Street Food, Seoul Style

1 am in Sinchon.

Hungry at 2 in the morning?  No problem.

Whether you’re craving something fried, spicy, or neither, Korean street vendors have something delicious to offer you.  These movable food stations, known as 포장마차 (pojangmacha), are a night-owl’s best friend.  They offer a variety of street foods — ranging from ddukbokki to mandu to teriyaki skewers to waffle desserts.  Most are open through the afternoon and evening and often into the wee hours of the morning (on the weekend, which starts on Thursday), though of course it depends on the vendor.

My personal favorite in Sinchon is “the waffle man,” as a few of us at Yonsei refer to him.  Though he left us hanging during a few weeks of July/August (he claims it was too hot to be out), he’s now back for good until the winter.  His stand’s specialty is the waffle cream/ice cream sandwich, and it’s right up there with patbingsoo in my book.  (His waffle desserts, specifically.  Other stands just aren’t the same…)  My favorite flavor so far is the sweet potato (goguma) cream, though the walnut and chocolate ice cream flavors are also good.

Waffle ice cream sandwich – walnut, chocolate, blueberry (bottom to top)

I’ll certainly miss seeing these around when I’m back in the States.

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The Perfect Café – Part 8 [Café Poem]

A fellow KLI friend and I discovered this perfect study cafe one afternoon in Sinchon. It’s called Cafe Poem, and is quite small compared to some of the other cafes in the area — it’s only one floor! But, it’s got good seating, outlets and extension cords (!!), nice big windows, and great music (mostly R&B, which is right up my alley).

My friend and I have been twice now, so we’ve tried a number of their drinks. I really enjoyed the green tea, and the cafe au lait I had wasn’t half bad either (although it wasn’t nearly as pretty looking as my friend’s cappuccino…).

Cappuccino

Cafe au lait

Iced vanilla mocha

Green tea

Green tea

Prices were normal by cafe standards (4-8,000, with most around 5 or 6), and you only have to buy 8 drinks to get a free one with their stamp card! (Unlike Cafe Caribou, a large chain, which rips you off and makes you buy 15 drinks before giving you a ‘free’ one. They have a branch in the dorm building, of course.) Another plus is that the barista is friendly and nice — a 친절한 직원, in Korean. My first time there, he offered me an extension cord when I pulled out my laptop! That sure won me over.

I’ll try to go back once more before I leave, just cause I like the place and want to support it. I probably won’t get a chance to study there though, given that my final exams are on Wednesday and Thursday and Typhoon Bolaven is supposed to roll in with its 130-mph winds and heavy rain this afternoon (it’s kind of a big deal). Ah, well. Studying is overrated.

Bilbao Pizza

There’s a coffee & pizza place just steps away from the dorms, and I went for lunch with a friend last week.  That was the first time I ate at this little joint, despite walking by it at least twice a day.  The storefront looks like a tiny take-out stand that’s attached to a larger building — the seating area is downstairs on the basement level, so you can’t see it from the street.  It doesn’t feel like a basement at all though; large windows/skylights fill the space with natural light.  The decor is cutesy and vintage, similar to many of the cafes I’ve frequented here in Seoul.

As I suspected, it was on the pricier side – my pizza was 13,500.  But, it had gorgonzola, mozzarella, almonds, and honey on it (I decided to be adventurous).  Worth every cent…or 십원, rather (the Korean equivalent of a penny).  My friend got the mushroom pizza, which was equally delicious.  We traded pieces, of course; that’s the joy of eating with others!

The wonderful thing about our pizzas was how fresh they tasted (as my friend described them).  These weren’t your standard artery-clogging, heavy slices of pizza.  The crust was light and bread-y (though I would’ve preferred mine a little crispier), the sauce was tasteful, and the cheese was cheesy, not overwhelmingly greasy.  In one word, delicious.

Next time I’m craving some oven-baked, cheese-covered, dough-y goodness, I’m definitely passing up Pizza Hut and Mr. Pizza for some Bilbao Pizza.  No question about it.

The Perfect Café – Part 6 [Two Chairs]

two chairs

delightful coffee

reminds me of “Where God Drinks Coffee”*

*in the basement of Swift Hall, at the Div School Coffee Shop

first sip was an explosion of flavor

i mean an EXPLOSION (i was surprised.)

light-bodied (short-lasting aftertaste), a bit acidic (but not too much), plain delicious

[disclaimer: i know nothing about coffee descriptors, only of them, which happens to be enough to use them.]

and in the most delicate-looking tea cup

it’s called “Ethiopia Yirgacheffe” – 에티오피아 예가체프

i picked it because i’ve never tried Ethiopian coffee beans, and because the name looked cool

 naturally, the description was in Korean, and thus of no use to me

now i happen to be the sole patron in this coffee shop

i’ve always wondered how these specialty coffee shops survive

just sipping on my coffee while whizzing cars pass by

(they whiz because of the rain. clearly monsoon season isn’t over yet.)

fortunately, i have a thick pane of glass between myself and the street, and a hot cup o’ joe and the blogosphere to keep me company

thanks, two chairs, i’ll probably be back.

one more thing:

right after i published this post, i caved and decided to order the milk patbingsoo.

yup, it’s delicious too.

The Perfect Café – Part 5 [Princeton Square]

Once upon a time, I found a lovely library cafe that seemed like it would soon become my regular spot.  It was full of books, plush chairs, and outlets, and was called Princeton Square.  Best of all, it was a mere two-minute walk from my dormitory building.

The sad truth is that Princeton Square now appears to be closed…for good.  The interior lies empty and the closed sign has been up for weeks.  While I could be optimistic and hope that they’re just remodeling, I haven’t seen anyone working in the space, so I doubt that’s the case.  Honestly, I’m not that surprised, since their prices were quite high and they weren’t busy very often.

So, this is my tribute to Princeton Square, the cafe that could have been the one (…that drained my bank account).

As a library cafe, Princeton Square contained walls full of books.  I never actually perused the shelves, as I assumed that they would all be in Korean, and because I always had my laptop with me to blog.  But the books gave the space a really great vibe — it was the perfect quiet-but-not-too-quiet place study or get some work done.

All the seats were plush armchairs or couches, and most of the smaller one-person tables were next to extension cords (outlets are difficult to find in cafes!).  The latter point might be due to the fact that it was a “library cafe”, and thus better-suited to students and other work-oriented customers.  The space was well-lit by overhead lighting, table lamps, and natural light from the large windows, making it a very pleasant place to be.

The first time I went I ordered the milk tea, which came in this cute little pitcher.  That made it slightly more worth the 7,000 won I paid for it, since it stayed warm for a while and filled 3 teacups or so.  The tea itself was pretty delicious once I added a little sugar.  It was also served with two small tea cookies, one sugar and one chocolate chip.

My second visit I got the citron tea (유자차), which was not the best choice.  Not because it wasn’t good, just because I could’ve made the exact same thing myself with a jar from the supermarket for a fraction of the price (I think it was 6,000 won).  Anyways, I’ve learned to justify high prices with ambiance, and usually stay for a few hours to convince myself I’m getting my money’s worth.

Princeton Square also had free wifi with a strong connection (of course) and was open late during the week (until 10 pm).  I would’ve loved to go back a third (and probably fourth) time, but it looks like it was too good to last.

Seoul in Transit

Seoul’s public transportation system is nothing short of amazing, particularly when compared to that of Los Angeles.  The last time I was in Seoul (5 years ago) I didn’t take any buses and I don’t recall what the subway was like, so I can’t comment on how it’s changed in recent years.  I can, however, tell you what it’s like now. Continue reading