Saturday, April 30, 2011

Authentic Vietnamese in Seoul: Com Binh Dan


Finding authentic Vietnamese is probably one of the harder international cuisines to come by in Seoul. While there are several Vietnamese chains, they are quite Korean-ized and a bit overpriced. We stumbled across this little restaurant run by a Vietnamese woman in an officetel near our place this week. It's kind easily passed by as it is inside the building, but I hope for no longer!

Cilantro, celery leaves and bean sprouts for the Pho

My bun thit nuong, made with cold vermicelli noodles with vegetables, meat and some spring rolls. 6,000 won.

A plate of spring rolls, 5,000 won.

Plain Pho, which was our favorite of the night, 4,500 won.

Finding this place is a little challenging as their restaurant isn't visible from the street. They now have this balloon out in front of the building, so if you go in the entrance next to the family mart you can find it.

****UPDATE**** 5/9/2013: This restaurant has closed :-(

Friday, April 29, 2011

Chuncheon Chicken Galbi and Other Chuncheon Food Delights

Chuncheon's most famous cuisine is by far 닭갈비, Chicken Galbi. It is the home of chicken galbi, although it may look a little different from what you're used to eating in Seoul. While we were in the area, we tried two different chicken galbi restaurants to get a taste for what exactly Chuncheon chicken galbi is all about.

Most restaurants advertise that they serve 숯불 닭갈비. 숯불 (Pronounced Soot-bul) roughly means "charcoal grilled". The charcoal certainly gives a different flavor to the chicken than what I'm used to. Usually in Seoul, chicken galbi is cooked on a hot iron plate over a gas range on the table rather than on a grill like this.

 Another difference between Seoul and Chuncheon chicken galbi is that in Chuncheon it is served quite similarly to normal pork or  beef galbi, meaning that it's grilled whole and cut later after it is finished cooking and that it is eaten as 쌈, wrapped in lettuce.

As I said, we tried two different restaurants and had two variations. One restaurant partially grilled the chicken before bringing it to the table. The result was faster, but we found it not as good as the second restaurant that served it raw and let us cook the whole thing on our own table.

Chuncheon's other well known dish is 막국수 (pronounced mak-guk-su), a spicy cold noodle dish. It's similar to bibim naengmyon, if you've tried that. It's made from buckwheat noodles with a variety of vegetables and gochujang (hot pepper sauce).

Adding some mustard for flavor...


And enjoying...

While chicken galbi and makguksu are the two most famous dishes, that doesn't mean there isn't more to be had in Chuncheon. While we walked up to Cheongpyongsa, we found lots of interseting local food to try. 

The boyfriend was quite excited to find this stand selling 칡 (pronounced: Chik) which is actually kudzu in English. Here they were selling a juice made from the root of the kudzu. You can see a pile of the giant roots stacked behind the stand. They are really massive. 

튀김 (pronounced Twee-kim), various deep fried foods,  are a popular snack along the trail. Here you can see 빙어튀김 and 새우튀김, some of the most popular foods along the trail.

We tried the 전병 (pronounced Cheon-byeon) which is a pancake filled with kimchi and vegetables. You can see the pancake filling below.

Which of course was acompanied by a cup of dongdongju, a kind of rice wine!

I hope when you make your way to Chuncheon you make the most of your time and try all the wonderful food of the area. Every area of Korea has their own specialty food and you should always try to find out what it is while you travel!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

남이섬: Nami Island

Namisom (Nami Island) is one of the top destinations outside of Seoul for tourists to visit. Particularly those tourists who follow the Korean Hallyu (Korean wave). While this has been a tourist spot for quite some time, it was made famous by the drama Winter Sonata/겨울연가 which was broadcast in 2002 and draws many foreigners every day. When you arrive at the dock to catch the boat to Namisom you need to go into "immigration". Of course it's not really immigration, but they want you to feel as though you're entering a different country. And so, they gave Namisom another name which is Naminara (Nami Country). The great thing here is that until Dec. 31 2011, foreigners get a 2,000 won discount, bringing the price for admission plus boat ride to only 8,000 won. I bought the tickets and no one asked me whether the boyfriend was Korean or not, and so we both got in on the foreigner discount.

Boat to Namisom

We were a little frightened when we arrived on the island as there was an incredible line waiting to board the ship to get off the island. But, then we realized that it was 4:00 pm and all these people were headed back to town for dinner. When we caught the boat back at 6:00 pm, we had no problem whatsoever. Plan your trip wisely so you're not caught in the rush!

Everyone was really excited by the sight of a squirrel. In my hometown you can't walk 10 feet without seeing one, so it wasn't quite as exciting for me. But, I must say, the Korean squirrels are a little different from the variety that I see at home. I like their funny ears.

The boyfriend wanted to ride an ostrich, but I wouldn't let him. I doubt the ostrich would have let him either.

We found an exhibit dedicated to world instruments here. It was nice to walk around. While Namisom does have a little bit of a tourist trap-y feeling about it, I like that they don't charge you to get into the museums and exhibits around the island.

And of course, here is what all you Winter Sonata fans are looking for. Fake snowmen just like the snowmen from the drama. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, they'll be a movie at the end to explain.)

Since Chuncheon is a little cooler than Seoul, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. One can never get enough of the cherry blossoms...

There is a restaurant area on the island, and in front of one Chinese restaurant, there was a chef making some authentic Chinese food. The boyfriend turned to me jokingly and said "He looks like he's really Chinese!" and when the chef's helper heard him say this, she piped in, "Yes, he is a real Chinese person!" I don't know why, but this struck me as kind of awkward to say, especially in front of him. Maybe it's because I come from a country where foreigners are everywhere, I don't know.

Metasequoia Lane is another famous location from the filming of Winter Sonata. Watch out for hoards of people getting their photos here. But, it is beautiful...

Squirrels were not the only wildlife on the island. We found this rabbit (on Easter no less!) and even more exciting, was the woodpecker which you can see in the photo below. We heard him first before we found him, pecking away at the tree.

There's lots of big open spaces and I'm sure at lunch time this area must be full of picnic-ers. The boyfriend found other uses for the space...

Finally, last, but not least is the namesake of the island. A general Nami of the Joseon Dynasty who's tomb is located here.

In the video below you can see some of the famous scenes that were filmed on Namisom including the Metasequoia Lane and the snowmen.

To get to Nami Island, take the Chuncheon subway line to 가평역, Gapyeong Station. It is about 45 minutes from Sangbong station. From the station, either take a 2,500 won taxi or catch a bus to the boat launching area. Be sure to get the 2,000 won discount until Dec. 31st 2011 for all foreigners.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

청평사: Chongpyongsa Temple, Chuncheon

The first stop on our day trip to Chuncheon was the temple 청평사, Chongpyongsa. From town, it was a half an hour bus ride up a mountain, past a dam, another 10 minute boat ride and a 20 minute hike. But don't let that stop you from getting here, it's not as bad as it sounds. Just be warned that there's a lot of people that go here on the weekends now that the Seoul subway runs to Chuncheon. When we got on the bus downtown it was nearly empty, and when it passed the subway station, it looked like the above photo, wall to wall people.

Then it was on to the boat port where we caught our boat to 정평사, which was 6,000 won round trip.

From there it was another hike through the woods. Nothing strenuous, so don't worry if you're not a hiker. As you can see, it was decorated for Buddha's Birthday which is coming up on May 10th (April 8th on the lunar calendar). 

Here was a statue dedicated to the story of a Chinese princess. The story goes as such: There was a man who was deeply in love with a princess in China. Because the man was a commoner, he could not marry her and he died of a broken heart. He was reborn, though, as a snake, and he wound himself around the princess and attached himself to her. The princess's attendants tried as they might to free her from the snake's grasp, but they could not, the snake would not budge. The princess was forced to live with a snake attached to her. She went from temple to temple trying to find someone that could release the snake from her body. Finally she came to Chongpyongsa temple. Here, she said to the snake, "I'm tired, let's take a rest." and the snake unwound itself from her for the first time since it had attached itself. The princess washed and went into the temple leaving the snake behind. A storm broke out and the snake worried about the princess. It climbed up the mountain but as soon as it entered the temple it was struck by lightning and was killed. Its body washed down into this river and the princess found it later. She felt both relived to be released from the snake, but also felt pity for the snake that loved her so much. She stayed at the temple and and commissioned the construction of a pagoda at the temple.

The hike up is quite beautiful and you pass some great sights along the short hike up to the temple. 

Here is the front gate to the temple. The gate in the middle is called Heojeonmun and has been designated as Cultural Treasure #164. 

This is the best time of year to visit temples as they're full of lanterns in preparation for Buddha's Birthday. 

How to get here: Take bus #11 or 12 to 소양댐 So Yang Dam, which is one of the largest dams in Korea, located about half an hour from downtown Chuncheon. From here walk down the hill to the boat dock where you can buy a round trip boat ticket for 6,000 won. Be sure to purchase the boat for 정평사 (Chongpyongsa) because there are other boats that depart from this dock as well. The boat ride is about 10 minutes and from there just follow the the other tourists up the hill until you reach the temple. During peak tourist viewing times, boats run often, about every 10-15 minutes.