Korean Dak Galbi (Korean Spicy Chicken Stir fry)

I believe this should be the last of the food posts about Seoul. There are some of those random snacks that I bought from their convenience stores and marts but where actual food is concerned, this will be the final one.

Somehow, Korean food always strikes me as being a distinctive orange in colour. Maybe I was only thinking about kimchi when I made that connection, and how kimchi is a very prominent Korean food. Anyway, one evening, we had dinner at this eatery in Myeongdong that serves up stir-fry chicken. I think they specialise in chicken, and there is more than one of them in the area. Basically, there is this huge pan in the middle of the table where you are seated, where you can choose from various combinations of chicken and rice cake, rice, noodles, etc., that you can request for the staff to stir-fry for you. Actually, I don’t know if they have to be the ones to do it, but I think it’s safer that way. But thereafter, you can add more stuff to it, such as cabbage, which is free flow from a serving counter, and then stir it in yourself, if anything but to diffuse the spicy-ness of the dish. We ordered the chicken with rice cake version, and subsequently asked for a portion of rice to mix in.

How the mixture started out in the pan.20140731-083046-30646162.jpgStir-frying in progress.20140731-083046-30646221.jpgThe finished product! It was really delicious, and perhaps it may be good to eat this on top of plain rice rather than to mix the rice/noodle in, your choice. We just thought that mixing everything in gives the rice/noodle the flavour. But in case spicyness isn’t your forte, you can consider opting for the separate option.20140731-083046-30646277.jpg

 

I paid about 6,000 KRW (S$7.50) for the dinner, which was really cheap, but then it was also because we didn’t want to order too large a portion since the 2 friends I was dining with do not eat that much. It was just about right and enough so that there is space leftover for snacking thereafter.

FIKA Swedish Coffee Break, Seoul

In Swedish, I think FIKA means coffee break, and indeed this is the name of the cafe that I chanced upon in Seoul, at Garosugil in Sinsadong. It’s this hip and happening area in Seoul that is replete with cafes and clothing and accessories shops, something like Holland Village but bigger and better in terms of the shopping and variety of cafes. Or should I say it is more like the Haji Lane area that we have in Singapore, only much bigger. I made a short afternoon trip there and did not have sufficient time to cover as much of the place that I would have liked, also because it was a fairly warm afternoon in the blazing late afternoon sun. However, it just means there is more incentive for me to head back there for future trips!

From the Sinsa station, it is easy to walk there. If I recall correctly, the way out should be Exit 2, or just follow where everyone else is walking and you will get there anyhow. Along the way, there are already various cafes visible, and a pretty large Tous Les Jours bakery. But when you do get to the area, which is a straight tree-lined street flanked with low-rise shophouses containing all these cafes and shops that sells all kinds of fashionable stuff, it can be a little overwhelming. To me at least, because I was looking for a caffeine fix and it being a popular place it meant that many cafes along the way were packed with customers. As with most cafes, turnover can be expected to be low. The good thing about this place is that, despite being hugely popular and crowded, most of the crowd appeared to be fairly young and local. Even the tourists who visit this area are of a different type and genre as compared to say, Myeongdong.

From the main street, there are many side alleys that you could branch out to, which will open up to more shops and cafes. If you have the time, which is something I should target to do in my next trip to Seoul, you can just weave in and out and check them out. However, of course where cafes are concerned, it’s hard to be cafe-hopping. How many cups of coffee or how many slices of cake can one take in an afternoon? I finally got to this part of the street where I decide to branch out and explored this slightly-quieter part. Or so I thought. There were still people streaming in and out of cafes and shops too but away from the main street, it didn’t seem as busy and noisy. And then I came across this place.  20140729-144155-52915053.jpg

It was just by chance that I headed in because I only wanted to check out if there are seats available, which I thought there might be by peeking from the street. As luck would have it, I think they had, on the upper floor of the cafe. So I bought myself a coffee and cake and waited for the buzzer to go off. 20140729-144154-52914950.jpg

And voila, my FIKA coffee and pound cake, the whole of it! The very first time I have tried a cafe named FIKA was in New York City, which serves pretty decent coffee. I don’t think they are related, because I haven’t found any connection online, neither do I think they are related in any way to the FIKA Coffee we have in Singapore. But nonetheless, I think the Europeans, and perhaps especially the Nordic countries, have always given me the impression that when it comes to enjoying coffee and the experience, they take it seriously and are experts in it. Makes me miss the travelling days once more, but to be honest, I have only visited Helsinki twice for work where the Nordics are concerned, and I would really love to be able to head to the other parts of Finland, to Norway, Denmark and Sweden. They always give me an image of a sophisticated laid-back culture, with strong focus placed on design and style.  20140729-144155-52915103.jpg

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I really enjoyed the fig and prune pound cake I ordered, even if this was a pre-dinner snack and it might and would definitely come across to many as being too much for one. Well, for me, who is nuts over cakes these days, this is no big deal for me. But I just imagine other people who will take just one of the 5 pieces here and declare that they are stuffed and done with it. It is not very sweet and the addition of fig and prune perhaps gives it a kind of sweetness that is associated with the typical sweetness of sugar that is used in making cakes…? Of course, I would assume sugar is still used but I’m just saying I didn’t think it was too unbearably sweet. I love cakes but I don’t have an irredeemable sweet tooth. And who can resist nice, buttery pound cakes that go perfectly well with a cup of coffee! I know I can’t.20140729-144155-52915140.jpg

Tom & Tom’s Coffee, Seoul

Several years ago when Tom & Tom’s Coffee first came to Singapore, I was fairly excited, because yay to new cafes in Singapore! Now there are a dime and dozen new cafes sprouting up all the time, but these new ones are of a different breed. The new cafes these days are independent coffee joints set up by aspiring cafe-owners who perhaps harbour a love for caffeine and all things associated with it, tired of corporate life and have the capital to invest in a business. Running a cafe is tough, even if personally I have not done it. I mean, how easy can it be to have to keep your P&L in the black and healthily, while fierce intense competition rages on constantly?

Anyway Tom & Tom’s first opened way back… I can’t remember when, and there was this outlet in Far East Plaza, where a Starbucks used to stand (eons ago), that then became Burger King (or vice versa, honestly, my memory is growing fuzzy). There might have been other tenants but Tom & Tom’s occupied that space for a while, and when they just started, they really went all out with the Korean experience, playing Korean songs, staffing their counters with Korean-speaking crew (possibly Koreans studying in Singapore who became part-timers to the cafe)… it was pretty good. But probably not sustainable. They opened several outlets that then also closed, but as of now I think they only have a couple of outlets left. I know with certainty of the outlet that still stands in Tanjong Pagar, Icon Village, but I’m not so sure if the Vivocity outlet still remains, with the high turnover of eateries and restaurants that mushroom in that mall all the time.

I popped into one when I visited Seoul, just to check out what they have, because in the Singapore branch(es), it always seem like everything is unavailable.20140722-070642-25602362.jpg

So I found out that in Seoul, their cafes really provide a good selection of menu items, evident from the length of time I spent mulling over what I should order for breakfast. Everything just sounded and felt appealing or perhaps I was just feeling ravenous. I settled for a very boring choice, which was their signature Original Pretzel set. They are supposedly known for their pretzels, or rather this is one of their main sell. Original, because I always believe in trying the original to see if something is good, first. Just like donuts, I usually prefer original types rather than fanciful ones. We could always try the other flavours subsequently.

The original in this case didn’t mean plain. Their version of original pretzel was salted, and I think there is a plain version, but salted gave it a hint of taste, otherwise it will really be almost tasteless lest you want to enjoy and savour the sauce/dip that comes along with the pretzel (the dip comes with it, i.e. not charged).

20140722-070642-25602260.jpgAt first glance the pretzel looks huge, and probably to many it may appear to be so as well, but I’m a lover of dough, and it just looks big, but doesn’t fill up that much space due to its shape. I asked for a garlic dip and it complemented the slight saltiness of the pretzel well, I think. I enjoyed it and the pretzel didn’t feel too heavy or dry. But the dip helps of course, otherwise it might have been too plain and boring to keep on just munching on it.20140722-070642-25602315.jpg

I didn’t get a second chance to try other things on that trip, but I was thinking of giving the outlet in Singapore another chance one of these days, to find out just exactly what they have available in the food department!

reading between the lines…?

Maybe it is a sixth sense, or it is just a plain case of thinking too much. However, it is not that hard to tell if someone is unwilling to meet-up. I have come across too many of such situations.

There are friends who prefer to meet up in groups and so when the meet up is just a two-person affair, they are just not interested and therefore give a noncommittal response. It’s sad when friendships come to a state like this, although I do wonder about its veracity in the first place then.

Are friendships something born out of convenience? Need?

Perhaps I have given off similar vibes to people around, the lack of reciprocity, which explains why I never seem to have any close friends. I don’t know why I grapple with such issues or even bother to think so much about this matter when there are more important, pressing problems that the world faces, that life holds. I’ve been told to just let it go and enjoy life. I try, but with each step forward to make that attempt, I seemingly enter into a cha-cha where I then take another 2 steps back.

building castles in the air

 

This year, the birthday came and went like that. Well, each year it comes and goes but for all these years I have always entertained superfluous thoughts in my mind about how I would wish for the day to pan out. Not every year but in some years. I don’t know if it was a result of books that I read or shows that I watched in my growing up years where to me, birthdays are special occasions where one will have a small group of close-knit friends, or just one or two pals who would make it truly special for the birthday person on that day. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate celebration since as the adage goes, it is the thought that counts, and it is the thought that goes into making the day extraordinary as a birthday.

Thinking such thoughts only sets me up on a course of disappointment for being unrealistic. It is ironic how some have asked about how I spent my birthday or wishes have come in the form of text messages that follow with a “Hope you have/had a great day!” depending on if the wish was belated or not. I wondered how they would have reacted, if they would, if I had replied with a “It was not great, in fact, it was worse than if it were just another day.” Text exchanges save them the awkwardness if such a response was sent from me, and it wouldn’t serve any purpose either because that appended sentence was just an afterthought to the “Happy (belated) birthday”, perhaps to make the message look more complete. I admit that I am as well guilty of sending such messages, but to different people it will probably appear differently.

So each year I just stay optimistic until the actual day swings by and go by. Each year, I seem to make myself feel more disappointed, if that was even possible. It was funny how making my birthday invisible on Facebook shows how reliant friends are on Facebook reminders and notifications. I don’t mind that some people don’t remember because I don’t expect them to and I probably don’t make it a point to remember their birthdays as well. But there are/were close friends who totally did not even make an effort to remember. I suppose because we drift apart, or we don’t meet up anymore, which is a good reason to delete any cache memory that was used to store such information?

For the record, one of my friends did invite me over to her place to spend my birthday together with her. But I was just lazy to make the trip. I chose to wallow in self-pity, which I have been told I shouldn’t and which I know it too. It does not help a single thing and it does not change a single thing. People not caring won’t start to care just because I am feeling lousy that they don’t bother. It only makes me reluctantly accept that this is just how life is. Seeing pictures posted on Facebook by friends who shared the same birthday having friends celebrate with them made it feel like having salt sprinkled on open smarting wounds, but that is the downside of social media that has to be accepted if I’m not ready to cut the use of it.

Bekseju Village Samseong, Seoul

Or I think it’s called Kooksoondang, which should be the name of the shop. Bekseju Village is one of the brands, or maybe it is the other way round. Anyway, the website shows both, so if you are interested in heading there if you happen to be in Seoul and want to go someplace for good Korean alcoholic beverages, this is supposedly a good recommendation. I went to the one located in Samseong, Gangnam, so from one side of the Han river, I took the green metro subway line (their circle line) to Samseong station. Actually, from Myeongdong where I was staying, I think it might have been faster, albeit with a transfer required, to take the orange subway line to this side of the river.

We didn’t really know what to order for food, but just looked around at what other tables were having, and tried to make an order with the English menu provided. However, I think the English version has more limited options, because apparently what we thought we ordered that was what the next table was having, wasn’t on the menu. The realisation only came when the waiter came back to try to tell us that what we wanted was not available, which puzzled us because how we it be that it wasn’t available when the next table was having it? Then the patrons on our neighbouring table tried to help but the lack of understanding due to the different languages being used caused some inconvenience. But we managed eventually, although not entirely the same as what they ordered, we did get some food.

These were the starters, which on the left is a dish that is like fish cake, and on the right, mochi-type (or rice cake) of appetisers. I would have prefered other stuff like kimchi or the big-headed sprouts but these were acceptable too. 20140721-073536-27336746.jpg

One of the mains that we ordered, a seafood kimchi pancake. I love Korean pancakes, even though they are fried and usually at least a bit oily, but being thin and infused with the taste of kimchi (since I usually would order kimchi or a mixture that includes kimchi if it is available), the taste of it is great. Looking at this picture alone already makes me feel like having it again, and this version was a good combination of two flavours, especially since it was not too oily.20140721-073536-27336882.jpgThe other item that we ordered resembled a steamboat of sorts, or Japanese oden. It’s a pot of soup, on one side a clear broth and the other a spicy broth, with each containing the same set of yong-tau-foo type of foods on sticks. Though seemingly light, these were actually pretty filling but really delicious, even those that were dipped in clear broth! By the time we were done with this, together with about 3/4 of the pancake gone, we were both stuffed to the brim.20140721-073536-27336829.jpgAnd of course the main draw of this place would have to be their beverages! We ordered a bottle of the Korean rice wine, or Makgeolli, one that had a ginseng flavour to it. It really did contain a very distinctive ginseng taste, which was rather special because it was the first time I’ve ever tried something like this, yet if you don’t like the taste or smell of ginseng, it is probably not advisable.20140721-073536-27336925.jpg

Supposedly the locals seem to be drinking some other forms of Makgeolli, that did not come in a bottled form, but in a ceramic pot, where you use a wooden ladle to scoop out the drink. My friend had wanted something like this but of course we didn’t know how to go about ordering it and at that time where we were seated, there wasn’t anyone having the same thing. We saw that at another table when we were leaving but I think that is the traditional way of having makgeolli, which perhaps may give it an even more authentic flavour?

This was a pricier dinner as compared to the other days. I don’t remember exactly how much it cost, but it still wasn’t on the extreme high end, because we paid either 20,000 or 25,000 KRW each, which is about S$25 or S$31, which I think is fairly decent because I can’t get Korean food at that kind of price, with a bottle of wine included, in Singapore.

Korean street food – egg bread (gyeran bbang – 계란빵)

One other street food that I tried this time when I visited Seoul was the egg bread, otherwise known as gyeran bbang in Korean. It was also something recommended by a colleague, and it was the very first time that I have ever come across or seen this, strange as it may sound. Well, I haven’t visited Seoul as often as I do, say Hong Kong or Tokyo, but I thought these should be something common. Yet even when I was passing by the numerous stalls in the usual tourist spots, I don’t see it as often. I found this stall as well at Ewha Women’s University area, but they are also available in some street carts in Myeongdong.

This is how they look like before being cooked, prepared and lined up to be cooked. It is bread at the bottom, with egg and cheese on top.20140716-221746-80266284.jpg

This is the finished product. The stall I bought it from had just a few pieces on display as it was not peak hours I guess. But if you walk past those in Myeongdong you will see a lot of them on this hot plate thingy that they are being put on to be kept warm. I don’t know if they are cooked/baked on this but I don’t think so because the holders have all been removed so I assumed this is just to ensure the bread stays warm and nice. And yes, they are nice indeed.20140716-221746-80266377.jpgSo when you buy this, you get the egg bread in a cup with a stick. It is just easier to use your hands because seriously, the stick can’t pick up much. The bread is very soft and it crumbles easily beyond the layer of egg and cheese on the outside. Or it could have been butter that were the yellow bits on top (see first picture). Either ways, I think it’s pretty indulgent but the soft, buttery bread with the distinctive eggy aroma is just so heavenly. For the bread-lovers, but if you are the sort who only swears by bread like sour-dough and the likes, then maybe this is not for you.20140716-221746-80266439.jpgThe inside, where you can easily imagine the softness, and yes “crumbliness” of the bread.20140716-221746-80266481.jpg

At 1,000 KRW (S$1.25) or 1,500 KRW (S$1.85) depending on where you get it from, this is also something worthy of a try if you are not the bread-sticklers mentioned above. It’s more muffin/pastry than bread in a way, although less dense and more fluffy. Besides, it is not that big to fill up too substantial a space in your stomach, so there will always be room for more snacking or eating in Seoul!