Saturday, October 27, 2012

Potala: Tibetan Food in Seoul

Located in a rather unexpected location along the Cheonggyecheon after being forced to relocate from Myeongdong last year, Potala is the only Tibetan owned restaurant in Seoul. As you walk in, you’ll first notice the lovely atmosphere. Colorful decorations cover everything, but never feel overdone. If you like any of the decorations, they even have a store where they have items for sale at reasonable prices.  

If the menu has any problems, it would be that there are too many choices. Knowing this ahead of time, I gathered twelve friends to join me so we could get a full sampling of the menu. The menu at Potala is great for sharing, and it was fun with such a big group, we just continued to order one dish after another to sample as much as we could. Tibetan food is not known for it’s richness, like food from some of it’s neighbors like Nepal, India, and China. However, folks who enjoy trying new cuisines will be intrigued by some of the dishes. We made sure to try typical Tibetan fare such as butter tea, tsampa, momos, bread and some of the noodle dishes, first and foremost.

 Vegetable Momos

We first ordered the momos, a Tibetan dumpling. These were a big hit with everyone, but then again, it's hard to go wrong with a dumpling. I've tried various forms of dumplings in many countries, but I don't think I've ever had a bad one. There's something about stuff wrapped in dough and cooked that just always works, no matter the ingredients.

 Butter tea and Tsampa

Before the feast I did a little research as to what is typical Tibetan food and found butter tea, specifically yak butter tea and tsampa to be on the top of the list for standard Tibetan fare. I still have not figured out how you make a tea from butter, but it tastes rather how you might imagine butter tea to taste like; not particularly great. But, I had to try it, if for no other reason than to check it off my bucket list. Tsampa, which often accompanies butter tea in Tibet is barley flour which they may add ingredients, like butter tea, to create small cakes like the ones you see above. The taste is, again, not great, but you can imagine it to be a hardy snack after a day of herding sheep on the Tibetan plateau.

Sha Bhakle

The fried bread Sha Bhakle was a huge hit for us. This was a flaky dough filled with meat and veggies. The menu explains that Sha means meat and Bhakle is a form of bread in Tibet. However, upon searching for this dish on the web it doesn't seem to exist on any English language sites. If anyone can find some more info about this for me, post it in the comments. We all really loved this stuff. 

 Thuk Fry

The Thuk Fry was an interesting dish. Noodles fried to crispiness and covered with vegetables and pork. This wasn't really anyone's favorite dish, however, probably because of the strange consistency of the noodles. 

Gya Thuk
Gya Thuk, and another called KhanChung Khukpa (no photo) were tasty noodle soup options. Again, not spicy, which is a bit of a shock for my system, living in Korea, but nice, hardy soups with lots of veggies and noodles. 

 Tsam Thuk

One friend made an interesting choice of the Tsam Thuk, basically a Tsampa (barley) soup. Basically a barley porrage, no one was clamoring to eat it. The friend who ordered it said "it would probably taste really good after hiking a day in the Himalayas". I thought it might make a nice breakfast, but it seemed an odd choice for dinner at a restaurant.

Chang, Tibetan Rice Beer

One of the biggest hits of the evening was the Chang, or "Tibetan Rice Beer". Actually, it tasted quite like makkoli (Korean rice wine) to us, just a little more expencive. Apparently, they make it right in their kitchen, though, so definitely a worthwhile choice for your evening spirits. And it's served in cool wooden bowls.

While the Tibetan menu is quite large, there are also a number of Indian and Nepalese options as well. We tried a few things off that half of the menu as well: 

 Aloo Gobi

For those who are less adventurous, Aloo Gobi, an Indian curry with potatos and cauliflower is a safe option. 


Another big hit for the evening was the Nepalese Sekuwa. We got the lamb and it was perfectly seasoned and was accompanied by a creamy sauce. 
 Thali Set

The thali set was a nice option and big enough to share with a few people, too. This has various Indian curries and some curried veggies.

 Fried Rice
Last, but not least was the fried rice. Simple but nice with meat and vegetables. A safe bet for the less daring.

Overall, Potala is a really nice restaurant. It's got a nice interior, and the prices are reasonable, most dishes are between 7-12,000 won. If you expect Tibetan food to taste like Indian food, or Chinese food, you'll be sorely disappointed, but if you go in with an open mind to the less spicy food of Tibet, than you should go home happy. Definitely go with friends, because the menu at Potala is best for sharing.

Click here for an article about the owner's fight to keep his Myeongdong location last year: Tibetan activist in Seoul fights eviction order

티베트 포탈라 레스토랑
서울시 종로구 
관철동  35-2 
수표교빌딩 지하1층
Potala Restaurant
 GwanCheol-Dong 35-2
SuPyoKyo Building B1
Jongno-gu, Seoul
Phone: 02-318-0094 (Korean only)

View Potala Restaurant in a larger map

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More Photos from North Korea

Yes, yes, I apologize to all of you who don't care about North Korea, I'm always astounded by photos coming out of there, although lately there doesn't seem to be any shortage of photos of the true hermit kingdom, especially from Pyongyang which is starting to look more and more like a modern city from the photos coming out these days. These latest photos come from an anonymous blog starring a little girl who looks to be about 2 years old named Nina. Check out the blog here: if you like the photos here. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bike trip from the Cheonggyecheon to Ara Canal

While I haven't been doing nearly as much biking as I'd like, I have managed to get in a few good bike rides recently. On Saturday afternoon after getting out of work we decided to make a trek across the city, starting from our house and going all the way to the ocean in Incheon. As usual, we didn't quite make it, but we did make it all the way to the entrance of the Ara canal which now connects the Han River to the ocean in Incheon, part of the Four Rivers Project.

The most lovely part about this trip was that there was a bike path the entire way. People say that Seoul is a terrible city for biking, but that is not true as long as you're not using bikes as a form of transportation to get from here to there. For those folks who just love riding bikes for pleasure, Korea is a great country for biking. Nearly every stream and river has a bike path that runs along its side and it's possible to go quite far inside Seoul or even to other cities by bike.

Bike path along the Han River

For this trek we started at the beginning of the bike path on the Cheonggyechong stream, between Sindang Station and Dongmyo Station. For a while the path follows the road, but about two km later it goes down to the stream and you never have to come near a car again for the rest of your journey.

Crossing Banpo Bridge

We followed the Cheonggyecheon down to the Han River and then continued along west until coming to the Banpo bridge (also known as the water bridge for its water shows at night) where there is a large bike/pedestrian crossing on the lower level of the bridge. There were quite a few people around due to an F1 event going on at the Han River park on the other side of the bridge. We squeezed our way through the crowds and continued on our way toward Yeoido.

Yeoido within sight... 

Upon reaching Yeoido, we found more huge crowds, we had totally forgotten that it was the evening of the International Fireworks Festival. Even though the show was not set to start for another four hours there was already swarms of people juggling for the best spots to watch the show from. But, again, we squeezed through and continued on our way further west.

So close to the canal.... 

Finally we reached the entrance to the Ara Canal. We really wanted to ride to the end, but it was getting late, the sun was setting and we were starting to get hungry so we decided to wait for another day for that adventure.

Finally made it to Ara Canal

The only problem was getting to a subway. Gimpo Airport is very close from there, but it was impossible to get to without getting on a highway on our bikes. Finally, we used the smartphone to cut through some farms in order to find Gaehwa station at the very end of line 9.

Sunset over the canal

All in all, it was a great ride, but I hope to get an earlier start next time to make it all the way to Incheon, it's not far at all!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dinner at Maple Tree House: (당풍나무집)

I was invited by 10 Magazine to attend the opening night of Maple Tree House in Myeongdong to take some photos for their next issue, so I thought I'd share a few here.  Maple Tree House is an upscale Korean Barbeque restaurant owned by the same owner as Ho Lee Chow, the American-style Chinese restaurant chain, and is located in the same building as Ho Lee Chow as well.

Beef Sirloin (photo only)

We were escorted to our table and a table top grill was immediately brought over along with our first dish of the evening, Jeju black pig ogyupsal (not samgyupsal). The pork was delicious, but the boyfriend was especially impressed by the grill itself. On the surface, it looked like your typical metal grill, but upon close inspection, we realized that the metal grates were concave especially designed to catch the fat and drain it off the grill without dripping into the fire.

Then came along the second course, pineapple hanwoo (Korean beef). What an amazing combination! Tender, marinated Korean beef with pineapple was certainly my favorite for the evening, I just wish it had come with more than two slices of pineapple, I wanted the beef/pineapple conbo in every bite!

Then, when we thought we must be done, they asked if we would like the 식사 (meal), and were offered jjigae or noodles. We both went with the noodles, so we tried both the naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles) and the ssalmyeon (rice noodles). As you can see from the photo, they really went over the top on presentation here, but the taste was also excellent!

I also wanted to mention the panchan (side dishes) as they were quite nice as well. Green onions to go along with the meat, a delicious spinach-like dish called 참나물 (Cham-namul) which apparently has no English translation after checking two different dictionaries, garlic kimchi, and pickled mushrooms. A rather unique selection of side-dishes for panchan fans out there.

Finally, the interior of the restaurant was very nice. Copper-plated tables, clean and modern appearance. The only element of confusion I had was the fact that the interior was filled with really nice birch trees, despite the restaurant's name. But, if you can ignore this one little oddity, it's got a really, really nice atmosphere.

I highly recommend Maple Tree House the next time you're looking for some barbeque in a place with a little more class than your local 고깃집. They have locations in Samcheong-dong, Dogok-dong, Itaewon and Myongdong. Now I'm a little curious to try Ho Lee Chow next...

Check out their website: I hope they add some more languages to their site soon for foreigners. As of the time of this blog posting, the site is only in Korean.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Free Korean Classes at the Hangul Kongbubang

 A new semester is starting at the Hangul Kongbubang at the Garwol Community Center near Sookmyung Women's University Station on line 4. The following is the lesson schedules for the Thursday and Saturday classes. Check the webpage for directions and other questions.

Thursday Class: Level 0, 1, 2
Time: 7:30 pm ~ 9:00 pm

Level 0 only on 18 & 25 of October
18/October : Lesson 01
25/October : Lesson 02
01/November : Lesson 03
08/November : Lesson 04
15/November : Lesson 05
22/November : Lesson 06
29/November : Lesson 07
06/December : Lesson 08
13/December : Lesson 09
20/December : Lesson 10

Saturday Class: Level 0, 1, 2, 3, 4
Time: 4 pm ~ 5:30 pm

13/October : Lesson 01
20/October : Lesson 02
27/October : Lesson 03
03/November : Lesson 04
10/November : Lesson 05
17/November : Lesson 06
24/November : Lesson 07
01/December : Lesson 08
08/December : Lesson 09
15/December : Lesson 10

This is a great way to learn Korean and meet new people. We always go out for dinner/drinks after every class. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Chuseok Events at Namsangol Hanok Village

Namsangol Hanok Village is always the best place to go for every holiday in Korea. Chuseok this year was no different. A friend and I went over Saturday morning, the day before Chuseok and we found the place buzzing with excitement.

Traditional Korean Spinning Wheel

First we walked through the historic homes and found some traditional crafts from life in the past.

Close Up of Spinning Yarn

Machine for making rope out of reeds

Grinding grains with a hand mill

Ironing, Korean style

Making crafts from dried grasses

Making crafts from dried grasses

Girl in Hanbok playing 굴렁쇠, gullongswe, rolling a hoop on a metal stick

A variety of traditional Korean hats

After walking around the village, we headed back out and caught a ssirum (씨름) demonstration near the front gate of the hanok village. First we had a demo of how to tie the sash around your legs and how to position oneself in order to prepare to fight.

Sash before being folded and tied around the waist

Demonstrating how to tie the sash

Demonstrating how to position oneself to prepare for the match

Two men demonstrating the basic moves of ssirum. Their shorts say 씨 (heart) 름

Finally, the real action began. These two first demonstrated the basic ssirum moves, and then had a three round match to demonstrate the game.

After the pros had their turn, kids were allowed to jump in and try their hand at ssirum, too.

Two boys attempting ssirum

This was a great start to my Chuseok weekend. Be sure to come by Namsangol Hanok Village for the next Korean holiday!