Since I hate being so behind on my blogging, what I’ve decided to do is just keep posting my regular daily blogs and work on my China posts during my free time. So you’ll get alternating posts about China and Korea – hope it’s not too confusing. I just think that if I try to catch up on it all at once, it’ll be rushed and I’ll forget about things I did.
So this post is about things I did yesterday in Korea; it was a busy, busy day. I woke up early in the morning to go on a walk with my family along Tahjeon. Tahjeon is a long green zone that stretches along a river all the way from Boondang to Seoul.
It’s actually perfect for exercise – the paths for pedestrians and bikers only, so there are ahjussis and ahujummas walking or biking all along the path. There are tennis and basketball courts, and exercise machines nearby too. It’s awesome for people who commute to work, since it links a couple of big neighboring cities.
There are also points along the path where huge stepping stones have been laid out so you can get to the other side.
And more public exercise machines:
There are literally machines for every single muscle group; these are only half of the machines in the park. And they’re cleverly built so that you work out using your own body weight – the ones in the very front have seats that move up and down because you’re actually lifting yourself up when you work out your chest.
All that exercise had whet our appetites, so it was a good thing that my grandma had breakfast ready when we got home:
Right after breakfasts, my mom, dad, sister and I got on a bus for an hour-long ride to Pildong, the city right below Nam Mountain. This was the place where my dad had been born and raised, so it was literally a trip down memory lane for him.
The house had been remodeled into an office for a small business, but the basic structure was the same. This was the place where my dad sneaked in through the back when he came home and drunk and where my mom woke up at dawn every morning to prepare the house for her in-laws. My parents were amazed at how some things had changed so much, but other things had stayed exactly the same over the course of 15+ years.
The house where my dad was born was only a 2 minute walk away, so we went there too although the house itself had been torn down with a new villa built on top.
After walking around some more, we decided it was time for lunch so we headed to PilDong MyunOke.
This restaurant is renown in Seoul for its northern-style nengmyun – it’s actually been here since the Korean War, when northern Koreans fled down south. Business is booming, and even though they’ve remodeled it over the years, the front still looks run-down. This restaurant is another place that holds a lot of memories for my parents and my grandparents because it’s been around so long.
The restaurant uses a dumbwaiter to move dishes up and down between the 2 floors.
Since it was a PyongYang-style restaurant, of course we had to get the 2 staples: northern-styled mandoo and nengmyun.
The kimchi and radish in the back were the only banchan, but they were also really good.
The mandoo was slightly crunchy from the mung beans, and with it’s high tofu to meat ration it was not fatty at all. Everyone in my family really enjoyed it and my parents loved how it had tasted the same from when they had it over 10 years ago.
Then came the star of the show:
With it’s ddook-ddook disconnecting noodles (I don’t know how else to describe it, I’m sorry!) this nengmyun was definitely made it the PyongYang style. The broth was so good, cold and meaty and refreshing all at the same time.
It was a perfect meal for a hot day. Afterwards my family and I took a subway to MyungDong, a shopping area near PilDong. I actually could not believe how nice the Korean subway was – it was already so nice, but over the course of 5 years it had been upgraded so much. It’s actually ridiculous how much better it is than the NYC Metro.
Not only are the subway cards so much prettier than MetroCards, they actually have a smaller, phone keychain version of it. And you don’t even have to slide it into the machine to refill it; all you do is put it on a little platform in the machine and it’ll magically fill it up for you via magical lasers or something. It’s crazy.
See how clean it is? You don’t find subways and stations like this in New York.
At periodic points on the subway station, there were huge touch-screen computers with a GoogleMap-like program. You could choose from street, map, or sky view to determine where you were and where your destination will be. My family literally oohed and ahhed in front of this thing for 10 minutes.
After we climbed up to street level, we walked to MyungDong and browsed around it’s up-scaleish stores. It almost reminded me of an outdoor mall, with all its clothing boutiques and make-up stores.
I saw a little halmuhnee on the street selling boppgee, or flat rounds of caramelized baking soda and sugar with animal shapes stamped into them. If you manage to eat around your boppgee animal without breaking it, then you get another one for free.
MyungDong was nice, but the place where we got all our real shopping done was the NamDaeMoon Market.
This is where they sell all the boot-legged brand name bags, and where you can get everything in bulk for cheap. There are some stalls that sell some really cute things, so whenever we come here my family just loads up on everything since we can get such a good deal.
The evening is when all the food stalls set up; there’s your average menu like ohdeng (fish cakes), soondae (Korean sausages) and ddukbbokgee (spicy rice cakes), but then you also get stuff like this:
We were actually going to eat at one of the stalls, but we kind of got freaked out when we saw this so we ended up heading back to MyungDong to eat at another really famous restaurant called MyungDong Gyoza.
You can probably tell because of the restaurant name, but the specialty here are the gyoza dumplings.
These gyozas are actually more like the Japanese dumplings than the traditional Korean mandoos; they had more meat than the ones we had earlier in the day, so they were fattier and juicier. I only one so I don’t really remember the flavor, but they were thoroughly enjoyed by my family.
The other house specialty is kalgooksoo, which are thick, flour noodles in a hot chicken broth. At MyungDong Gyoza, they’re served with dumplings and ground beef on top.
I, of course, had the konggooksoo (soymilk noodles). I wasn’t very hungry so I was actually considering skipping dinner, but once I saw these I just had to get them.
The noodles that MyungDong Gyoza uses are actually made with chlorella, a type of sea algae thing that’s chock full of vitamin B. I actually eat chorella pills as a vitamin supplement, so you can bet that these noodles are super healthy. They were also delicious. And chewy. Yum… green noodles…
The soup itself was perfectly seasoned with a strong black sesame flavor YUM); it was also slightly sweeter than the other konggooksoos that I’ve eaten.
He was making and selling the traditional Korean snacks called Yong Sooyums, which literally translates to Dragon Beards. Appetizing sounding, I know. But the way he made it was amazing. He starts with a chunk of hardened honey and keeps stretching it and twisting it in corn starch until it’s silk-thin.
Then he tore off little chunks of it and wrapped it in nut mixture.
It was really interesting to eat; it had just the barest hint of sweetness and a crunchiness from the filling. The “beard” part was texturally almost like a mix of cotton candy and taffy – stretchy and chewy but it melted in your mouth at the same time.
Once we had a box of the dragon beards, we ran in the rain to the bus stop. We got home late, and I barely managed to take a shower before passing out on the floor.
And so, that’s what happened yesterday. Yay!