Sunday, June 23, 2013

Not An Ordinary Eater in South Korea

Korean's Banchan (Side Dishes)
My Traditional Restaurant Experience in Jeju Island
I've read many times from different K-bloggers how unusual it is for Koreans to eat alone in a restaurant.  It's seldom to see a loner in a fast food either. If one has to eat alone, it's either in a coffee shop or tea houses. 

Honestly, it was my concern when I decided for my first solitary travel.  It's not about dining alone but more of how much I can eat.  I know how food servings per order can be much bigger and more than enough for one and the cost might be higher too.  It means my choices from the menu can be limited as well.  I am used of ordering two or three menus and to eat alone may cost me higher.   Indeed, after computing my travel expenses, big chunk of which was spent on food.

I didn't have a good experience with Korean food from my last vacation in Year 2010 and coming again alone, I have to be prepared.  Otherwise, I'd be eating noodles and bread for ten days.  Prior to my trip, I've researched a lot on Korean cuisine, it's name in Korean and it's description, the ingredients and all.  I was thankful to Christine of  GrrrlTraveler for sharing with me some Ipad apps on Korean cuisine. I've read a lot and save photos in my Ipad of the possible dishes that I can order.  Should I failed to pronounce correctly, I can show the photos instead. :-)

Some of the dishes that I should try are:

Samgyeopsal (pork belly cut in thin pieces and grilled on a smokeless grill)

 Japchae (noodle dish mixed with marinated beef & vegetables in soy sauce, it's like Filipino pansit bihon)

Bibimbap (basically mixed of different dishes and food), and

Samgyetang (chicken stuffed with rice and boiled in ginseng, it's like Filipino's arroz caldo).

In my ten days in South Korea, I found cafes and pastry shops as my comfort place.  South Korea is a haven of coffee shops, of all sort (they have dog cafe, cat cafe, art cafe and more themed-cafes).  I am planning to put up my own coffee shop five years from now.  This is one of the reasons that I travelled to the province of Paju, South Korea on my second day and spent half of my day in Heyri Art Village.

My trip was not all about coffee shops and traditional restaurants.  I had my moments of joining the crowd in streets queuing for the  food.  If the queue is much longer, I thought it must be good! But at times, I just chose randomly.  And it was, I think the most memorable ones.

So here I'm sharing my solitary gastronomic adventures in South Korea.

Coffee & Pastry Shops

My comfort places where I just stopped for awhile and just looked around and did my favorite pasttime - people watching.

I was a coffee drinker since the age of five, when kids should still be drinking milk. Since grade school, I had coffee with me when I reviewed my lessons at night. I usually stayed very late at night during exam days and coffee kept me awake. It evolved from a lighter one (where dash of coffee is enough for me as long as there's caffeine in there), then with milk or creamer until I liked drinking brewed. It's very common in the province that I even joined my grandfather at early mornings during summer to drink coffee from their favorite "kapehan".

Hello Kitty Cafe

Hello Kitty Cafe in Hongdae, Seoul
Preferably the famous cafe in Seoul, I came to this coffe shop dedicated to the famous feline character in the world!  My sister liked Hello Kitty so much and so with some of my friends and colleagues so I decided to see this place as well.  The interior is full of pink and of course, all about Hello Kitty that her fans would be all over her.  
Sneaking with people on dates
In Hello Kitty Cafe, it made obvious to me that I was there alone.  Tourists and locals came either in group or in two.  I hurriedly finished my chocolate and waffles and then took most of my time taking pictures.  I was  more excited to wander around Hongdae than staying inside the cafe.

Paris de Baguette in Hapjeong, Seoul and Busan Terminal

It was a "stop and go" pastry shop for me. When there's nothing to eat and I don't want to think what to eat anymore, I just went to any Paris de Baguette shops for some pastries.  It was my first stop in Seoul when I arrived.  It was too early and I had to eat first before I kick-off my itinerary for the day.  It's not all about bread but they have varieties of cakes and sweet treats too.  I bought Tiramisu cake for my midnight snack at their branch in Busan Terminal too when I was in Busan.

The best-seller sweets on White Day in Seoul

I arrived Seoul on March 14, which was a White Day in South Korea.  This is the day when boys give flowers/candies to girls in return for the Valentines Day where girls give boys some chocolates. I thought the shop was always that busy. Later, I just found out that it was for a White Day celebration in South Korea.  They're such sweet folks! :-)

Cafe Rose in Heyri Art Village
Cafe Rose, one of the coffee museums in Heyri Art Village
Being in South Korea where coffee shops are just everywhere was a hurdle for me.  Weeks before my trip, I was advised by my doctor to refrain from drinking any with caffeine due gastro pains.  Coming to Heyri Art Village, which I just found out when I got there was actually a village of coffee shops or known to them as "Coffee Museum" , was like coming to Hell instead of Heaven. 

I went inside Cafe Rose because of the signage "Coffee Museum" at the second floor but I restrained myself from further pain of not getting the "hand-grip coffee" that so famous being great in South Korea.  Instead, I went around Cafe Rose as the interior was so beautiful, so homey, cozy and has the perfect ambiance to just chill and enjoy your coffee.  It would be one of my inspirations for my coffee shop in the future.

Coffee Story in Sasang Terminal, Busan

Coffee Story in Sasang Terminal, Busan

This is the cozy coffee shop inside Sasang Bus Terminal in Busan.  I was supposed to go to the nearby Mcdo but the interior of the coffee shop was more appealing to me.  So I bought my hot chocolate and some cookies from there before I get on the bus to Jinhae.

A Twosome Place in Busan

A Twosome Place for a OneSome me :-)

A coffeeshop that is famous because of K-dramas, I decided to give this coffeeshop a try in Busan before I took the KTX train to Seoul.

Culcom, just random coffee shop in Jongno

I was just killing some time before I left Seoul to Incheon for my flight back to my Manila and I was looking for somewhere to just chill and eat.  As I walked along Jongno, I passed this coffee shop with inviting caption on their store, "Free Ipad".  I checked it myself and found out they have actually Mac PCs for free of use and not for give-aways.  The place is a combination of coffeeshop and a study center.  They also serve buffet salad bar but it's more of a buffet of food which I labeled as main course rather than a salad.  I went for it and for just KRW9,000, I had the best buffet in Seoul.


I really like pizza - the four cheese and margarita! Having read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, it is my dream to try the Naples' pizza.  So even in Korea, I looked it for myself.

Pizzeta at Bukchon Traditional Village
For some reasons, I was craving for Pizza days before I went to South Korea.  On my first day, I tried a lot to try the pizza parlor that I saw but there's no solo order.  After having my bibimbap at Insadong, my first ever attempt to try Korean cuisine (which I was not happy at all, unfortunately), I had my pizza in Seoul.

Coming from Bukchon Traditional Village, it was amazing how I sniffed the smell of pizza from somewhere.  Going dowm from the uphill Bukchon, I was like a kid running down when I saw this Pizza house in the main road.

The place was owned by a couple who can speak good English.  I ordered  four-cheese-pizza and carbonara.  They thought the pizza was for take out but I told them it was both for dine-in! They told me the pizza was a much bigger and seemed worried I was ordering too much for myself.  I told them I can take out for some.  It was a full day for me.  I travelled to the province of Paju, two-hours from Seoul and then spent walking in Insadong where I had my bibimbap but  not so happy with it.  I spent more walking up and down the hilly Bukchon Village that I thought I deserved a PIZZA!  Indeed, it was my first expensive meal of my trip.  I paid KRW 29,000 (roughly around Php1,200).



The Streetfood

Korean streetfood is part of their culinary tradition.  In every K-drama, rich or poor always try their streetfood! I tried a lot of them when I first came to Korea and it had sustained me and was my surviving food when I was not into Kimchi then. 

In PIFF Square in Busan,
the famous streetfood in PIFF Squre, Busan
It was colder in Busan or my immune system just went low from previous trip from Seoul to Jeju! Yet, I went around Busan and braved the cold - so with their street food that is famous in PIFF Square.  I tried the kebab which I thought will be grilled.  But it was served with a spicy soup that made it spicier when it was sprinkled with chili powder.  I coughed a lot when I took a sip that I was almost in tears. And it made me buy an ice cream amidst the 2C weather.

it was too much for the cold but i have to eat to lessen the hot spicy taste left in my tongue
Korean Cuisine

I've been curious about Korean cuisine! Watching it over K-dramas how the actors and actresses are satiating over their meal, I become more interested.

Bibimbap in Insadong

Gigimbap, still not my favorite

After my trip in Heyri Art Village in Paju, South Korea, I went back to Seoul and arrived Insadong past 1pm.  I read from lots of K-bloggers that there are a many traditional restaurants to choose from for authentic Korean cuisine.  I was so hungry from just having my free bread and coffee at Four Seasons House, so I decided to have some Korean cuisine for lunch. I stopped at "Good Restaurant" and ordered Gigimbap.  I tried a little to mix first just to get comfortable with it but I found my mixture tastes weird.  Instead, I opted to eat the  rice with some side dishes along with the soup. 

Gimbap in Busan Terminal

It was my Day 7 in South Korea - I was so tired with little sleep and it was cold! I arrived Busan from Jeju Island and did not have a good appetite at all.  But I forced myself to eat, otherwise, I'd get sick.  Thankfully, I saw a food chain in Busan Terminal where I was located nearby. There, I tried Gimbap, and it never failed being my survival food in South Korea.

Ramen in Seoraksan National Park

Soothing after the hike at Snow Mountain

I've never liked Korean noodles, especially the cup noodles.  But I don't why, after I went down from my experience with snow at Gwonggeumseong Fortress, I had in mind to eat noodles already.  Perhaps, it was the coldness of the snow that I wanted to soothe my tummy with hot, spicy soup.  It was indeed a good choice!

Black Seafood Noodles at Udo Island, Jeju

the "pointed" noodles in Udo Island

On my third day in Jeju Island, I took a ferry to Udo Island for a half-day trip.  There I rented an ATV for two-hours and drove around the cow-head-shaped island.  It was lunch time already when I finished my tour and I decided to eat  the nearby restaurant near the ATV booth.  The menu was all in Korean and there were no pictures to choose from.  Looking around the other customers, I saw this black noodle where a man in military uniform was eating so good and he looked satiating with.  I ordered the same thing by just pointing at the man's plate. :-)

Jeonbok TTukbaegi in Seogwipo Port

I can say this is the best brunch I ever had in South Korea.  A day after my birthday in Jeju Island, I took my early morning walk along Seogwipo Harbour.  Fresh catch from the sea, I ordered the Abalone soup in hot pot. 

Griller Mackerel with Banchan in Korean Traditional Restaurant in Seogwipo in Jeju

Mackerel complete with bancha (side dishes)

It's brushing off my bucket list - to eat a full Korean meal!  I had the most tiring yet fulfilling day in Jeju Island that I gave myself a treat.   When I entered the traditional restaurant, I was ushered to the table but I asked if I can have in the traditional table instead.  There are couple in the other side with their Soju and a group of families at my back but it didn't bother me at all.  I was too busy taking pictures, adjusting my foot until I got comfortable in indian-sit and looked more happy when the food came.  It was such a big serving just for me! 

I had spent much on food but I loved everything about it!
I never thought I would like Kimchi that much that I even bought one from Duty Free.  Back in the Philippines, I'd occasionally eat in a Korean restaurant.

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