokchon Samgyetang, 토속촌 土俗村参鸡汤 pancake

Altogether, the bill came up to KRW64,000. This is slightly more on the expensive side of the meals we had, but I do honestly feel that it was well worth it, partly as ginseng can be quite expensive, but mainly because it was really delicious. We finished every drop.

Miscellaneous notes
  • While the ginseng chicken at Tosokchon was really good, for some reason we didn’t have it anywhere else. Too many temptations.
  • Not really convinced the extra ginseng really made a difference, but I suppose an extra KRW6,000 isn’t that huge.

Tosokchon Samgyetang 토속촌 (土俗村参鸡汤)
Add: 85-1 Chebu-dong, Jongro-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Directions: Subway line 3, Gyeongbokgung Station, exit 2. Walk 120 meters towards Hyoja-dong. You will past “popoyes”, then look for GS25 convenience store, turn into the small lane at the corner of this store. Turn left onto Jihamun-ro 5-gil.
Tel: +822-737-7444
Operating Hours: 10:00 to 22:00 daily
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One-Pot Meals in Seoul: Mukshidonna 먹쉬돈나, Yoogane 유가네, Jeonju Jungang Hoekwan 전주 중앙 회관

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Mukshidonna 먹쉬돈나


Ddeokbokki
, also known as tteokbokki or topokki (which is more similar phonetically), is a very popular Korean street food, which basically consists of rice cakes in a spicy red thick gravy. A variant is rabokki, which basically adds ramen noodles into the mix. Mukshidonna is a popular rabokki restaurant, with several outlets across Seoul.

Mukshidonna 먹쉬돈나

We had this meal at about 3.30 pm, after a lunch of ginseng chicken followed by some pastry desserts (posts to follow), so while we could still put away a fair bit, we demonstrated restraint while ordering. However, this also meant that we avoided the crowds, and we didn’t have to queue. Even at this odd hour though, the restaurant was still about half-full.

Mukshidonna 먹쉬돈나 menu

Like a lot of eating places in Seoul, there wasn’t an English menu. Thankfully however, there were Mandarin translations! There are essentially 5 main blocks in the menu. The first basically determines the main ingredient of the dish, with options such as seafood, cheese, meat, ham/sausage and vegetables; with each option costing a mere KRW4,000. Our party of 4 had to choose a minimum of 3, so we opted for seafood, cheese and meat.

Mukshidonna 먹쉬돈나

The remaining stuff are all optional, but it’ll be a waste to not order anything. The second block consists of 4 types of noodles, such as ramen, udon, glass or an identified/untranslatable item. Items chosen from the first and second blocks are fixed once ordered, which basically means you can’t choose to add on anymore noodles halfway through a meal for example.

Mukshidonna 먹쉬돈나 rabokki

The third block of ingredients is for extra stuff, such as eggs, ham, dumplings, fishcakes. A particularly interesting one we randomly chose was glass noodles wrapped in seaweed. Sadly however, spam isn’t on the menu. The fourth block (of one choice) is for extra cheese, whilst the last block is for rice and drinks.

Mukshidonna 먹쉬돈나 rabokki

The end result is a big steaming pot of spicy carbohydrates! Thankfully, the heat level wasn’t bad, and was definitely manageable by my Malaysian taste buds, even after 10 years of English acclimatization. The rice cakes were probably a little odd to our palate, being soft, chewy and sticky all at the same time, a bit like mochi I guess. The ramen however was really nice, and they really soaked up the thick gooey tasty gravy-like soup. The cheese sounds like a rather odd ingredient, but actually worked quite well.

I didn’t get to try the mussels, as they were polished off very quickly by my table-mates, but I heard they were fresh.

Altogether, the meal came up to KRW17,000, inclusive of a soft drink. For the sheer volume of food, as well as it being very tasty in a carb-intensive manner, Mukshidonna is very appetizing cheap eats.

Yoogane 유가네


Towards the latter end of our trip, with stamina flagging, we became more loath to travel for our food. Thankfully, we were staying in Myeongdong, which is a veritable tourist mecca and therefore has lots of eating options. Obviously, the caveat to this being the concomitant presence of tourist traps.

Yoogane 유가네

So in the end we opted for Yoogane, a restaurant chain which has several outlets scattered across Seoul itself. The menu has got pictures (always useful I find, regardless of foreign language or not) as well as English translations, but communicating with the staff proved much trickier. We had to order at least 3 of their main dish choices, which was invariably chicken, octopus, vegetables and a variant thereof, but there were some limitations as some options couldn’t go with others (they’re not on good terms I guess), and some were sold out. In the end though, we took their flagship marinated chicken, as well as some octopus.

Yoogane 유가네 chicken galbi

Basically the cooking concept is quite simple, marinade some sliced deboned chicken with some incredibly tasty gochujang sauce, mix it with some octopus (ok that’s slightly random) and vegetables in a giant skillet, and cook it in front of hungry customers on a gas stove. Erecting a metal wall around the cooking ingredients help prevent splashes, and there are also complimentary aprons to be used by the customers.

Yoogane 유가네 chicken galbi

However, that’s all just protein and vegetables, and everybody craves for carbohydrates. Adding in some extra rice or noodles is a great idea, of which we had one each. When the chicken was nearly finished cooking (all done by the staff), a quarter of the ingredients on the pan was set aside to be fried with the rice, and similarly with the ramen noodles.

Yoogane 유가네 sides

Yoogane 유가네 chicken galbi

The end results were pretty damn good, with lots of intense flavours from the chicken embedded into the rice or ramen. The chicken actually came with a mild or spicy option, of which we took the milder one, and had no problems with the spiciness.

Yoogane 유가네 chicken galbi

Backtracking a bit, while waiting for the food to prepare, the free salad bar was available. The options were rather limited though, with either yellow pickles (the sweet one found commonly in sushi), a soup-like kimchi thing, and shredded cabbage (with salad dressing). Kimchi was of course available, but hidden away in a corner.

Altogether, the meal cost KRW28,000, and we left pretty full and satisfied, although some may prefer to have another portion of rice or noodles.

Jeonju Jungang Hoekwan 전주 중앙 회관


Jeonju Jungang Hoekwan 전주 중앙 회관

During our university days in London, not too long ago really, we used to eat Korean food relatively frequently. It would almost always include a bowl of bibimbap, which is essentially a bowl of rice with a variety of seasoned vegetables on top, some of it cooked, with gochujang mixed in. We tended to for the dolsot bibimbap version, whereby the mixture is served in a hot stone bowl, cooking the egg (and usually raw beef slices on top) and giving a crispy rice lining at the bottom.

After our happy experiences in London, we were naturally very excited to try some (hopefully) authentic versions in Seoul too. One of the better reviewed placed from the PigPig’s research is in Myeongdong itself, so off we trotted on a fine balmy evening.

The restaurant also served other typical Korean food such as grilled meat and ginseng chicken, but we stuck to our aims and ordered only the bibimbap. Still, they had a couple varieties on offer, and we opted for 2 bowls of beef and an abalone version. It was perhaps reasonably tasty, but a bit lacking in gochujang (possibly because we were tourists?).

Jeonju Jungang Hoekwan 전주 중앙 회관 bibimbap

Altogether, the 3 bowls of bibimbap and a drink or two came up to KRW64,500, making this one of the more expensive meals. Admittedly, one of the bibimbap bowls did come with abalone, but the prices of the beef and abalone versions were very similar (KRW18,000 versus KRW20,000 if I recall correctly), and to be frank, the abalone was quite small. To put it in perspective, of the 4 barbecued meat meals in the previous posts, 3 of them were cheaper than this meal.

Jeonju Jungang Hoekwan 전주 중앙 회관

I hesitate to put a label of “tourist trap” on this place, but it’ll be highly unlikely for me to choose to return here if/when I go back to Seoul.

Miscellaneous notes

  • Of the two Mukshidonna and Yoogane, Mukshidonna is probably the more “interesting” choice, and I also find the taste better. So logistics aside, if I had to choose only one, it would be Mukshidonna.
  • Mukshidonna is only a short 5-10 minute walk to Ssamzigil, which is a good walk after a heavy meal to a tourist spot.
  • Neither restaurant is a good place for people on a diet, but then dieting people probably aren’t reading a food blog anyway.

Mukshidonna 먹쉬돈나
Add: Samcheongdong seoul jungno-gu, anguk dong 17-18
Directions: Subway line 3 (orange), Anguk, exit 1.
Operating hours: 11am-8pm closes every first and third sunday of the month

Yoogane 유가네
Add: 66-6, Chungmuro 2-ga, Jung-gu
Directions: Subway line 4 (blue), Myeongdong, exit 8.

Jeonju Jungang Hoekwan (전주 중앙 회관, a.k.a. 全州中央會館, a.k.a. Jeonju Central Clan House)
Add: 24-11 Chungmuro 1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
Directions: Subway line 4 (blue), Myeongdong, exit 6. Look for Uniqlo, there’s a smoothie king next to it. Walk into the alley.
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Myeongdong Gyoja, 명동교자 明洞饺子

Thursday, 18 October 2012

By the time we reached the shop, it was just before noon, and already a queue was forming. However, turnover rate was very decent, and within 5-10 minutes we were seated down and perusing the menu. The decision making process was simplified as there were only 4 options: soupy noodles, milky broth noodles, cold noodles, gyoza, and they each cost KRW8,000.

Starting with the gyoza, each order comes with 10 of these, and there is no such small/regular/large option. The skin was actually very light, and it didn’t stick to the plate. The filling was really delicious, and densely filled with pork; the green vegetable within shall remain a mystery, although it may be spring onions or chives.

Myeongdong Gyoja, 명동교자 明洞饺子

The gyoza were already tasty enough to eat on its own, but we spied condiments by the side of the table. There was a thick almost syrupy savoury garlic and spring onion concoction, which tasted so good I suspect would have made even cardboard palatable.

Myeongdong Gyoja, 명동교자 明洞饺子

Seeing as this was our second lunchtime meal, we shared a gyoza and a noodle soup between the four of us. The noodles were also really good, with a clear yet aromatic broth. The dumplings in the noodles were more like wontons, but probably had the same filling as the gyoza.

Myeongdong Gyoja, 명동교자 明洞饺子

We enjoyed it so much, we went back again a few days later. This time I tried the cold noodles, which was good and tasty and all, but a lack of other ingredients within meant it became a bit boring after a while. I suspect it didn’t help that I couldn’t do my customary swap with wifey halfway through a plate.

Myeongdong Gyoja, 명동교자 明洞饺子 -cold noodles

Before ending, its also worth mentioning the kimchi here. Most dining establishments have their own “home-made” version. Each restaurant’s kimchi therefore, varies slightly in taste (more/less fermented, salty, spicy etcetera) and style, but they are by and large relatively similar. However, Myeongdong Gyoza’s kimchi was an outlier amongst all the meals we had, in that it was incredibly spicy and garlicky. I loved it, but it’s not to everyone’s tastes. I also noted that the waitress tended to give us less kimchi compared to the locals, as they probably found that we had difficulty coping with it.


Myeongdong Gyoja
29 Myeongdong 10-gil (Myeongdong 2-ga) (Opposite M Plaza)
Location: Myeongdong Station (Subway Line 4), exit 8
Tel: +822-776-7384
Operating hours: 10:30-21:30
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