Sunday, December 25, 2016

Food Around Yonsei Campus (Sinchon)

During orientation, one of the speakers recommended a few restaurants to try around the campus. We decided to stop by the braised chicken restaurant. Braised Chicken, or Jjimdak is a dish made for sharing. It has chicken, carrots, potato, and glass noodles (potato starch noodles). Depending on the restaurant, it can be slightly spicy.
Address: Bongchu Jjimdak

A popular restaurant for lunch that was right by our dorm is 딸기, or 'Strawberry' in English. This restaurant is located in the corner, by the CU convenience store when you walk out the east side of the Yonsei campus. They serve food such as soondubu jjigae (soft tofu stew), or simple hot rice dishes and noodles. The prices are cheap, which is what makes it a popular choice for Yonsei students. You can easily be full from just 10,000 won.

Another restaurant that I found interesting around campus was a Vietnamese restaurant with a modern twist. The exterior of the restaurant looked like a Japanese restaurant, but even more unique was the vending machine that took your order. On the side of the entrance, there was a machine that listed all the menu options--different types of pho, springs rolls, etc. You pay through the machine, and then join the queue on the left side of the entrance. The staff will take note of the number of people in your party--this is best for 2 people because the seating itself is a bar seating, which is not a conversation friendly place. When we were eating, the staff did tell us to quiet down once and we weren't talking that loud. I noticed that many of the people around us came on their own. The interior was an open kitchen style where we could see the chefs prepare the noodles, and toppings in front of us. The meal came with complimentary spring rolls, but they weren't the typical spring rolls I was used to back in the States. These were bright pink, crisp, and filled with a sweet paste (either sweet potato or pumpkin). On the side was a sweet chili dipping sauce.

Right next door to this Viet restaurant is a Japanese Ramen restaurant, called Butanchu Ramen, that sells ramen at a very cheap price compared to NYC. For only 7,000won, which is equal to slightly under $7, you can get a huge bowl of ramen, loaded with thinly cut meat and even half of a soft boiled egg. In NYC, a ramen with only 2-3 slices of pork will cost you almost $10 and it may not even come with the soft boiled egg! The affordability of food choices in Korea never fail to amaze me--not only is the food cheap, but it also tastes just as good, and the chefs definitely do not skimp out with the ingredients!
Address: Butanchu Ramen

Different concentration levels of the broth
Menu on the wall by the table to show steps for ordering ramen and other appetizers/menu sets
Ramen with Extra meat (7,000 won)
We also had Pork Bone Stew around the Sinchon area--gamjatang. I was really excited to try this because having been a fan of the Youtube channel Eat Your Kimchi (EYK) and avidly watching their Food Adventure Program for Awesome People segment, this dish was one of Martina's favorites. To me, the dish is really different from how my dad prepares pork bone soup. There was definitely a lot more ground pepper and heavy seasoning than I expected. The name itself is misleading--to those who are just learning Korean, one of the common misperceptions is that 감자탕 means potato soup because 감자 is also potato in Korean. However, they will be shocked that there is little to no potato in the stew at all--감자 is actually a traditional (older) word for pork bone. There are also a lot of perilla leaves in this dish. It was an interesting flavor, but I don't think I liked it as much as I thought I would have. But nevertheless, it was still enjoyable.

Other Places to Eat:
Pop Container (cafe that sells a really tall oreo bingsu/shaved ice)
Yeoneo Sanghwe 연어상회 (AYCE Salmon Sashimi + Sides [Korean Pancake, Fried Calamari] --highly recommend!)
Spicy Rice Cake Buffet (AYCE ddeokbukki)
Mike's Cabin (Bar--Drinks, Games)

First Day of Class

First day of class is usually nerve-wracking, but it was even more so since it was my first time taking classes in another country. Waking up early in the morning wasn't easy, but luckily for me, the walk to the building wasn't that bad, only a 10-15 minute walk. The annoying part was definitely the mini hike across the campus, the uphill bend through the parking lot by the dorms, and around what I like to call our school's mini forest. My first class of the day was Social Psychology at 9am (1st period), followed by Intermediate Microeconomics during 2nd period. Both classes were taught in a lecture format, in English, with prepared powerpoint slides that were available to us on the Yonsei portal (the equivalent to CUNY blackboard). The first day went by really fast, and I did get to meet a few new people in my classes.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Raccoon Cafe (Blind Alley Cafe)

The most surprising cafe was definitely the raccoon cafe, located near another women's university. In the States, raccoons are seen more as a wild animal that is not easily domesticated. There is also the probability of it having rabies. So finding out that the cafe owners took in raccoons and made it a business was very surprising. The raccoon in that particular cafe is blind, you can find out more about his story inside the cafe. Like other cafes, the only entrance fee is your order of food/drinks. Once you place your order at the counter, you are free to enter the room with the raccoons. You are cautioned not to bring anything inside with you incase the raccoon damages it, but overall, we didn't have a problem with bringing our phones in to take pictures. You might even get the chance to feel the raccoon! Unlike the dog and cat cafes, the raccoons are less interactive aside from feeding.

Pigs Feet (Jokbal)

Jokbal, or pigs' feet, is a popular late night snack in Korea. It is well known for containing a lot of collagen, which is good for the skin. However, it can come off as very greasy. I ordered jokbal takeout from a restaurant in Hongdae called Myth Jokbal that always seemed to have really long wait times. This restaurant can be found by turning in towards the street performance street of Hongdae, by the tourist info center. If you keep walking down on the left side of the street, it is the restaurant with a pig next to the name of the restaurant.

Their jokbal was very filling, I liked how it came with sides to make lettuce wraps, along with a platter of salad. You could tell that it was well made because the pigs skin itself was packed with flavor. The broth it was boiled in for hours was fully incorporated into the layers of the pigs feet. Personally, I prefer a higher meat to fat/collagen ratio, so it was too greasy for me, but making wraps with the lettuce and pickled sliced radish helped cut through the heaviness of the meat.

Sheep Cafes

As mentioned in an earlier post, Korea is filled with many unusual themed cafes. Another one we visited was called Thanks Nature Cafe, also known as the sheep cafe. It is located on the main street of Hongdae, near the Honggik University entrance. Take the train to Honggik University (Line 2), and get out at exit 9. Then walk straight until you reach the McDonalds and turn left. Continue to walk down until you reach the block with restaurants on multiple levels. The cafe is located downstairs on that block. You are welcome to take pictures of the sheep from outside of the pen, but do step inside and order food/drinks. I ordered one of the hot floral teas, which was served in a pretty transparent tea pot. It was fascinating watching the flower "bloom" inside the teapot as the tea was steeped. There are also waffles, and cold fruit ades that you can order. Once you order at the counter, and pick up your order, you are free to enter the sheep area again and if you're lucky, you might be able to feed the sheep as well.

Address: 486 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Thanks Nature Cafe

Cafe's Website: Thanks Nature Cafe Facebook Page

Lotte World

Lotte World, along with Everland, are the most popular amusement parks to visit in Korea. Lotte World is a more kid-friendly spot with lots of interactive attractions, and a few thrilling rides whereas Everland is a bigger amusement park with many more rides, including the intimidating wooden rollercoaster. Unfortunately, I only had the chance to visit Lotte World again since it was much closer than Everland. It is located at Jamsil Station (Line 2).

There are 2 sections of the part, the indoor section and the outdoor section. Some of my favorite rides indoors include the Pharaoh and the mini water ride. A popular ride is the Conquistador, commonly referred to as the biking, which is a boat that constantly  swings back and forth, nearly reaching 90 degrees. Personally, I dislike this ride, especially when it drops forward. Others include a hot air balloon, a 360 degrees roller coaster, a haunted house, a carousel, 4D stimulations, etc.

The rides outdoors include the Gyro Swing, bumper cars, and my favorite, the Atlantis. The Atlantis is the biggest rollercoaster they offer at Lotte World, but is definitely worth waiting on the long line.

Dog Cafes

Themed cafes are trendy in Korea, especially dog and cat cafes. This particular dog cafe is located Hongdae, several blocks from the Honggik Station (Line 2). Bauhouse is separated into 2 parts, sectioned off by gates. The first section is where a majority of the smaller dogs are, and then the back section is much bigger, where the larger dogs are. There is no additional entrance fee--you simply order a drink and you are free to stay for a short period of time. You can also purchase treats, but do beware of all the dogs swarming over to you once they hear or see the plastic bag of snacks in your hand.

Moving into the Dorms

There are multiple forms of transportation to get to the dorms. The first is to take an airport train from the airport to Hongdae Station and then transfer to Line 2 (Green Line) and get off at Sinchon Station (1 stop--Euljiro 1-ga bound train). Another is to take the Airport Limo (a bus) to the Ewha University area. Finally, you can tell the taxi driver to bring you to the East Gate of Yonsei University, which will most likely drop you off at the back side of the dormitory.

The check-in procedure is surprisingly easier than I expected: you find your name on the list posted on the pillars in the lobby, along with the room number you are assigned to. Then, line up and pick up your room key and an info packet before heading upstairs to your room. The key card is used to enter and exit the dorm and also to get into your actual room. Using the booklet, check the condition of your room and bring the signed paper back downstairs and pick up a bag of bedding. 

**Tip: Try to grab a bag with a normal pillow. Many of the bags have pillows stuffed with strange plastic bits, which can be quite off-putting and uncomfortable if you aren't used to it. 

Each room is equipped with basic furniture--a bed, desk, closet, and chair. Most likely the closet will not have any hangers, but don't worry because there is a one stop store where you can buy all your necessary dorm supplies. Daiso, is the well-known dollar store chain in Korea (also found in Japan) and has hangers, toilet paper, pillows, bath supplies, etc., offered at an affordable price (anywhere from 500 won to possibly 3,000 won).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Korean BBQ + Drinking Culture

If I were to name one aspect of Korean culture that surprised me the most, it would be how many rounds of food and drinks that can be squeezed into one night. Given that a majority of the population in Korea was relatively thin, I was amazed by how much food they can actually consume. We started off the night with Korean BBQ, at a restaurant called GuiGa BBQ. Of course, dinner didn't end with just meat, we hit up a spicy rice cake joint and chatted over a hefty pitcher of beer, and then finally crashed at a karaoke spot. Of course, round 3 of dinner can't be forgotten because though drinking culture is huge in Korea, drinking responsibly is important. Thus, we were required to order food with the alcohol.

Yongsan Park + Bubble Tea + Linus BBQ

After walking around Itaewon for a while, we started getting hungry again and decided to stop by one of the restaurants that the owner of Gusto's Tacos recommended since we were in the area. Upon arriving, the wait time was already roughly 30 minutes to an hour. We left our name on the list and decided to circle around some more. Unfortunately, they didn't have a "text us when the table is ready" option.
On our way back to check on our wait time, I stopped by a bubble tea cafe called Bubbly Tea. The interior was cute, perfect for studying. I ordered the Matcha Bubble Tea.
Finally, we were seated at Linus BBQ. We chose the Beef Brisket and Pulled Pork set. Both were absolutely heavenly. One thing I missed the most about food in America are the bold flavors that tend to be on the saltier side. This restaurant definitely didn't disappoint! The shoe string fries were crisp and reminded me of my favorite Cajun fries from Popeyes (this franchise is available in Korea too, although I'm not sure how it compares to the U.S.). The radish slaw was more catered to a Korean palate, much lighter than your usual American cabbage slaw. The meat was perfectly tender and well seasoned. It was really filling for just 2 of us. We did end up leaving behind a lot of the fries, but I would highly recommend this restaurant for anyone craving a good Southern BBQ joint!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Korean Pizza (Mr. Pizza Franchise) + Tartine Pie (Itaewon)

Before heading to Itaewon, we decided to stop by Mr. Pizza, one of the Korean pizza franchises that sells your not so typical pizzas. By far, this is the strangest pizza menu I've seen that really makes me treasure and miss the classic New York slice. The pizzas come in different sizes, usually 8" or 10" and have toppings such as beef, shrimp, potato, corn,  etc. I mean really, why settle for something that looks like your typical pizza when you can have the Korean slice? We took up this challenge and ordered this pie with avocado, shrimp, peppers, raw onions (yes, i meant raw onions, not just onions), olives, and then the other side was the same except there was bulgogi instead of shrimp. Imagine going up to a Domino's in the States and ordering that. What a mouthful. You thought the list of toppings was already too many choices? We haven't even started on the crusts. Oh boy. Korean pizzas sure love their sweetened variety. There's the original crust of course, and more--they have a cheese cap crust (stuffed with cheese), no edge (no crust), cream cheese, gold (stuffed with sweet potato), and hash brown. These sound decent, right? But wait, if you don't want a savory crust, you can always opt for dessert on the rim of your pizza. Mr. Pizza now also offers an egg tart crust AND a banana mousse crust. Talk about food experimenting! Dipping sauces for the crust are also offered on the side if you wish, such as blueberry, cream cheese, etc. Don't get me wrong, I admire Korean pizza chains for their creativity and food experimentations, but this pie was not my personal preference. The crust was rather soggy because there was just too much topping weighing it down, which explains why you eat it with a fork and knife. The original crust was too hard. The toppings themselves were good on its own, just on a pizza together was a strange combination. The onions were also too raw.
Moving on to Itaewon, we stopped by Tartine Pie, which made its cameo appearance on Running Man, when Yoo Jaesuk was doing a mission by the outside staggered blue benches right outside this place. The Itaewon branch actually has 2 stores directly across from each other, one with actual dining and meals too while the other is more of a cafe with the pies, and drinks. We opted to go for the cafe instead, since the Korean pizza had us pretty full from carbs.
I ordered an early gray cream pie and a blue lemonade. My friend ordered the pecan pie and the iced tea of the day. The earl gray pie was light, the filling was the consistency of a cream puff filling. The crust was buttery and decadent. The blue lemonade was refreshing. It was also carbonated as most "-ades" are here in Korea.

Traditional Korean Cuisine (Sanneri 산내리 at Insadong)

We wanted to get the traditional Korean food experience, with many side dishes and more authentic flavors. The restaurant we stopped by was called Sanneri (산내리). The path to get here was confusing, once again because Google Maps failed to show us where all the hidden alley ways were. It was a constant trial-and-error to figure out where we could turn, and where we couldn't turn.
Once we were inside, we were given a menu with varying set courses, and a smaller section int he back if you preferred to order only one main dish. The set we bought cost 44,000 won per person.
We started off with pumpkin soup. The soup was not overly thick like Western soups, but rather thinner and had a more mild flavor. It was sweet, but the natural pumpkin flavor was still there.
The fruit and lettuce salad was light and refreshing, much better than I expected it to be. The clementines were sweet and balanced out the citrusy salad dressing. The sliced almonds added a rich nuttiness and great texture.
There were three types of pancakes. There is vinegar soy sauce mixture on the side for dipping sauce. Two were savory--a corn fritter and the other was a chives pancake. The purple one was filled with red bean paste.
White kimchi and a mung bean jelly salad was served along with the first round of appetizers. The mung bean jelly was pretty good. I expected it to taste really bland, but it was similar to eating noodles, except it broke off easier--it was topped with sesame seeds, and egg and pepper garnishes.
The first star of the course was a beautiful plate or raw seafood. I'm not sure what the white fish was, but the fish on the right was obviously salmon. There were 3 slices of each fish sitting on a rounded stone. The pop of color from the flower, greens, and lemon really highlighted the dish. The white fish was tougher than it looked and had more of a bite to it. The salmon was heavenly. It was tender and melted in your mouth. I chose to dip my fish in the Korean vinegary chili paste dipping sauce since I'm not a fan of wasabi. The sauce helped balance out the strong taste of the white fish, but the salmon didn't need it at all because it tasted so fresh.
Round 1 of the course meal was finally over. We were served a light and savory chive soup. There were bits of traditional Korean flower buds gathered at the bottom of the soup. I suspect an anchovy base, because there was a hint of seafood flavor in the broth along with a subtle spiciness. It was a nice palate cleanser for the next round. The soup would be a perfect compliment to toss in a boiled bundle of noodles.
The 2nd round of food came with heavier dishes. One of them being this seasoned raw beef (beef tartar/육회 yukhoe). Usually, I see this served with a raw egg yolk on top, but this one was served with julienned Korean pear, a sliver of jujube and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Raw beef takes a while to get used to, but once you overcome the texture, the taste itself is pretty good. The sesame oil in the marinade perfumes the beef as you chew.
Another dish was this sweet and spicy fried eel is similar to sweet and sour pork, but it has a stronger spicy kick. The eel was still surprisingly crunchy despite the heavy coating of the sauce. The dish also had chunks of bell peppers.
This 8 treasures dish was definitely another scene stealer with its vibrant colors and plating. The vegetables individually were barely seasoned, and the thin crepe in the center wasn't seasoned either. The key is the mustard/soy sauce dipping sauce on the side that elevates the flavors of each ingredient, creating the perfect bite wrapped up in the thin crepe. The "treasures" included shiitake mushrooms, white egg, yellow egg yolk, burdock, cucumbers, carrots, potato, and fish cake.
Finally, the one dish that jolted me out of my entranced state of amazement and constant moans of pure bliss. Once again, the plating was beautiful, but for me, this dish just didn't make sense. It was composed of assorted dried fruit chips stacked on broccoli and coated in a sweet fruity glaze. The broccoli didn't really go well with the sauce, nor did the dried fruit. The texture of the dried fruit that was partially rehydrated didn't work for me.
This on the other hand, is one of the more common dishes outside of a luxury traditional food setting. It was a spicy stir friend squid with vegetables such as onion, and broccoli. The squid was perfectly cooked, not rubbery at all. And it definitely didn't have the strong seafood odor that could be a bit too overpowering sometimes. The squid was sweet at first, but then the spice kicks in as you chew for a bit. I enjoyed the dish.
Another classic--braised short ribs. The perfectly succulent chunk of meat that soaked in all of the yummy rich seasoned soy sauce. The sauce was amazing--you could tell immediately that it was simmered for a long time because the sweetness from onions, fruit, garlic, etc, were all completely infused into the soy sauce. I could throw in a few spoonfuls of rice and eat it with the sauce alone, and that would be more than enough. In Korean, it would be literally called a "rice-stealer."
This soy sauce marinated raw shrimp is another dish where the sauce itself is just so incredibly delicious. The taste of seafood lingers in the soy sauce. But personally, I'm not a fan of raw shrimp because it does get a bit too slimy for me since the flesh is thicker. I prefer the soy sauce marinated raw crab instead.
After all of the small, yet really filling dishes, both of us were getting really full, yet the waitress continued to bring out more food, such as this well fermented soybean paste stew and the scorched rice soup. The soybean paste soup was really strong, but really tasty. I'm not a fan of scorched rice drinks, but I tried to drain most of the liquid from the rice and dumped it into the stew instead. That was perfect because the rice itself was bland, so it balanced out the concentrated stew. On it's own, the stew is a hearty comfort meal that warms you up.
Lastly, we ended our long meal with some watermelon and plum tea. Both of us left, feeling really full, but completely satisfied with our traditional Korean meal.