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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Seoul Food To Go

If you are on the run and on the cheap, I think you'll survive Seoul. Here's why:

1. The cafe culture here is alive and bursting. Local-brand cafes are a dime a dozen, and all offer free and strong wifi connection. Korean coffee concoctions are on the mild, creamy side and pastries are yeasty and creative, evoking perhaps some Japanese relations. Expect to spend KRW10,000 (Php350/USD7.78) each visit 

To this end, I would think you a dweeb if you will still step into a Starbucks outlet, considering that you have to pay for your wifi connection along with your drink.

2. Food centres are not hard to find and serve value meals that range from KRW700-1200 (Php24.50-42/USD0.54-0.93) but a sushi family platter may reach KRW2,500. 

Normally you'll get a Kimchi noodle set, 

a bowl of Namsan noodle soup (less on the kimchi and uses flatter noodles), 

or a plate of Vegetable Tempura.

The Bibimbap, a rice meal that is quite familiar with Filipinos, is of course available. My experience, however, with the real thing is quite different. Yes, it is still the ground-meat-and-vegetable rice topping, but it wasn't served as a rice topping, and it was really more comprised of vegetables and egg strings with just a sprinkling of meat. Very clean and refreshing.

For a serious meal, a usual favourite would be a plate of Pork Katsu with Omelet Rice. The Honey Mustard Sauce is a welcome change from the tonkatsu sauce I am accustomed to. Renders a lightness to an otherwise heavy dish.

3. There's also the ever-reliable grocery store. The more popular place would be Lotte Supermarket. Frozen meals are available that need only to be heated to satisfy hunger.

And from there, you may just have what you need to set up your own afternoon tea. (Various sandwiches sell at KRW2,000/4 kinds; onigiris at KRW1,500/piece; pastries are free samples).

3. But the real deal is the street food. 

Hawkers start setting up along the streets as early as 4 in the afternoon for red bean paste or custard-filled donuts. These morsels are deep-fried and transform the pastry to a doughy consistency. A great treat no matter the weather. Always get them while they're hot at KRW300 for 5 pieces (Php10.50/USD0.23). If you can't finish it off, leave some for home and have it heated in a toaster oven. Not as good as when it was freshly cooked, but tastes a different kind of wonderful.

Aside from donuts, there are the pancakes - very buttery and eggy (KRW500/piece or Php17.50/USD0.39), and my favourite, the fish tofu filled with (you guessed it) red bean paste (KRW500/4pieces). Talk about sweet and savoury all in one bite. 

At 6 o'clock in the evening, down town Myeong Dong is more lively than ever. Along with high fashion brands and their neon signs, food carts abound.

There's the Steamed Mangdu, a dough that's either filled with pork, mushroom or shrimp (KRW10,000/3 pieces).

Grilled everything! - Chicken, Pork, Sausages, Squid or Octopus

That's KRW500/stick, if you please.

5. If you plan on staying in Seoul for more than the tourist maximum of 4 days, I suggest you adopt a neighbourhood bar. Something that is just a hole in the wall and serves cheap local standbys like Kimchi pancakes and grilled Spam with  beer or shoju (rice wine). We usually spend KRW15,000 per visit (Php525/USD11.67).

6. Regardless how you spend your food adventure, I'm sure you will still have room each day for Chimaek!

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