Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The best thing about living in Korea...?

So I got stuck in a traffic jam this morning - more about driving in Seoul sometime soon, now that Wifeoseyo and I got a car...

but I have been accused of too much bitching on my blog lately, so it's time for something positive.

First off, being married is great.  Wifeoseyo is a champ, in every respect, and it's been an awesome time so far.  Got to hang out with the in-laws last weekend, and my one-year-old niece is super-cute, too.  She likes me.  We're only at the waving and smiling point so far, but that's OK with me.

Anyway, this last week, I've been taking full advantage of one of the things I love the most about Korea, and here it is:

Monday: grilled Mackerel, in a long-standing, well-known restaurant in my neighborhood: crisped brown, perfectly salted, purple rice (healthier) on the side.  4000 won.

Tuesday: hot pot bibimbap: the pot is so hot that the rice scorches against the inside of the bowl in which the bibimbap is served; I mix it, and then press the mixed rice against the sides of the bowl, to maximize the scorched flavor and texture.  Best bibimbap I've had in the city (as always, the best bibimbap, hands down, is in those little restaurants at the bottoms of mountain trails, right after climbing a mountain, but short of climbing a mountain, this is great).  The old ladies at this place know me, and know that I don't eat the "Yakult" cup, so they don't set it out on my tray.

Wednesday: maybe on Wednesday I'll go to "Halmoni Kalguksu" near Jongno 3-ga, in a tiny back-alley near subway exit six.

The old ladies there have kept their prices the same since the 1980s, according to wifeoseyo, who read about them, and they plan to continue that way until they die.

Plus, they're really cute old ladies:

Their kitchen is pretty sweet, too.

And maybe on Thursday, I'll head down to the dark, slightly sketchy street near my workplace, where you can pay 6000 won for a seafood pancake (해물파전) that's crisp, delicious, fresh, and big enough that two people can't finish it together in one sitting.

See, you never know where you'll find a brilliant gem of a restaurant - the narrowest back alley might bend around and reveal a line up out the door and around the next corner, where you'll eat your fill and then some from a few people who actually take pride in serving great food for a low price.  I'll tell you what: where I'm from, if the soup became famously delicious, it wouldn't take long for the soup's price to reflect the degree of fame it had achieved.  

I've heard Japanese food is great - but you've gotta seriously pay for the best of it.  I've heard French cuisine is similarly great - if you don't mind paying through the nose.  But in Korea, the best - seriously, the best Korean food, the most authentic Korean food experience, the most delicious food, and the food that reminds your Korean friends of their childhoods, is usually cheap as anything, loaded with more side dishes than you can eat, and in unpretentious farmhouses, or in bare-bones simple hole-in-the-wall restaurants in a back alley where directions to find it go like this: "Turn left, and then right, and then left, and then right, and if you reach the old lady husking garlic cloves on her front porch, you've gone too far."

And I love it.

Halmoni Kalguksu (pictured above) is closed on Sundays, and don't go during lunch hour, because the line goes out the door.  Here's the google map:

View Halmoni Kalguksu in a larger map


ZenKimchi said...

Are you now the Korean Eric Carle?

Roboseyo said...

Isn't Eric Carle the guy who wrote "Brown Bear Brown Bear"?

Jens said...

I dunno. In my visits to Japan, I've never had trouble finding a great lunch for $4-6, and dinner for under $10. One night we stuffed ourselves at a sushi conveyor place, got a few drinks, and it was $33 for two. Food is one of the few things you can do somewhat cheaply in Japan.

조안나 said...

I think I've been to halmoni kalguksu! I heard it was famous but I'd never heard of anyone else going there. Actually, the best kalguksu I've had is at a place near gwanghwamun, another place that always has a line out the door to get in at lunch time. I finally got in for the first time last saturday! mmmmm kalguksu!

dokebi said...

I think that the perception of Japanese food being expensive mainly exists in north america. I'm sure it's more affordable for people who live in Japan and not have to deal with a more expensive currency. But what roboseyo says has been echoed by a lot of other b/vloggers, and I've heard it from my Korean relatives too. For something like 2,000 or 3,000 (~ 2 or 3 dollars) you can get a very hearty and delicious lunch and have a place to hang out with your friends.

chiam said...

Loved this post, and yeah, I totally agree that some of the best food is at places that aren't afraid of being a bit dingy.

When two friends of mine came to Korea from Japan for a short visit, they were actually shocked at how expensive food is in Korea. They said pretty much the same thing as Jens. Every time I head to Japan I end up spending a lot on food...but that's probably because I drink a lot.

Roboseyo said...

Actually, Chiam, you're right: tourists can and do spend a lot on food here - because they don't have that google map to that sleepy street with the amazing kalguksu place; I'm sure the locals in Japan eat much cheaper than I do when I'm there, too, because they know all the best cheap spots, while I, being illiterate in Japanese, I'm limited to places with picture menus or store window models - and places like that usually display their pictures, models, or English menus, to make a grab for the tourist dollars

but when I was talking about the best Japanese and French food being expensive, I was more thinking of those high-end $300 a plate sushi places -- to experience the best French food, the food that made French cuisine famous, one needs to seek out a Michelin Three-Star restaurant or somesuch, while the high end Korean food like that is rarely actually the best food Korea has to offer - halmoni boribap is probably better, and most of the food writers I know argue that the high end hanshik Korean Tourism likes to promote isn't representative of real hanshik, much less real Korean food.