foodography – three weeks in south korea


A collection of random snapshots taken mostly with an iPhone 3GS.  A mishmash of mainly casual Korean fare and some western dishes eaten in three main provinces on this recent visit to Asia.

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The Foodosophy of Food Gift Giving


This post is another reflection from my summer travels to Asia and in particular the two weeks I spent in South Korea.

The tradition of bringing back some local treats and gifts when one travels in an Asian country, especially when you have been to a more rural area and the city folk you left behind want to know what’s there, is one that I enjoy.  Especially when I’m one of those who are stuck in the rat race and urban jungle, and get to taste some goodies brought back from someone’s travels.  On this particular trip, it was the other way around, as I decided to purchase some sweet snacks that were reputed to be the best representation of what Gyeongju has, and I was told, would be appreciated by the Seoulites who would be on the receiving end of my generosity.

As with many food gifts, packaging is key, especially when one is challenged by a large display full of various types.  As people “eat with their eyes”, I can see why so much effort is spent on making the containers, boxes, etc. as appealing as possible and thus help boost sales.  Convenience for me is often key (especially when I’m traveling by air) and so a slim package such as the one above is much favored.  This particular pair of items was bought in a gift shop just before departing Gyeongju city.  A last stop kind of place to get your fill of this resort area before returning to the more populous (and non-touristy) places around the peninsula.

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Kyochon Chicken – Namyangju, KOR


Kyochon Chicken
Namyangju, KOR

After a busy day this past summer checking out various tourist sights in Seoul, I hopped back onto a train back to the suburbs to where I was spending some nights sleeping early on in my journey.   On the short walk back to the residence from the station, I noticed a boisterous establishment that seemingly was a pub/fried chicken kind of joint. I suggested to my travel mate that we go check it out – despite having finished eating a hearty dinner an hour before – but was told there was a better place they knew about, and the family I was staying with vouched for it. Sounded good to me.  It allowed some more time to digest our dinner and was really convenient too, as all it required was a phone call, as they delivered!   A change into some more comfortable clothes later and soon enough the door bell was ringing.

Reportedly there is an outpost of this popular Korean-style fried chicken known as Kyochon Chicken in Koreatown (Los Angeles) as well, but its the first I’d heard of it.  Not being able to read anything around me probably had something to do with it.  The logo I’d seen before though around the Korean capital city.  It seems to be mainly a delivery/takeaway kind of business model.  I think the places that serve Korean chicken that I’ve seen here in the GVRD are kind of like that (lots of “to-go” orders), but have seating areas as well where the beer (that goes so well with these things) flow freely.  As this was a second dinner, I just asked that we get a dozen or so and I wanted to try the original flavor, so not enhanced with the sweet-spicy sauce that really makes Korean-style chicken so yummy.

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Omija Cafe – Mungyeong, KOR


Omija Cafe
Mungyeong City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea

Schisandra chinensis.  Yes, difficult to pronounce but as one can guess, it has its roots in China.  The viny-plant produces a rich berry that is beloved for its five different taste sensations and its herbal/medicinal properties.  With various practical uses including its use in teas and even wine, it has a modern day application that you can enjoy today if you know where to look.  I had such an opportunity in the remote city of Myungyeong, nestled amid lush green forests spanning rolling mountains and hills that make this a spectacular visual landscape in North Gyeongsang Province.

On my way to visit some tourist sights, I came across this tiny cafe at the base of the town site before the long trek up past some re-created rural villages that were even used for present day movies and television sets, and up into some of the nearby hills.  It was a brutally hot and humid day so a rest was needed even before the hour long journey that I was about to embark on.  Spotting several people lined outside, I knew I had to check it out and find out what the commotion was all about.  So here I present to you, the Omija Cafe.

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Cheontong Son Kalguksu – Gyeongju, KOR


Cheontong Son Kalguksu
206-3 Cheongun-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
+82 (0)54-745-3010

Returning to another report on another stop from my August stay in South Korea.  I remember this lunch well, as we were racing to leave Gyeongju City as the powerful typhoon ravaging the coast was approaching fast and already the rain was falling horizontally due to the swirling winds.  We spotted Cheontong Son Kanguksu from the road as we approaching this area that was populated by a few restaurants.  The lights seemed to be on inside but nobody could be seen, so one brave member of our party stepped out into the falling rain and knocked on the door to see if they were indeed ready for customers.  Perhaps it was the weather and the lone female proprietor felt sorry for us, as it seems she was still doing her preparation work, but she let us inside and told us to make ourselves at home.

The wet, humid weather made it perfect for something hot to try and warm up our cores.  Kalguksu or hand-cut wheat noodles served in a bowl of rich, mainly seafood (shellfish)-based flavorful broth, topped with a mix of thin sliced vegetables.  While the ambiance was nothing special, perhaps even on the dilapidated side and I could spot a few flies spinning around in the air, I was just grateful to be indoors and away from the storm.  Although being in a fully glass encased building was not something one should probably do when powerful winds are ravaging all around.

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To Go Coffee Shop / Seomi & Tuus House Object Gallery – Seoul, KOR


To Go Coffee Shop / Seomi & Tuus House Object Gallery
32-21 Chae-Dong, Chongro-gu
Seoul, South Korea
+82 (02)-720-5001

With long business hours (Mon~Fri, 7am to midnight; Sat, 7am to 11pm; Sun, 9am to 10pm) and a serious dedication to contemporary art and design – given their ties to a nearby gallery – the To Go Coffee Shop housed within this quaint brick-and-glass building made for the best of both worlds. Open early enough for a warm cup of coffee to get your day going, but also laid back and aesthetically interesting with its display of modern artwork to make you want to stay longer than you normally might just to take in the scene.

The bukchon neighborhood follows a similar dual dynamic.  Retro remnants of a by-gone era with traditional architecture and residences that take you back in time, flanked by rows of ultra hip and trendy shops popular with the city’s busy youth.  The latter characteristic reminded me of the ura-Harajuku area of Tokyo. I have a friend who works as an assistant director at one of the many galleries here, and I’d always heard interesting things from her about hanging out and working in this district, so I had to check it out for myself, camera in hand.

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Kongerang – Gyeongju, KOR


Kongerang
346-2 Ha-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
(054) 743-6282

After a morning spent outdoors in the sweltering summer heat taking in some live acrobatic performances and a long walk around the touristy Shilla Millenium Park, we headed back to the cooling comforts of our air conditioned car and sought out more places on my native host’s list of places to eat at.  A simple search in the auto’s GPS device turned up another location that was not too far away and so off we went.  Best known as a restaurant that specializes in dishes that contain beans (soybeans, peas, lentils, etc.), Kongerang was set just off the main road that passed by it.  It was situated in an older looking, traditionally-built Korean country home.

An ample parking lot was situated right on its parcel of land and it was full of cars!  A young man (who’s job I would never want) was sitting on a folding chair on the side of the road and as we approached, he came to our driver side window and explained their parking system.  Essentially, there were no open spots available now (and thus no unoccupied tables inside), but he was soon on his headset conversing with someone inside and gave us an estimated wait time of thirty minutes.  He allowed us to park on the shoulder of the street, and as one car left the lot, we were permitted to move the car onto the rocky stone-lined parkade.  This however did not mean our table was ready yet, but this place was prepared as they had a large tented (and air conditioned) area towards the back where other waiting patrons were patiently sitting.  Later on, a voice came out over the speaker inside noting our number and we then proceeded into the building housing the restaurant where our freshly set table was waiting.  A swift and efficient system!

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