Eating on the Green Line–Supplement to SEOUL Magazine article

My latest column hit SEOUL Magazine this month. For a couple of months now, I have been given two pages instead of one and have been asked to include more specific places to go. It’s a bit daunting because I work until 8:30 during the week, Seoul is thirty minutes away by subway, and the subways close around midnight. So it’s usually not worth it to go into town to try out a new restaurant. And when we have done it, we have hit disappointments almost every time. Usually the restaurants we research give the wrong directions are have gone out of business. Some of the places we find are just too awful to write about in a tourism magazine.

I’ve been writing for the magazine for almost a year now, and I’m finding my voice. I’m also seeing how much I can get away with–or really, I’m seeing how much of my personal style I can put into the articles. I throw in a few jabs. I talked about how Haemultang and Agu Jjim ruin the delicate taste of their ingredients last month. This month, I trashed some of the specialties of a Greek restaurant I featured. Granted, there were some really good items on the menu that I recommended, but I also talked about what to avoid, specifically the fruit souvlaki covered in dried oregano, whose picture, funnily enough, graced the heading of the article.

This article was one of the hardest I’ve ever researched. Poor Eun Jeong came out with me on cold January and February weekends to try all of this. I also used her as a second opinion source, as I can have a fucked up palate.

Greek Joy (Hongdae)

A little casual Greek joint. The Johnny Cash on the speakers was a bit surreal. I liked the blue theme they had going on. They are divided into a casual restaurant and a more formal restaurant upstairs. The souvlaki sucked, but here are pics.

The Avgolemeno was pretty good. Lemony.

We also had an adequate Greek Salad. I particularly like the Pastitsio.

The one thing we both agreed was good was the Gyro. Real pita bread, decent fillings and a refreshing yogurt sauce.

Cusco (Hapjeong)

We almost didn’t go in because the picture ads in front looked like the typical Korean fusion crap–shredded cabbage and squeeze bottle honey mustard.

The interior was moody with bric-a-brac that looked like it came from the Peruvian Tourism Bureau. They also had free coffee with a Peruvian cake (3,000 won per slice) in one corner. We had just gotten through eating all that food at Greek Joy. The menu was all in Spanish and Korean. There were a few interesting items I wanted to try, but their specialty was Ceviche. I had to get that. They also promoted their Maca Sours.

I really liked that drink and wanted more. It was a bit pricey, though. The Ceviche was bright and sour. It was perfect for summer. Too bad it was gray and freezing outside and not much warmer inside. Eun Jeong really liked it, though. She loves astringent tasting food, which I am starting to figure out is the Korean taste profile.

Some Ramen Place (Sinchon)

Our final stop that day was Sinchon–on a busy Saturday night. It was packed with college kids. We noticed that there were a lot of Japanese places. We have, in recent years, become fans of Japanese-style fresh Ramen. It’s smooth and savory. Here’s a little video of a Hakata Ramen street stand I went to in Fukuoka, Japan.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1c2ZmLT9N4w]

We found this one place in Sinchon, but it had no English on its sign.

We were stuffed, but we still found room for Ramen.

Eun Jeong’s was pretty good. It reminded me of Hakata Ramen but was on the salty side. There’s a Ramen shop in Myeong-dong that does it better.

I didn’t particularly like mine. I didn’t dislike it. On the menu, they called it “Chinese Ramen.” It was flavored with chili oil and tasted too much like Korean Ramyeon. I like Korean Ramyeon, but I don’t go to a Japanese Ramen house for Korean Ramyeon. Well, now we know what to avoid.

Sundae Maul (Sillim)

The genesis for this article was that I wanted to point out a few places near Sillim-dong, where I lived for three grueling months. It’s a horrible place to live in, but there were some things I liked about it, particularly the Sundae Village (Sundae Maul).

Here’s the big pink restaurant mentioned in the article.

I also have a video of eating there from 2005, when I lived in the area.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhtoHJaTBhk]

The Chinese Grocery (Bongcheon)

My trip here was a sort of memory pilgrimage. I did this quick stop in Sillim and its neighbor Bongcheon on a Sunday. I wanted to feature and finally give some decent press to a great little one-man pizza place named Ruciano.

Unfortunately, it’s no longer there. It looks like it was replaced by another real estate agent. Still the Chinese groceries across the street were in business.

I love this store. It smells exotic and has a lot of unlabeled mysteries. This is where I found the cornmeal that became the grits article. It has fresh cilantro, big bottles of Tsingtao beer, walls of sauces, oils and spices, a fridge case and a freezer case, both filled with stuff I just want to buy and cook to see what the freak it is.

Magnolia (Gangnam)

And now back to the beginning. Magnolia was the first successful (as in, made the article) place we visited on our first research trip in January. It was also the final place we went to that day. We were exhausted, so when we got a taste of their wonderfully fruity coffee, we felt re-energized. I have been back there, and they did not disappoint. The second floor, I must warn you, is sit-on-the-floor only. And you have to go up a narrow staircase flanked by burning candles. Flowing scarves are not recommended.

The first time, we ordered the Everything Waffle because they heavily promoted it. I actually liked it (sans tomatoes).

On my second trip there, I tried the pizzas. The Rucola Pizza is the one to get. That’s all I’ll say.

Raw–REJECTED (Gangnam)

I’ll get to this later on its own special post. I can’t believe we wasted money there. I’m sure it was worse than Chez Pim’s “worst meal” ever. Here’s a hint (behind the tuna).

UPCOMING NOTES:

I’ll be out of town for the next two weeks. Posting will be sparse, but I’m also working on future SEOUL Magazine and Korea Herald articles. I’m not committed to these ideas, but here are some future plans:

- Seoul Seafood Expo

- Top Ten Wackiest Pizzas in Korea

- Food Tour of Insa-dong

- Food Tour of Seoul’s French Quarter

- The Best Korean Food That You Don’t Know About (from the tourist brochures, at least)

Actually, it would be good to have more company on these “research trips.” Poor Eun Jeong, I’m sure, is still post-traumatic about the work for this past article. Maybe she respects that what I do is actual work–nah, that’s asking too much.

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Author: ZenKimchi

Joe McPherson founded ZenKimchi in 2004. He has been featured and sourced in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, CNN, KBS, MBC, SBS, Le Figaro, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, Harper’s Bazaar Korea, The Chosun Weekly, and other Korean and international media. He has consulted for The Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” Lonely Planet, and the PBS documentary series “Kimchi Chronicles.” Mr. McPherson has written for multiple Korean and international publications, including SEOUL Magazine, JoongAng Daily, The Korea Herald, Newsweek Korea and wrote the feature article for U.S. National publication Plate magazine’s all-Korean food issue. He has acted as dining editor for 10 Magazine and was on the judging panel for Korea for the Miele Guide. He spoke at TEDx Seoul on Korean food globalization, at TED Worldwide Talent Search on the rise of Korean cuisine, and in New York City on Korean Buddhist temple cuisine. The company ZenKimchi International organizes food tours for tourists and corporations and acts as a media liaison for foreign and Korean media and local restaurants and producers.

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  • Doddie from eGullet

    ZK,

    You mean there’s chinese sausages here in Korea? Gasp! To think I have my family mail me chinese sausages from time to time. How do I get to the groceries? What exit do I take when I get off at Bangcheong Station? I am quite excited. Directions, please. :)

    Doddie

  • http://zenkimchi.com/ ZenKimchi

    Yeah, I got one of the sausages while I was there and cooked it this weekend. It was pretty nasty, though. All mushy and gloppy.

    The Chinese groceries are, I think, exit 4 at Bongcheon Station, next to Sillim Station. You walk south of the station to this long market street. It’s in that area. The sign’s all in Chinese, and you can smell the aromatics outside.

  • Doddie from eGullet

    ZK,

    The sausages were mushy? Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like dried chinese sausages that is used in Chinese dishes. Chinese sausages are dried and loaded with fat. When you fry them, you just put them in the pan and it will render its own fat. I will try to see if the sausages they have in there is the real deal, not koreanized Chinese sausages.

    Thanks for the detailed explanation of the directions. Will give you an update when we go there soon.

    Doddie

  • http://www.seoulsteves.com/ SkinnySteve

    I’m a big fan of Mongolia and have been there several times to chill out with a book in the downstairs (regular coffee-shop area), or go with my girlfriend upstairs to the more loungy-area before going to Sideway wine bar just a stone’s throw away.

    Here’s an article idea for you: Do a tour of Seoul’s best coffee shops (focusing on freshly roasted coffee-which DQs Starbucks and Coffee Bean). You could start off with the coffee museum that’s in Bundang I think. From there, head to Gangnam where you have Magnolia and Cafe Classico (behind the Gangnam Hooters), up to Apgujeong which has that place who’s name I can never remember (also has pretty great sandwiches for a very reasonable price), before heading up north where I’ve heard there’s some good places but have never explored much personally. There’s a Facebook group for the Seoul Coffee Explorers you might check out for further recommendations.

  • http://zenkimchi.com/ ZenKimchi

    That’s a great idea! You know, the hard part is getting out to do the research. Finding more groups for resourcing helps a lot.

  • David

    That ramen place in Shinchon is 라멘 무사시, or “Ramen Musashi,” in case any other readers wanted to check it out. And it is one of the better Japanese ramen places in that part of town.

  • peter

    hi Zen
    def. up for accompanying you on the food-critic trips …(im kinda doing them on my own anyway for fun).
    im about having the same luck on the seoul restaurant front as you,hence cooking at home more now, ie.costco/e-mart based cuisine!
    strangely,a few years ago i got drunk in a bar with the Greek Joy owner and his chef..he lived in canada for yrs and picked up his greek cooking style there..saw the filthy state of their chef “whites” and decided never to check it out.
    love the more evolved critical style you are taking here,keep up the good work.
    and mail/call me about dinner!peter the archt.anyang

  • http://thebakerwhocooks.blogspot.com Cheryl

    Dear Alaina,

    I came across your wonderful blog after clicking through a few links in my bid to search for good restaurant critics in korea. I thought you might be able to help me out with this major project I’m working on for my company – Ate Media.

    I would be grateful if you could provide an email address so I could send you some info?

    Yep, and this is def. not spam thank you in advance and hope to hear from you soon!

    P.S. You can email me at my company email: cheryl@atem[email protected]

    Cheers from Singapore,
    Cheryl Chia
    Editorial Consultant
    Ate Media Pte Ltd

  • http://www.koreanhomecooking.com/ Migi

    Hi Alaina
    I am a Korean food blogger living in the United States who magically landed on your blog via ‘worldwide’ web surfing. I used to live in Korea and left the country with my family about 15 years ago. I have to say, your blog makes me so nostalgic about Korea and the foods I used to have in Korea… Though there are many good Korean restuarants in LA KoreaTown in the US, having Korean foods in Korea gotta be a really special experience, which I used to take it for granted when I was living in Korea… Meanwhile, until I go back and visit, I am quenching my thirst for ‘Korean foods in Korea’ through your blog. Thanks!

    Please check out my blog at
    http://www.KoreanHomeCooking.com

    Thanks!

  • http://zenkimchi.com/ ZenKimchi

    That is so cool! I didn’t think that my blog would spark nostalgia. I’ll do my best to keep up with putting more Korean food on here. I know I’ve been slacking as of late.

    (Oh, and my name’s not Alaina. I don’t know where Cheryl got that.)

  • http://thebakerwhocooks.blogspot.com Cheryl

    Hi! oh yes, I wanted to apologise! For mixing your name up with someone else’s! Weird thing was, I clicked on one of your links which was supposed to be an article written by you and it was credited to a certain Alaina Brown. That’s how I got mixed up. Sorry!

  • http://zenkimchi.com/ ZenKimchi

    Oh, that’s no problem. I kinda like the name. Maybe I’ll attach it to my current one somehow.

  • http://www.koreanhomecooking.com/ Migi

    I also wanted apologize! Blame all on Cheryl :P
    And, thanks for adding me to your blogroll!

  • Bob

    Wow, what great picts! The food looks so mouth-watering. Looks like you had a great experience.

  • Jiyoung

    Hi Zen
    I happened to visit your blog, while I was searching for Korea-related blogs in foreign websites.
    I’m really impressed with your research on Korean food.
    I’ve been living in Seoul for nearly 20 years, but I’ve never known there are so many interesting places to eat.

    I lived in Silimdong for a year, so I was glad to see the video clip on Silimdong Sundae village.
    What did you call Sundae in English? Did you enjoyed Sundae there? I hope you did.

    I’d love to join your food trip!
    Mail me if you need a Korean companion for your research.

  • http://zenkimchi.com/ ZenKimchi

    Thanks Jiyoung! I may take you up on your offer. I think in English, Sundae is Sundae. A descriptive term would be vermicelli blood sausage, but that doesn’t sound appetizing. I really have grown to like it. I’m a bigger fan of 곱창 구이, though.

  • bryan

    Where exactly is Ramen Musashi? Where can I find better Japanese ramen restaurants?

  • bryan

    And where can I find better Japanese ramen restaurants?

  • mike

    I recently discovered Sideway Wine Bar and being a wine enthusiast have been impressed
    with the quality and more importantly the price of the wines I have drank there. After some
    discussion with the French guy who works there I like their attitude of keeping their prices
    lower than their competitors to encourage more people to try and enjoy the beauty that is
    wine. The food is good, the service friendly and there are often many beautiful girls
    drinking long into the night. What more can I say.

  • http://justnbusiness.com/ Justin Chase

    But does it taste good?

    • http://zenkimchi.com/ ZenKimchi

      God awful.

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