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Archive for April, 2010

This is a very belated post, but since my last trip afforded such good food, I couldn’t bear to leave it off the blog! P and I went to Seoul over Easter break for a short three-day trip. Again, as with the Taipei trip, I spent precious hours scouring the web for the best food options. I’ve listed some of our favorites here, but in Seoul, addresses are a bit useless; due to a somewhat-random numbering system and twisty-turny alleyways, everyone relies on landmarks for directions. And, since I can’t read Korean, business cards were no use to me either. If you can’t find these places, don’t fret. In general, I found that it’s very easy to find good food in Seoul. Just follow your nose. Good luck!

YOOGANE

Grilling the dak galbi

In my research, I came across this blog post from What’s Cooking at Soomeenshee’s. The description of the dak galbi, or BBQ chicken, was so delicious. I knew I had to find it. Fortunately, P and I were staying in Myeongdong and a quick early-morning stroll accidentally got us to this restaurant. When we went back later that night, it was packed with dak galbi lovers.

At every table there’s a flat grill; when you order, the waiters bring a pan and the ingredients and cook it in front of your eyes. If you want to feel useful, after they leave for the next table, you can also shove things around for a bit. There are many options for the chicken, and we chose the regular and the “extra spicy” variety just for kicks. After eyeing the next table, we also got a side of fried rice, which the waiters mix in with the chicken.

So hot right now

I think cooking is part of the experience itself, since I don’t go to many DIY restaurants in HK (and definitely not in South Dakota!). Personally, I believe the food tastes better after you know your love and sweat has gone into it (however much you can muster in about 10 minutes). Anyways, the chicken was great – the spicy, slightly sour marinade was delicious, though it effectively set our lips on fire! Each order of dak galbi also came with potatoes, rice cakes, and cabbage. In my opinion, though, there was too much of the latter and not enough of the other two. The banchan also left something to be desired, but hey, when you’re here for the chicken, everything else pales in comparison. The fried rice was great too, especially at the end when the bottom of the rice started burning slightly, for the crispy finish I love.

On a side note, the owner (?) is an avid record collector and while we were dining, we heard everything from The Velvet Underground to Peter, Paul, and Mary. He’s got a massive collection and if you bug him enough, he’ll take requests. Yoogane is definitely a fun experience, and nice pit stop in the shopping mecca of Myeongdong.

Yoogane
Myeongdong
(02) 3789 3392
Cost: 8000 KRW/person

STONE HOUSE

One night P and I went to the Hongik University area, which was hopping with tons of bars, restaurants, and trendy students. We read it had a great music scene but didn’t quite make it to the venues as we got sidetracked at dinner. We literally stumbled into this Korean BBQ place; its Korean name roughly translates into “Stone House” (thanks to L for the interpretation!). The menu had six items (and there were more drink than food options!) and every table had its own wood-fire grill.

Hongik happiness

Again, when we ordered, we had no idea what we were doing. But, in between checking out other people’s food and communicating in pidgin English with the waitress, we managed to get some kind of pork to grill, and a pan of bibimbap. 

The open fire seemed raw and edgy, as if we had returned to the roots of humanity and were now cooking like our ancestors (or so it seemed to me, after two quick shots of soju!).

We didn't start the fire...

The side dishes were not too impressive, but there was a wonderful soybean-based soup with onions that was salty but a little grainy too, like the miso soup served at Japanese restaurants. Anyways, we patiently grilled our pork, garlic and mushrooms. When it was done, we dutifully drenched the pork in sauce and wrapped it in lettuce leaves – delicious. Nothing like taking your meal off the grill yourself.

On the left: Yummy soup. On the right: Dipping sauce for our pork.

Porky perfection

The bibimbap was also mouthwatering. We set the pan directly on the grill and waited until the bottom turned nice and crispy. A great side for our BBQ. And of course, great drinking food for our soju!

Bibimbap with a slightly burnt bottom

“Stone House” (벽돌집)
The back streets of Hongik
Cost: Anywhere from 9000 – 14,000 KRW for meats

INSADONG TEA HOUSE
Yes, Insadong is the name of the “old town” part of Seoul, but it’s also the name of a traditional tea house in the area. P and I met up with M and J, two Seoul locals who exchanged at my school in HK last year, and they took us to this charming place.

Insadong Tea House

The inside has three separate seating areas: a front area with wooden decor, a middle courtyard for outdoor seating, and a set of back rooms designed like a Korean hanok.

The cozy front room of the Insadong Tea House

M and J helped me order the “Five Flavors Tea,” or omijacha, a gorgeous blood-orange tea that tasted sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and pungent (didn’t know that was a flavor) all at once. I loved the distinct taste.

Omijacha

Insadong Tea House
Insadong-gil (the main street)
(02) 723-4909

SEOUL STREET FOOD

I saved my favorite food adventure for last: Street Food! P and I took one afternoon to wander around Myeongdong and stuffed ourselves silly. There are tons of stands selling everything from novelty-shaped flat cookies to fried potato chips on a stick to…well, everything else on a stick.

Like the state fairs back home

I definitely loved the small sausages and sausage-wrapped rice cake kebabs at one stand. Dress it up with mustard and ketchup and you’re good to go.

Street sausages

We also had fried chicken on a stick on the first day, delicious with a sweet and sour sauce on top.

Again, KFC will never been the same

I think my favorite street food, though, was gunmandu, or grilled dumplings. The stand was located in front of Noon Square, and P and I spent several minutes admiring the grilling station.

The mandu masters at work

Cutting them into halves...

...and the final product. Start salivating.

Street food
Myeongdong

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This morning, M, W, and I went to Ali Oli Bakery Cafe in the mid-levels for brunch. I ate there last weekend and was really impressed with the super-affordable prices and top-notch ingredients. My apologies, though, for not having photos just yet – though I’m sure I’ll go back, so check this space for updates.

Anyways, Ali Oli serves breakfast all day on Saturdays and Sundays. Snag a window seat if you can; it’s great for people watching! All iterations of adorable children parade by. Combined with the giant cups of coffee and abundant rays of sunshine warming your face, it’s my definition of a leisurely weekend meal.

The menu covers all kinds of breakfast, from a full English to yogurt with homemade granola and fresh fruit to omelettes to pancakes to brunch pies and chips. Today I had the latter (an Australian meat pie, to be exact), which was my first experience with savory pies. Admittedly, I’m not an expert in that area, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the buttery crust and well-seasoned meat. The chips were also great with their crunchy outer shell. Last time I came, I had a roll with two sausages and a fried egg in the middle. I will say, the sausages are delicious – plump and savory – and may be my favorite things on the menu. Last time I also tried the granola, which runs a close second in my mind.

This has definitely become one of my favorite breakfast spots on HK Island. Mind you, the service is sometimes lacking (the first time I came, I had to ask for multiple things at least twice), but I think it’s because they’re training some young, new-to-waitressing girls. Today we had very amiable man serving us, and he was great – very friendly and accommodating. In any case, once the food gets to your table, it’s hard to find a fault.

Also, I noted they have set lunches starting from $48 HKD (!) with sides, and options to include dessert and drinks for about $10 extra. There’s also a “pre-summer” special on gelato, priced at $20 per scoop. Oh and did I mention they have homemade artisanal breads, hummus, pesto, and other goodies as well? Heaven.

Ali Oli Bakery Cafe
53 Caine Road
2898 9000
Cost: ~ $70 HKD/person

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A few weeks ago P and I made our first-ever trip to The Press Room in Sheung Wan. Admittedly, I was prompted to book a table when I dined at SML earlier this month and got a coupon for $100 off a bill. Unfortunately I forgot my camera, so the only photo I can share with you are my leftover pomme frites from the day after.

Pomme frites perfection

We decided to get the Wagyu Rump for two, served with roasted tomatoes, green beans, mushrooms, and frites (yeah!). At $590 for two people, it seemed like a good value.

When the plate came out, the portions were humongous! But I was glad to have all of it, especially the rump — perfectly medium rare and oh-so-juicy. The frites also lived up to others’ reviews as potatoes “I would travel miles for”. How do they get them crispy all around while keeping the middle nice and chewy? Ah, the questions of the universe.

The green beans, which were nice and crisp, also get my vote. P and I wanted to get dessert, but alas, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs (once again). I guess the much-raved-about Pear Tart Tatin will have to wait til next time – the needs-to-come-sooner-than-later next time.

The Press Room
108 Hollywood Road, Central (but actually more like Sheung Wan)
2525 3444
Cost:~ $400 HKD/person

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After getting fro yo at Yo Go, G, W, and I stumbled across a humble-looking storefront with empty counters on the left and a frying station to the right. A middle-aged man and woman were working hard to dunk every kind of battered meat thinkable into vats of hot oil. There was a modest line of hungry Hong Kongers outside, so we made like lemmings and joined the queue.

Not what you imagined when you saw "Danish Bakery"? Us either.

We ordered a fried pork chop sandwich, though selections ranged from chicken to other parts of pork, etc. The signplate is all in Chinese so W had to translate for us, but if something getting dunked into the vat looks like your cup of fried meat, just point to it – that ought to do as well.

The ordering scheme is simple, but efficient. Tell the woman to the left what you want, pay her, and she gives you a slip. Give the slip to the fry woman on the right who’s toasting the buns. She tells the fry man. And voila, within 5 minutes, your very own, just-fried sandwich appears in a brown paper bag.

You so fry

We bit into it eagerly. The meat was great – crispy and juicy, but not overly greasy. The thing that really stood out to me was the bun – it was like a soft, buttery bakery bun.

Pork Chop Sandwiches! (Did anyone else think of the GI Joe spoof?)

Perhaps the bun was made in the Danish Bakery itself? I can only conjecture that every morning, the bakery has goods for sale on the empty left side of the store, and I think the sandwich buns are among those. In any case, wherever it came from, the sandwich was delish. If you’re in the area, get in line – as G said, “You can’t really go wrong with fried meat on a bun”. So wise.

The Danish Bakery
106 Leighton Road
Cost: $7-11 HKD/sandwich

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