Three Things Thursday

…In this month’s goody bag are three delicious food ‘towns’ in Seoul (vegetarians, look away now)

One of my favourite things about the world beyond the tiny confines of my proud, island nation is the habit of grouping retail areas into zones. It turns out that what initially seemed to me to be a thoroughly counter-intuitive system of throwing up a whole row of shops selling the same thing at pretty much the same price is in fact a world-wide phenomenon that apparently works for all countries other than my own and my nearby European neighbours.

On my first major trip abroad in the late ’90s, I was hugely impressed by the famous ‘Jeans street’ in Bandung, Indonesia. I thought it was a genius one-off idea, and it was a tourist attraction in a town that had little else, from what I could see at the time. Fast forward to my much more recent exploration of Latin America and, lo and behold, here’s the haberdashery zone in central Bogotá. There’s the cheap glasses zone in downtown Lima.

Seoul has taken this phenomenon one step further and has a number of small areas dedicated to a particular dish. From narrow streets where you can indulge your taste for spicy rice cake, to an inconspicious building hosting an array of blood sausage, here are three of my favourites.

Thing 1 ~ Sundae Town, Sillim-dong (순대타은)

For readers not familiar with Korean cuisine, I should clarify from the start that this is not somewhere to go for the delicious, ice-cream dessert of the same name. In fact, when someone first explained sundae to me (순대 in Hangeul), I had a reaction similar to a child first hearing about sex. Or haggis. “They put some what in the where?”

Luckily, as with sex and haggis, it turns out to be quite delightful. It’s a type of blood sausage, but a key ingredient is noodles, which make the taste quite mild. There are many local and regional varieties, some served with a side dish of sliced liver as well as all the usual side dishes that accompany Korean food. One fantastic version common in the seaside town of Sokcho in Gangwon province utilises a whole squid as the casing rather than the usual intestines, which are functional but flavourless.

Sundae Town

Sundae Town – fetching apron. All part of the service.

You can get sundae in restaurants all over Seoul and Korea, but going to Sillim-dong with a big group of hungry friends is a fun experience. The Sundae town building is plain and unprepossessing, sitting back from the main street a five minute walk from the subway line. Walking in, there are two or three floors to choose from. At each doorway you’ll be greeted by a host of cries from families trying to tempt you to their benches. Each floor is very open-plan, but hosts several different small enterprises competing for your patronage. Prices are similar, but quality and quantity vary. With a few friends, share a huge dish of plain, stir-fried sundae and a spicy red sundae and wash it all down with some tasty soju!

Take subway line 2 to Sillim station. Go out of exit 4 and turn left at the first alleyway, or go out of exit 3 and turn right at the first alleyway.

Click here for Visit Seoul‘s great description of Sillim-dong’s sundae town with lots of photos. Don’t click if you’re food squeamish.

Thing 2 ~ TTeokbokki Town, Sindang

OK – all of these descriptions are going to end with, “and wash it all down with some tasty soju.” There’s a reason soju is so popular. It’s damn good and it accompanies pretty much all Korean food perfectly.

TTeokbokki (떡볶이), however, really goes better with a yoghurt or milk drink as it can be fiercely hot and heavily features the famous Korean red pepper sauce, gochujang. A staple of street food stalls, you can pick up a tray of tteokbokki anywhere, but – as with sundae town – I felt a trip to visit the ‘zone’ at Tteokbokki Town in Sindang was in order.

Tteokbokki Town

Tteokbokki Town

Rather than a building with a number of independent cooking areas, this is a street with a number of different restaurants, but the general idea is the same. Pass beneath the welcoming arch and you’ll be besieged by eager business owners competing to welcome you into their joint. As with most local restaurants, they are all pretty basic. The decor isn’t up to much, but there’s somewhere to sit and plenty of great food at great prices.

Again, I was lucky enough to rustle up a crew of runners for a post-run lunch and we tucked in to huge dishes of soft rice cake, slathered in hot sauce and boiling away at the table with green onion, fish cake (odeng), mushrooms and a host of other tasty delights.

When you’ve finished the majority of the dish, you can order an extra serving of rice with seasoned laver (seaweed) and even tuna to be fried into the remainder of the hot sauce at a high temperature for a final course of delicious, hot and crispy bokkeumbap.

Then it’s time for the soju!

Take lines 2 or 6 to Sindang station. Follow the signs from exit 8 and you’ll see the arch in no time.

For more helpful Visit Seoul info and photos (relatively vegetarian friendly) click here.

Thing 3 ~ Jokbal, Gongdeok market

OK vegetarians, time to look away again. Jokbal (족발) is a huge mound of boiled and sliced pig’s trotters. Sounds gross, tastes awesome, trust me. Like sundae, you can find this in a lot of places as it’s really popular. It’s also a bit of a speciality so it can be a little on the pricey side, but this also means you can find some fancy looking places that specialise in this dish, a sight which tickles my irony bone.

I spent my first New Year’s Eve in Korea eating jokbal with newfound friends (I’d only been here for a month) at the busy Gongdeok market. It was quite an introduction to the authentic Korean market dining experience, and one I’ve followed up on with gusto.

Market dining is a totally no-frills experience, but the best for cheery, practical, great value eating. Pull up some plastic stools at the long, plastic covered tables, and tuck in to a mountain of sliced trotter with side dishes of liver. Wrap up your tasty morsels in the endless supply of delicious perilla leaf and pig out!

And don’t forget the soju.

Take subway lines 5 or 6, the AREX, or Gyeonggi line train to Gongdeok station. Come out of exit 5 and follow your nose, it’s all right there.

For some good extra info on other delights at Gongdeok market, visit Seoulistic’s great write-up of ten famous food zones in Seoul.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Our Foodie Appetite
    Aug 06, 2015 @ 23:21:21

    Haha love your write up on these restaurants! We can’t wait til our foodie adventures take us to Korea. We love love love Korean food and want to try it from the source!!



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