Kirk and Cathy are traveling, eating, doing important stuff, or maybe just resting today. So Ed (from Yuma) is posting about 3 meals (from San Diego).
I had to have some sushi. Just had to. Tina had memories of a good chirashi at Kokoro and its website said it would be open at lunchtime on Friday. And it was:
In addition to tables, Kokoro has an L shaped sushi bar that surrounds an elevated workstation and ingredient storage area, which I think helps executive chef Akio Ishito work more comfortably:
Although I don't remember it from before, the chirashi meal started off with a little lettuce and tomato salad:
The lettuces were very fresh, the tomato very ordinary, and the dressing seem to be based around rice wine vinegar, miso, and soy. Refreshing. Palate cleansing.
For soup, we were given the alternatives of miso or udon. So udon it was:
The noodles were perfectly cooked, toothsome and tender, but the soup overall was bland.
The chirashi looked beautiful:
Underneath the fish and friends, the sushi rice was faultless. The toppings presented a nice selection of sushi bar favorites, all good quality and offered good value at $19. We both liked the sizable slice of mackerel and the halibut (hirami), which was especially firm and fresh – in fact, much like the halibut crudo we would eat the next evening at the Wine Vault. We also liked the uni and shiso leaf pairing, and the surprisingly first-rate ebi, unusually meaty and flavorful. The hamachi also stood out. There were no bad tastes, though the slices of octopus and squid were exceeding thin. Overall, we enjoyed.
It had been a long time since Tina and I had been to any Korean restaurant. We weren’t looking for a smoke filled room or for cooking our own food, so we decided on Halmouny, where we’d always enjoyed our visits in the past:
We noticed they'd remodeled the interior, and we liked the changes – the place seemed cleaner, more modern, and more open:
A flagon of chilled water was brought to the table along with my beer:
A mysterious box on the table, when opened, contained stainless steel soup spoons and chopsticks – nice touch:
A funny thing happened. Tina and I started looking over the large menu, discussing things, and trying to figure out what we wanted. There were so many choices, and almost every one of them seemed inviting. Twice the friendly server came over and asked if we were ready, and we had to say no because we weren't. Then, when she came over the third time, we ordered two of the most standard dishes on the menu.
Soft tofu soup with vegetables:
And dolsit bibimbop:
I'm sure our server must have been laughing with her coworkers about the clueless gaijin taking so long to order such a simple basic meal.
But it was good. While the soup lacked a certain depth of flavor, it was certainly tasty, and the interplay between creamy tofu, spicy broth, and veggies and ‘shrooms was pleasant. The bibimbop was great comfort food. The simple meal was really what we wanted.
Though the ban chan was totally standard and uninspired, we enjoyed them. Here’s some items:
The dried radish was our favorite of those four. There was some baby bok choy and some other veggie that I can't remember, but our favorites were the regular kimchi:
and the wonderful dried tofu
For us, this dinner was, paradoxically, exotic comfort food.
For lunch on Saturday, we were looking Eastern Mediterranean, but La Miche Kabobgee is closed for lunch on Saturdays. We remembered seeing a large restaurant, Sufi, on Balboa not too far from Convoy that promised Mediterranean food. So that's where we went:
It is large, and at lunch, it serves a popular buffet:
Photographing the entire buffet was pretty much impossible as other customers were coming and going. Plus I was getting hungry, so this fuzzy shot shows just a small part of the available choices:
Tina's first plate looked like this:
She really liked the chicken and the fire roasted veggies (the big zucchini slice and the charred tomato half). She also enjoyed the garden salad with the feta dressing, and we both liked the Shirazi salad with chopped onion, cucumber, tomato, and parsley.
Here's my first plate:
For some reason, I chose three slices of sausages, which were okay, but not really unique or outstanding. The baba ghannouj was decent, and the hummus was creamy, but far from the best I've had in San Diego. The chicken wing was OK, the pickled beet excellent, and the beef kebab just okay. Tina and I both enjoyed the stewed zucchini.
At first, the breads were not ready, but soon we were able to get pita bread and Persian naan:
For me, the breads said a lot about Sufi. The pita bread was pitiful – cool, store-bought, and boring. The Persian bread, on the other hand, was warm, tasty, and probably homemade. But in some ways that is the essence of the restaurant. While it calls itself "Mediterranean," Sufi is really a Persian restaurant that serves some generic Lebanese food to broaden its customer base.
In fact, most of our favorites from the lunch were Persian, like this interesting pomegranate soup, a lentil soup with a distinct sour tang:
And the stews on my second plate:
I believe the one on the left is called fesenjoom, a chicken and pomegranate stew. On the right is ghormeh sabzi with a big chunk of tender beef covered in greens along with large dark red beans. The closest item is, I think, gheimeh, beef and yellow split peas. I have no idea about the green bean stew furthest away. In any case, these Persian stews were the most interesting items on the buffet, and I wished that I had focused on them right from the beginning.
Nonetheless, the buffet was interesting and we certainly got to eat all kinds of things we can't get out in the desert.
This little place is the "and more" in the title of the post. It's located right next to Sufi and looked promising, so Tina insisted we visit:
There was a bewildering array of Persian pastries:
So our late-night snack that evening consisted of these walnut or pistachio treats: We were expecting something like baklava, but these were different. The pastry was not fila and they were a little more savory and less sweet than baklava. Four years ago Cathy visited the same bakery and hinted that a post might be forthcoming. Hint hint.
Anyway, we enjoyed all three of these meals. None was spectacular, but each scratched an itch, and that's a good thing: too long in Yuma and I get awfully itchy.
There was steady drizzle as we headed back to Myeongdong.
We had begun to notice something about the crosswalk signals in Seoul.....they seemed to take an inordinately long time to change. Miss a walk signal and you're stuck cooling your heels. Which is probably why you'll see folks sprinting to make the walk signal....I mean like 80 year old grandma's hauling it to the crosswalk!
So why did we head back to that beast called Lotte Department Store?
Well, the night before I stopped by 7-11 and picked up a bottle of Hite. attached to that bottle was a sample of honey-butter almonds.....which the Missus loved. So of course we had to hunt them down. After looking in a couple of convenience stores we decided just to head to Lotte and check out the market in the basement. And whaddya know? Almonds. So it was mission accomplished.
We headed back to the apartment for a short siesta. During this time of the year, night falls like a hammer in Seoul...it gets dark by 430pm! We were also quite hungry. Seoul is famous for their "Food Alleys". Near the Jong-no 3ga station is an alley that specializes in Gul Bossam; pork and fresh oysters wrapped in lettuce or napa cabbage...... No need to ask me twice, I'm there!
The instructions were, find exit 15 of Jong-no 3ga station and walk 20 meters down the street, take your first left down the alley to your left, then take your first right. One of the shops, Samhae Jip was the one I read about the most. I had a photo of the storefront and the Missus could read the Chinese characters. It really wasn't that hard to find....you just looked for the line!
And all the pork simmering away......
We really lucked out as all the other parties were large and we quickly snagged a small table for two. I was also quite lucky to not have to do endure the floor seating, which, if you've read some of my previous posts is a disaster waiting to happen. The possibility of me falling over and spilling hot soup on folks is not a pretty thought, though folks here were having no problem.
Lot's of folks seemed to be having a good time....and many had what we call the "Asian gene" thing going on! Half the fun was people watching. The three guys to our far left were just plain wasted....they were slapping each other....then feeding each other! On our table to our left, we noticed the girl there only eating panchan and lettuce, while her boyfriend/husband just plowed through the pork, something we had also noticed the night before.
The smells in the place were just intoxicating! All the standard sides and panchan arrived; bean paste, fermented baby shrimp, the raw garlic, a couple of chilies, ssamjang, kkandugi (radish kimchi), Sukju Namul.
The wrapping was done with either lettuce or napa cabbage. The Missus preferred the lettuce; I preferred the sturdy cabbage, which I thought kept everything together better and had MCPB - More Crunch Per Bite.
Soju is required for this type of eating....at least that's what we were told.
The Missus's favorite item was the gamjatang, the pork bone soup. It was fairly chilly and damp, so the Missus who loves Her bone soup had problem plowing through almost the entire pot! It was quite tasty. The Missus has also developed a taste for the perilla seeds.
This was a load of food for 20,000₩, about $18 US! This was for two people! I was kind of leery about the oysters, but while not great in flavor, it had a nice texture, and was fresh. The fresh radish kimchi was really good as well. The pork....well, as you can see.....it was moist, pretty tender, mild in flavor. And those fermented shrimp tasted really good!
The folks here were pretty friendly. And dinner was a bargain at 30,000₩, about $26 for food and drinks.
It might be hard finding this place....well not really if you follow the "exit 15 - take a left - take a right". It's worth the effort to check it out.
Samhae Jip - Gul Bossam Alley
We headed back out to Jong-ro. The rain had subsided and the temperature was going down.
As we watched the businessmen stagger down the side streets.....
It had started raining fairly hard as left Myeongdong. But we really weren't through eating. We went back to the apartment, had some tea, showered, and headed back out. This time the target was Gwangjang Market; established in 1905, I read that there were over 5000 shops in the market.
It is indeed quite a beast as we entered and immediately got lost....surrounded by textile shops.
After wandering around for quite a while....almost in a dazed state we found the area that sold food products and some of the "alleys".
Of course there are a ton of food stands.....
Serving every part of the animal.
And then there are the congregations of shops that specialize in specific dishes that have their own "food alleys"; gimbap alley and jeon (pancake alley), where you can watch mung beans being ground to make Bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes).
There was one alley I really wanted to visit. I love yukhoe, the Korean version of beef tartare, so I really wanted to try it during my visit to Seoul. We'd had Yukhoe Bibimbap at Gogung, but I really wanted to try it straight up. So we hunted down Yukhoe Alley, a small collection of shops specializing in the raw beef dish, and chose one that I had read about named "Brother's Raw Beef". The only way I found it was by the cow logo as all the signs were in Hangul.
No English spoken, but the gentleman running the place as well as the woman who served us were very friendly.
And really, all you need to do is put up one finger and say "Cass" and then raise that index finger again and say "yukhoe"......
And in case you wondered about how fresh the meat was; there were three women in the back of the restaurant prepping the beef.
The Missus recalls the beef-daikon soup that came with the raw beef was really tasty.....
But all I remember was how very good the Yukhoe was. Just enough Asian Pear to add crunch and some sweetness, some pine nuts adding another dimension of flavor, the egg yolk lending a richness to the whole dish.
A touch of sesame oil....that's all I really needed.
The beef, while lean was surprisingly tender. This was my favorite dish from our time Seoul.
Brother's Raw Beef (형제육회) - In Gwangjang Market 160-8 Jongno 4-ga (near exit 10 of the market) Seoul, South Korea
It was still raining when we left the market and headed back in the direction of our apartment. We took a short look around Tapgol Park.
As we were leaving, the Missus decided we needed to head back to Myeongdong.........
The forecast called for rain on our second full day in Seoul. This meant one thing for the Missus.....get an early start. We decided to head back to Bukchon Hanok Village as we believed (rightly so), that we wouldn't have to deal with the hoards of tourists. A Hanok is a traditional Korean house, and this collection of structures between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, once the lair of high ranking government officials, Bukchon Hanok Village is full of little alleyways, with these traditional structures, some of which date back to the Joseon Dynasty.
It's a wonderful place to wander in and out of the alleyways during the early morning. Even though some of the structures have been turned into cafes, shops, galleries, and guest houses, there are still many residences here. Which is why we felt really bad seeing the place mobbed with loud tourists....geez, can you imagine if you lived here?
If you've been reading our little blog long enough; you'd know that the Missus loves Hachiya Persimmons and was mesmerized by a tree full of them! She stood under that tree for a good ten minutes trying to will some of the fruit to fall. Alas, there was to be no divine intervention here. No fruit falling from the heavens. So we left Bukchon Hanok Village, taking some of the quieter back alleyways back to the hustle and bustle of the morning rush.
The wind was picking up and there was some intermittent drizzle as we got back to Jong-ro.
We were getting hungry and headed off to another place from my "list". Walking back to Myeongdong, over the Cheonggyecheon Stream.
As you could tell from my previous posts; I'd been seeking out classic Korean dishes and down the street, across from Myeongdong Cathedral, stood another shop I wanted to try.
Hadongkwan has been in business since the 1930's and serves basically two things; suyu (boiled beef or pork slices) and gomtang, a clear beef soup.
The drill here is that you order and pay at the register first, then have a seat. The woman working looked mighty tough.....she looked at me and said "you big...." and then "small" to the Missus. In other words she ordered for us. And frankly I wasn't going to argue as I'm fairly certain she had a ruler to whack me over the knuckles had I disagreed.
As we sat, she walked over to another table and grabbed the bowl of sliced green onions right off it and brought it to us....the guy was still eating! We couldn't help but chuckle...what if he wanted more green onions? I guess he would have had to deal with her and we were fairly certain who would come out on top.
The kimchi here was very good, not salty, mild fermented flavor, very clean tasting. Ah yes, clean tasting, that also describes the gomtang, in spite of the nice fat, and collagen infused broth, it tasted very clean......sea salt, rice, and a ton of scallions for me. Just like Japan, scallions are considered a veggie here. And, as much as I joke about the woman running the front of house, she was very efficient. When she saw how much I enjoyed the green onions, she nodded at one of the servers, who instantly refilled our bowl....same with the kimchi!
Very nice, straight up beefy flavors. This might seem simple, but getting things right is deceptively hard.
Hadongkwan 10-4 Myeong-dong 1-ga Jung-gu, Seoul
After breakfast, the Missus decided to do some shopping and we wandered the side streets of Myeongdong. And while we saw a very familiar sight.....
Though the Missus really couldn't find the cosmetics She wanted. So we headed to the huge Lotte Deprtment Store....this being the main branch.
Unfortunately the department store didn't open until 1030, it was just getting to 930. We noticed that the Lotte Duty Free store was just opening so we decided to head on over......to the feeding frenzy! Sheesh! It was a huge rush of Darwinistic, every woman for herself, Chinese tourists. We started walking around a bit and noticed many of the women dragging along huge suitcases. Naturally we thought that these folks were heading off to the airport and just making a stop along the way, until we noticed that once items were purchased, they'd open the empty suitcases and fill them up. We saw women literally buying a thousand dollars worth of cosmetics and dumping it into a empty steamer trunk! Yikes! This was just too much for the Missus and She needed to leave.....
We decided to head back to the apartment for some calming tea, before heading back out.....of course crossing Cheonggyecheon Stream yet again. This time we walked on down and along the stream for a bit. A nice, relaxing walk.
We meandered through the back streets parallel to Jong-ro. There are a ton of restaurants down those streets and alleyways. I came upon one which caught my eye.....it was a hot pot place....I could tell they served goat and lamb. But what was that creature between the goat and lamb?
As the sun set on Seoul, we realized what a full day we'd had, crisscrossing Jongno, from breakfast on Supyo-ro, then off to Gyeongbokgung Palace only to find that the palace was closed that. It was then onward to Bukchon Hanok Village, only to find that place crawling with tourists. Then deciding to walk to Changdeokgung Palace and a wonderful tour of the Secret Garden, followed by a walk through Insadong with lunch at Gogung. Whew. When evening hit, man, we were pretty hungry. The Missus had Samgyetang, ginseng chicken soup, on Her "wish list" and who am I to deny Her?
So we headed out....the Missus wanted a different route, so we headed down to the Cheonggyecheon Stream area, once an elevated freeway area and crossed over to the very busy Myeongdong area, bustling with post-work and pre-Christmas shoppers. Around this time of the year, lanterns adorn the stream.
Walking past Lotte Department Store, we headed in the direction of City Hall and soon heard some loud singing. It was this guy singing his heart out....unfortunately, it was just to an empty field of grass.
That didn't deter him from giving it his all though......
This palace is Deoksugung, which had evening hours. After getting the Missus Her Samgyetang we returned but decided one should only visit so many palaces a day and decided to pass.
A busy intersection and few blocks away was our destination; Korea Samgyetang, which claims to be the first Samgyetang Restaurant in Seoul, opening in 1960.
The place has four floors. We sat on the first floor which was pretty empty when we arrived, but quickly filled up. A mix of tourists and locals.
As the Missus loves Her Black Chicken, She ordered the Black Bone Chicken with Wild Korean Ginseng Broth and Abalone......which I think came out to something like $30!
Things started off with some panchan and some (free)ginseng wine, which I found a bit too medicinal for my taste.
I think I already mentioned how good the kkandugi was in Korea, this one was probably the best....not too salty, not bitter, slightly sweet, and with a nice crisp, but not hard texture. It must be the type of daikon used as the texture is totally different from what we have here in the states. That raw garlic...was quite potent.
Like I mentioned above; I'm not a big fan of Samgyetang and this didn't really change my opinion. Personally, kind of flat tasting, the abalone was very tough and hard.....same could be said for the black chicken stuffed with glutinous rice, dried dates, and ginseng. The Missus? She loves black chicken and really enjoyed this....
The place sure does get busy. As we were finishing up, a group of Thai arrived. When we were leaving I started cracking up as I saw a Ziploc bag of Thai Chilies being passed around from person to person.
The service was efficient, if not a bit perfunctory. I was happy for the Missus.....
Korea Samgyetang 55-3 Seosomun-dong Jung-gu, Seoul
And while Samgyetang is traditionally "hot weather" food, the Missus seemed energized by all that rubbery chicken and ginseng floating around in Her belly, so we decided to walk around for a bit.
King Taejo, who founded the Joseon Dynasty, chose Seoul to be the Capitol in 1392. Security of the center of government was important to Taejo, so he ordered that a wall be constructed to protect his city. The wall had 8 gates, which also is the number of mountains which surrounds the city. So you'll come across many gates during a visit. This one is Souimun (Seosomun).
I was again struck by the contrast of the ancient and modern in Seoul......
We made our way back in a roundabout way, finally deciding to walk along Cheonggyecheon Stream to admire the lanterns.
We fully intended to stop when we got to the apartment, but for some reason we just kept on walking down Jongro....pass a shopping street where the Missus said, "you can't go down there....you're too old."
Somehow, we ended up back near Supyo-ro and I was feeling a bit hungry. I remembered a "KFC" (that would be "Korean Fried Chicken") place I saw the previous evening and was suddenly hungry. You can't go to Seoul without getting some KFC, right?
Which how we ended up at Kkanbu Chicken........
We ordered the Crispy Chicken, which came with a bowl of popcorn (?!?) and water kimchi. Man, this was like a whole chicken!
The chicken was super crisp, the batter very light, the chicken very moist.....but the flavor seemed bland and in need of seasoning to us. The Missus looked at me and said, "you'd kill for a bottle of Crystal hot sauce right now wouldn't you?" The chicken sure did need a bit of flavor and something to cut all of that...friedness. Some of my Roasted Ghost Pepper hot sauce would have been killer...heck, if I'm coming back to Seoul, I might invest in those tiny keychain bottles of tabasco!
On a cute note; there was a young couple who sat on the table next to us. We saw some kind of fruity soda and a mug of beer arrive at the table. To crash those stereotypes; it was the tiny young lady who had the mug of beer and the guy had the soda. I did notice that the girl only ate the kimchi and nothing else though, which I found kind of strange...the guy just whacked the whole chicken.
The service was nice, though I was really looking forward to the KFC place I had on my list scheduled for a few nights later.
Kkanbu Chicken 202 Nagwon-dong Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
By this time I was kind of feeling all those miles and I was looking forward to hitting the sack. But it was not to be...at least not right away. As we got to the highrise where our apartment was located, the Missus kept on walking.....we ended back up on Sejong-ro on Gwanghwamun Square, staring at the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin.
As we got back to the apartment the Missus looked at Her smartphone and said "perfect....we just put in 20 miles of walking today!"
What?!? I needed a shower and a good night of sleep.......
Since we had pretty much struck out at Gyeongbokgung Palace (wrong day of the week....damn you jetlag) and Bukchon Hanok Village (crawling with tourists), we went for "Plan C", Changdeokgung Palace. Walking over, the place looked quite busy, but once inside it was rather sedate.
Completed in 1412, this was considered the "second palace", after Gyeongbokgung. You enter through the Donhwamun Gate into a large courtyard that fronts the Injeongjeon, the throne hall.
The markers you see indicate where the court stood....basically in terms of rank. So of course the Missus stood next to rank 1 for Her photo and took one of me in front of the last rank! Not really knowing much about the history of Korea, the Missus was fascinated to see that Chinese was used as the written language.
From this throne the king received envoys and oversaw ceremonies.
We walked along Daejojeon Hall, the official residence of the queen.
This was all very nice, but there was one area I'd read about and really wanted to visit; "Biwon" (비원 The Secret Garden). This area can only be visited via a guided tour and you need to purchase tickets. Also known as Huwon (후원 Rear Garden), this series of pavilions and ponds were originally created for the royal family.
We had a hint of things while walking around other parts of the palace.
There are times when travelling when everything just seems right, your timing is perfect. In spite of the other 50 or so folks on the tour, this was the highlight of our time in Seoul. Our guide was so very knowledgeable, She explained the use of Chinese writing and the transition to Hangul to the Missus later on during the walk.....she was oh so very patient, keeping a group like this together was like herding cats. And listening to the three Filipino girls was a hoot; "pleeease, no more hills", "what, more steps?", "ok, enough leaves already...."
The colors were stunning as was the backdrop.
The photo above show the area named Juhamnu; this is where the Royal libraries were located. The pond in front of it is called Buyongji Pond.
One of the most stunning sites was the next stop; the "Love of Lotus" pond and pavilion (Aeryeonji).
We don't have an intense changing of the seasons here in San Diego, so just the colors had us mesmerized.
For a kid from Hawaii like me....this was like being on a different planet.....
This is the Jondeokjeong Pavillion, known for the double roof.
This is the Soyoam Rock. Notice the carving in the rock. Along with the name of the area carved by King Injo, there's a poem carved into the rock by King Sukjong.
At the end is a Chinese Juniper Tree that is supposed to be over 750 years old.
It was nothing short of spectacular to us......the timing was just perfect; the next few days were quite windy and somewhat rainy which I'm sure changed things. Sometimes you just get lucky!
We were getting hungry, so we headed down to the bustling streets of Insadong, full of shops, little restaurants....tourists and locals.
In the basement of the very popular Ssamziegil Mall is a restaurant named Gogung, famous for their Bibimbap.
The restaurant specializes in Jeonju Bibimbap, supposedly a specialty of Jeonju which was declared one of the Creative Cities for Gastronomy by UNESCO. Jeonju Bibimbap is supposed to be serious stuff; sometimes with up to 30 ingredients used for a single bowl!
The Missus really enjoyed Her meal here and considers it Her favorite meal in Seoul.
There were two items that arrived with the panchan that caught our attention. The first was Deulkkaetang a perilla seed and mushroom based soup. The flavor was quite interesting, like basil, mildly sweet with an anise finish combined with the earthy flavor of the mushrooms. This was nice, but I found the fragrance kind of odd, mildy fishy-earthy, not sure if my olfactory was working well on this day.
The second being some fermented thick cabbage stems which smelled almost exactly like the suan cai we make at home. Funky fermented flavor. So of course the Missus just loved this.
We noticed that folks on the other tables pretty much stayed away from this....the Missus was tempted to grab them........but She displayed great restraint.
The Missus went with the Jeonju Dolsot Bibimbap; which might have been one of the best dolsot bibimbap I've ever had. Amazing textures, especially the bean sprouts which tasted oh so good.
As the rice crust formed things got even better; adding a layer of nuttiness and even more contrasting textures to the dish.
The Missus though, really enjoyed what I ordered; the Yukhoe Bibimbap. The amazingly clean tasting raw beef had perhaps a bit too much minced Asian Pear in it, making it a tad to sweet for me; but the Missus really loved the flavor and texture of this.
She polished this off in no time.
The traditional Sujeonggwa was served as dessert/digestif.
We both enjoyed it as this was not as sweet as most versions back in the States, making it quite refreshing. The prices weren't too bad at all; the Dolsot Bibimbap at ₩ 11,000, about $8.75 and the Yukhoe Bibimbap at ₩ 15,000, about $12.
Gogung Insadong 44 Insadong-gil Jongno-gu, Seoul
After lunch we wandered around Ssamziegil Mall, through all the little shops; but mostly people watching.......
Kids are the same everywhere, aren't they?
Soon enough, our afternoon nap came calling and we headed back to our apartment amongst the highrises of Jongno-gu........
We'd already put in a good amount of mileage, but little did I know we'd put in another big chunk this evening.
Ah yes, Seoul, I need to get around to my posts before all the memories fade. Why Seoul, I'm not quite sure.....it had something to do with those K-Dramas the Missus was watching. I told my coworker "SJ" about this and she laughed......"it's really nothing like those soap operas....." but she was excited about my travelling to Seoul where much of her family still lives. I mentioned wanting to really try the "standards", "Seoul Food" if you will, and she came up with a huge spreadsheet of choices, recommendations from friends, family, and her.....we managed to visit a couple of these places as well as a few I did some research on. Yet, the Missus had Her heart set on eating at Pojangmachas....which SJ found to be quite amusing.
I was dark and rainy when we arrived from Narita, something we got used to since we had only one really clear night during our trip. It would have been quite difficult finding our way to our AirBnB amongst the highrises around Jongak Station. But our host left us amazing instructions....with photos and landmarks! The apartment was comfortable, cozy, and had all the amenities one could wish for. And the location couldn't be beat. It's probably one of the best and well set-up AirBnB units we've stayed in. They even had pocket wifi to use during your stay. Thanks Mark!
So we headed out into the night and straight for the Pojangmacha near Supyo-ro....and reality hit the Missus, the food looked like it had been sitting all day, rain was dripping on it...and while it would probably hit the spot after a hard night of drinking...we weren't that drunk yet. So, I went to my list and thought some Seolleongtang would just be perfect. And we set out to find Imun Seolleongtang, one of the oldest, if not the oldest restaurant in Seoul. According to Seoulistic the place was established in 1902. How we found the restaurant, in the darkness and drizzle, I'll never know. But tucked away from one of the main streets, we found the place......a gentleman was walking in and we asked him "Imun Seolleongtang?" He smiled and nodded and waved us in...turns out he was one of the owners/managers of the place as he stationed himself behind the cash register.
Most of the customers looked like older folk, a good sign in my book. We were seated and took a second too long to order so the older woman, totally a "Ajumma" just ordered for us.....hilarious. We wanted Seolleongtang anyway.
A couple of notes; we found that the baechu kimchi in Seoul was delicious and not as "pickled" and salty as what we have at most places here in the states.
It wasn't always to my liking, but it was a nice change for me.
Meanwhile; I found the kkakdugi to be really great just about everywhere; so crisp, refreshing, not too salty.......
And boy they love their scallions here.....
Baskets or huge bowls are passed around when you order Seolleongtang or Gomtang. I found that I really enjoyed adding a pile of this to my soup as it added crunch and a nice pungency and flavor to the broth...along with the sea salt and crushed red pepper (gochugaru).
So now is when I mention my SD card failure once again. Unfortunately, my SD card malfunction ate my Seolleongtang photos...so you'll have to bear with my description. The broth was milky white, highly defatted, but still having that collagenic tongue coating feel to it. The flavor was beefy and not much else; it was up to you to add what you needed. The slices of wha loked like brisket had that nice texture of not too tough and not falling apart.
A perfect tummy coating soup for a rainy and rather chilly Seoul evening......
Imun Seolleontang 30-22 Ujeongguk-ro Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Arriving at night in a city or country you've never been in before can be a bit disorienting; but we're kind of used to it now, so we just took things in stride and had a good night of sleep.
The next morning we awoke hungry and decided to head on out........but first we needed some sustenance. Where....well, I wasn't sure. I recall seeing a couple of places neat the pojangmacha the night before so I suggested we walk on over to Supyo-ro. Looking over places, we decided on this one.
Sorry, neither the Missus nor I read Hangul. But the smells coming from the place was inviting....there was a group of "guys" finishing up their meal as we entered.....they were still drunk and were trying to sober up.
The panchan was decent, but nothing special....though I will say again, it wasn't as salty as what is standard here at many Korean restaurants.
I got the Doenjang Jigae - the soybean paste stew. It was decent, nice flavor, hearty, the tofu was especially good. The Missus enjoyed this more than I did.
Meanwhile, I really enjoyed the Kimchi Jigae....it had the nice fermented flavors of kimchi, wasn't too salty, was nice, thick, and plain delicious.....though the pork was really tough, which was to be expected based on the price.
And while we had a version later on that was plain delici-yoso....this hit the spot.
And yes, the price.....well 6500 won, about $5.20...not bad for breakfast, eh?
Seoul was an interesting city for us. A mix of the old and new, folks pushing carts around while using smartphones, the" juxtaposition of the old and new" is a phrase I used a couple of times while describing the city.
It was our intention to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace on this morning, at least that's what the Missus decided the night before....that's how She rolls. Most of the time She'll decide what She wants to do the night before. It's sometimes a bit of a scramble, especially when She gets hungry. I have to prepare and have options for everywhere, which can be a bit of a challenge at times.
The palace was literally a few blocks (albeit long blocks) away from where we were staying, but we were early. So we decided to have a cup of coffee.....man, the prices of coffee in Seoul was pretty expensive. Like $4+ a cup! After checking out a couple of places, we found a schoolhouse themed coffee shop called Coffee TeaCher; complete with schoolhouse desks, seats, and even lockers!
We both started noticing things right away. There was a group of office workers sitting when we arrived having drinks. When we left 30 minutes later they were still there taking a "coffee break"! We started keeping track when having a cup of coffee and noticed the same thing.....folks take some pretty long coffee breaks here. And then there are the "smoking blocks" outside office buildings......
We headed to Gyeongbokgung Palace a bit after 9am, but quickly noticed something.....
The doors looked closed.......
The time/day differences and jet lag had gotten to us. It was Tuesday and the palace was closed. Which didn't bother us too much since we were literally a quarter mile from the place.
So we walked on over to Bukchon Hanok Village which was just a few kilometers away. This is an area, between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace where traditional Korean homes "Hanoks" are located in a community that was once set aside for high ranking officials and the nobility.
It was quite beautiful. The only thing being the groups of loud tourists...some of whom would climb up walls...my goodness, folks are still living here.....
The Missus and I decided to return early on another morning and headed to "plan C", which turned out to be the best decision we made during our trip.
It's rainy, windy, and a bit chilly (by San Diego standards) and we're loving it. Why? Well, that means filling up on some Heokyumso Jeongol (Black Goat Stew) from Grandma's Tofu & BBQ .
While now about $3 more expensive than it used to be and not quite as full of flavor as before.....we use up all the baechu kimchi....plus refills to pump up the broth, we always leave feeling warm and satisfied.
Tonight's version had quite a bit more meat (quite gamey) than I recalled and was not very spicy. Tomorrow, the leftovers will be fortified with tofu, onions, greens, and napa cabbage, makings for a nice second dinner. Something I'm sure Halmuni (Grandma) would want.
Grandma's Tofu & BBQ 4425 Convoy St. San Diego, CA 92111
Well, maybe the Missus is right. Fall might be the best time of the year....at least it is when you get milder, non-triple digit temps in October. Now that things have cooled off a bit, I could start up on my soups and stuffs again. And I think a six month lag for a revisit is a good amount of time.
Strangely, my favorite dish over the course of my previous series of visits was the Mandu Guk; dumpling soup. It seemed like the wrappers of the dumplings really took to being in a liquid and the broth was just tasty enough.
I was wanting that soup for a while.
So it's what I had.......though it's now $12, which I think is kind of high for a clear soup, with some egg, naengmyun, and ten jiaozi dumplings. The panchan, like before is nothing special...just filler....
The broth was not quite as tasty as on my previous visit; though there's a bit of sneaky garlic in the broth; it is neither as rich or flavorful, though still barely passable.
The fillings of the dumplings were better than I recalled; decent pork flavor, reasonably seasoned. The wrappers though, were not; much more brittle, without the nice pull, perhaps the dough had been "worked" too hard.
The one woman who mostly works in the back is very nice; so too was the guy who asked me what nationality I was and when I told him Japanese, he started talking to me in Japanese! Apparently, he lived in Gardena and all his neighbors were Japanese so he learned some of the language. When I told him my wife is Chinese, he started speaking Mandarin....I am truly not worthy. I'm not sure if I enjoyed myself enough to return anytime soon. Good people though.......
Myung In Dumplings 4344 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111
The first thing I noticed were the two women making dumplings behind the counter.
The second thing I really noticed after sitting down were the prices! Mandu, ten bucks! Then I was handed a menu with prices that had been marked down a buck. Not cheap, but a bit better.
So I placed my order and went thru the rest of the menu.
Meanwhile, the dipping sauce, and some panchan made its way to the table. The sauce was on the mild side, but it seemed to have black vinegar in it which I thought was a bit strange......I welcomed it, but it was different.
I had ordered two items, starting with the Wang (King) Mandu ($8), the pork and vegetable version.
Man, these were humongous. I only finished one. I ended giving the rest to "YZ" for her to take home to her daughter.
The actual steamed bun seemed way too "white" and reminded me of something else, but I couldn't place my finger on it. It was very fluffy and fairly nice, if lacking in the great yeastiness of a Wang (King) Mandu dough.
The filling was a bit too crumbly for me, but was moist, though a tad light in flavor.
Yeah, I know....too picky with my steamed buns and dumplings. But I can't help it.
Curious, I also ordered the Boiled Dumpling with shrimp, pork, and vegetable. I don't ever recall seeing this in any of the mandu shops I've been to. You should have seen the look on my face when this arrived.....it was jiaozhi!
These were actually ok. The dough was lacking in the slight chew, stretch, and tenderness that I like in a good dumpling. In case you're wondering where I get this from...well, here's how my MIL makes Jiaozi. Of course, this was not even close to QingDao Bread Food. The filling was also a bit too loose and on the bland side. Still, better than Dumpling Inn. To put things in perspective, below average for me, better than average for San Diego. So I gotta give this a not bad.
The woman serving me was very nice. I mentioned that the dumplings seemed very Chinese, I was told that the owner is Korean, but from China. I was really intrigued. A few days later, I mentioned the place to "Mr.S" who was shocked that a Korean place opened in San Diego without he knowing. When I mentioned the name of the place to him, he looked at me in surprise. He asked me if they had locations in LA and I didn't know. We decided to meet for lunch the very next day. Upon arriving, Mr.S assured me he had eaten at the Koreatown location of Myung In. When he spoke to our Server, who according to Mr.S spoke both Korean and Mandarin, she did confirm that the restaurant had several locations in LA. Looking at the back of the take-out menu confirmed that.
We ended up ordering a pile of food. Starting with the Pork and Kimchi Wang Mandu.
Same huge steamed buns. As for the filling, I prefer the pork and vegetable version. When I mentioned that the dough really reminded me of something else, Mr.S said, "yes, this is like Jjin Bbang...." He was totally right......by the way, they do have red bean seamed bun on the menu.
The item we enjoyed the best was the mandu guk - the mandu soup.
For some reason, the dumplings did really well in this broth, which had enough salt and other flavor to help things along. The wrapper became almost noodle-like and this might be the way to go in the future. It was very hearty and satisfying.
The last thing we had were the spicy steamed roll dumplings. The wrapped meat rolls weren't what made this spicy...it was the accompanying chili paste. Sigh.
Kind of tough and not something I'd order again.
Our server also mentioned that the owner was originally from China and even said where, but I couldn't make it out. Anyway, the next day, I read Kirbie's post on Myung In Dumpling, where she mentions Anthony Bourdain's visit to the LA location. Call me out of touch with mainstream food media. Following the Google trail, I came to find out that the owner is of Korean ancestry, but originally from Shenyang, China. Interesting path.
As for the jiaozi, I think it's decent, better than any other alternative in San Diego. Though I think I may try other stuff....and get the mandu guk the next time. Still, if you can't wait for another trip to the SGV for your jiaozi fix.....
Myung In Dumplings 4344 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111