Monday, December 21, 2009

Paper Garden in Sinsadong

A few days ago, I arrived at one of my fav spots, The Flying Pan, only to discover the entire space was rented out for some private event. But I was on Garosugil so it wasn't like there was a shortage of restaurants. We wound up at the Paper Garden, an Italian restaurant, on a small side street. The atmosphere was minimalist and chic, but the menu was an eyebrow raiser. Why was there kimchee fried rice on the same page as the pastas??? I understand it's Korea and the obligatory saucer of pickles can't be avoided at even the most authentic of Italian restaurants but really? Trying to imagine what kimchee was doing in the same kitchen where alfredos and marinaras were being prepared made my stomach cringe.

It's a limited menu, so I begrudgingly ordered the caprese salad (17,000 won). It came out on a behemoth platter with the communal dining idea in mind. This makes it very awkward to eat if you're as selfish with your food as I am. The only thing worth noting is that the mozzarella is one of the best I've had in Seoul. So fresh, creamy, lactescent and not too tightly wound. Otherwise, I have nothing further to say about Paper Garden. The Flying Pan better be open next time I go.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sillim Nightlife

I have no idea what Sillim means in Korean but I believe it to be synonymous with booze and fornication.

I used to live in Sillim. I used to wake up and find cards with naked girls littered all over my front doorstep. On any given night, I'd roll into Sillim Station and see drunk people passed out in all bodily positions and girls wailing and crying hysterically over some useless asshole. Then I'd have to hopscotch over puddles of vomit (observation: Koreans eat alot of ramen) and walk past shame-faced, horny couples ducking into one of countless love motels in the area. And of course it would impolite if I didn't nod hello to the brood of pimps who stand at the same street corner every single night. In my beloved old neighborhood, you can literally stand there and inhale intoxication and sex. But however sketchy Sillim is, it doesn't have the red light district sleaziness of Itaewon.

In Sillim (especially over by exit 3 and 4), the streets are crammed with hofs, bars, restaurants, noraebangs, DVD rooms, and night clubs. It's where "real" Korean people come to party, vent, drink, and have fun. Everyone is friendly, genuine and WASTED. You won't find the slightest bit of pretentiousness here.

If I ever felt like a nice, long walk, I would stroll over to Boramae Park. It's a HUGE park and open whenever. During the summers, I remember stretching out on the grass at dawn watching the physically vigilant do laps around the track. Some nights, there would be light shows by the lake.

My favorite bar is Mong. It's intimate, they have real cocktails, and the food is yummy even if you're not completely sloshed. It's run by a family with the mother cooking in the back and the children up in the front running things. The owner, who goes by Justin, is so genuinely nice, and likes to play his favorite movies on a projection screen for some ambient entertainment.

Directions: Walk out of Exit 3, go straight til you see a Watson's. Turn right and walk until you see Mong which is written in Korean in orange letters on a black sign.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

We're All Animals

In his book On Love, Alain de Botton notes that what distinguishes us from animals is our ability to be social. We build personalities off of what others perceive of us, and we in turn, return the favor by shaping and molding the personalities of others.

"What does it mean that man is a "social animal"? Only that humans need one another in order to define themselves and achieve self-consciousness in a way that mollusks and earthworms do not. We cannot come to a proper sense of ourselves if there are not others around to show us where we end and others begin."

-Alain de Botton, On Love


An interesting theory and if it has any truth, he who surround himself with worthless, unsubstantial creatures just using up oxygen must also be misshapen and worthless. If I want good feedback on my actions, I need worthwhile friends but also friends who I see reflections of what I aspire to myself. Friends should not only support us but they should also stimulate and challenge us. So before I turn this into the corniest, friends-are-the-greatest-thing-ever blog posting, let me get back to how we're all just animals.


Yeah, we're social but the reality is that most people surround themselves with worthless (I'm sure they're really nice...or hot) people. These are the kinds of people that make the world go round....and round. This is how mankind works. But what makes the world stretch...what makes the world bounce up and down like a basketball. Um, nothing?! That doesn't happen...Oh, but it does. There are people who change the world - for better or for worse. There are people who will cure cancer and there are people who cause the genocide of millions. And these people have friends. If you bothered to look, these friends wouldn't be much different from the individual you study. For example, Osama Bin Laden's friends are probably pretty much like Osama Bin Laden.


So back to how we're all animals. Well, most of us are. We're just animals chewing on hay like all the other animals. Mating like all the other animals, etc., etc. So on this day that we're supposed to be thankful for all we have, I get this sinking feeling that mankind needs to upgrade...alot. Get a life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Black Face

I was on the subway the other day during rush hour, which if you know anything about Line 2 (green line) on a weekday at 10:30pm anywhere between Jamsil and Sadang stations...you will knowingly nod your head in sympathetic acquiescence. Being sandwiched between an assortment of Korean characters (100-pound milkface girl, disgruntled ajumma with bundles of god-knows-what, Korean businessman, drunk Korean businessman, hipster with a man purse, whipped boyfriend carrying his girlfriend's purse, children who should be in bed, etc.), this ajushi who was dressed like he had been mountain-climbing but smelled like he had been marinated in kimchee and soju, pushed his backside against me. And BAM! This is what I saw:

Aigoo.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Heart-Warming

Sometimes I get little notes and mementos from my exes that really light up the vacant chambers of my soulless heart.

From a scientist - a sweet note written in micropolymers



Ice Fishing


It was a 4-hour journey from Seoul's Cheongyanggi station to Namchuncheon and then a bus to Hwacheon. When we finally got to Hwacheon, it was too simple to figure the place out. Hwacheon is a frigid icicle of a small Korean town just a few kilometers from the North Korean border. The Hwacheon Ice Festival was in full swing and even with over a million patrons visiting during the festival's course and it being a holiday weekend, a motel room wasn't hard to find. In minutes, we were on the ice with our newly purchased "fishing rods" which resembled warped fly swatters more than fishing gear. Music blared over the speakers as we set up camp and fished to the inescapable tunes of Son Dambi's "Crazy" song. Four hours later, I was a frosty bundle of fury with no fish to show for my efforts. All around me, couples and families yanked fish after fish from their yielding apertures while I stared maniacally into mine wondering if it would be easier if I just dived in and greedily started snatching fish with my bare hands.

With my sanity slipping away from me, my friend started dancing around her ice hole to the obligatory sexiness of "Rainism". Though this little dance didn't attract any fish our way, it brought on the ajushis (old Korean men). It wasn't long before one came over and invited us to eat some hwe (sashimi) with his family. We had our fill of deliciously chewy slices of fresh fish paired with the clean (propellant) notes of soju. Upon parting, the family left us with a writhing plastic bag of fish. We took our energetic gift to a little stand flanked by a modest army of grills. Just 1000 won per fish to have them smacked on the head, salted, wrapped in aluminum foil and thrown on the grill to sizzle away. We expertly picked away at the freshly steaming filet of flaky white flesh, navigating around bones, internal organs and those vengefully gleaming fish eyes. I can only describe how delicious this meal was by explaining our one clear objective for the following day: catch more fish, much more.

I tried. I REALLY tried. I even started threatening my friends with starvation, beatings and….I’m not proud to say, cold-blooded murder. But we had no such luck and again, we had more free fish thrust upon us from patronizing ajushis as they tsk-tsked at our complete incompetence. We tucked our tails between our legs and consoled ourselves with a family-size pizza, a cake about the same size, a cauldron of sangria and a 1000 piece puzzle that we were too drunk (or stupid…probably both) to finish.


Though I don't know if I can call it an "ice fishing experience" if I didn't actually catch any fish, I can honestly say….I don’t give a shit. It was fun.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Everest

My cardinal post. And it must be about my carnal (but truest) love – FOOD.

A few nights ago, I chowed down at a restaurant that I’ve only heard people rant and rave about as I rapaciously rubbed my stomach with a mournful expression on my face. Mournful face and jealous tummy-rubbing no more, I went there.

Everest is a Nepalese/North Indian restaurant in Dongdaemun - not the glitzed-out, shopping-on-amphetamines part of Dongdaemun by the old stadium but the part on the other side of Cheonggyecheon. We ordered lassies and stuffed kulcha to start (or at least that was the idea. We didn’t get the stuffed kulchas ‘til the latter part of the meal). Lassies were a tad Koreanized…yogurt and syrup, but still slurp-worthy and tasty.

Expect to overhear spatterings of conversations spoken in English (and obviously Korean). This place is a mainstay of the expat community. The d├ęcor is simple – walls, tables, and chairs all heavily blanketed in what I can only guess are tokens of Nepalese/Indian culture. The waitress really knows how to pour water. I stared in amazement each time she came over, and I drink a lot of water.

Then for the plats principal – Palak Paneer (Indian mozzarella in a spinach sauce), Mutton Masala (spicy red lamb curry), basmati rice, and garlic naan. Palak paneer is the kind of dish that has a subtle sweetness that not everyone can appreciate. I feel like if you eat a caprese salad and kind of cud around the mozzarella and basil in your mouth and roll your eyes in pleasure at the lactescent richness lolling around on your tongue…you’ll get it. The palak paneer was creamy, smooth and moderately spiced. Squeezing down on the little cubes of cheese bobbing around in the sauce was a little bit of a *high five* moment for me. But my dining partner, who may or may not have had his taste buds brutally mutilated as a youngin’, didn’t like it. He doesn’t get it.

The lamb wasn’t too dry or stringy in the mutton masala. Everything melded together really well, but the unusually hard green peas in the sauce made me tilt my head in a human question mark. Otherwise, I don’t much have to say about the mutton masala, not because it was whatever, but because it was a well-made curry that punched in at each criteria for a good masala curry (minus the hard peas). It’s so hard to find a well-spiced curry with well-cooked meat in Korea. Many times (even at Ganga), I’ll end up with a curry dish so spicy its scent alone could sear the roof of my mouth.

Garlic naan…yum in my mouth. Chewy with a nice thin skin of toastiness and of course beautifully peppered in garlic crumbles. Basmati rice was…basmati rice. Beautiful yellow color and aromatic…and long grained. And finally the kulcha – a happy marriage between nan and some kind of lentil stuffing with a side of yogurt sauce to slather all over it. I thought the yogurt sauce was a little too sweet and the stuffing wasn’t anything special…just beans. I probably won’t get this again.

Prices are very moderate especially for the level of authentic cuisine in a pleasant atmosphere. I don’t think any main dish exceeded 10,000 won. My dining partner practically tapping his heels in delight at the little licorice sugar crystals they serve at the cashier counter. Service was excellent – it’s Korea. Join the club, eat here.

Directions: Dongdaemun Station on Line 4 (baby blue line), Exit 3. Walk to the Woori Bank and go left into the small street. Bear right and you'll see the blue sign for Everest. It's on the second floor.

www.everestfood.com

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