Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Seoul Sights

These are the Seoul images I'm bringing home with me.

1.  The old and new.  Ancient structures standing amid sparkling skyscrapers, and an old man shining shoes on a quiet sidewalk. 

2.  All the beauty shops, and little girls lining up outside them and trying on little Zara shoes and dresses so early in the relationship.  They even have a theme park called Skinanniversary dedicated to what I call "beautification projects". Maybe instead of taking roller coaster rides, you spend all day getting plastic surgery in any body part you want.  Giggles.  Malen, Dendee, and Trixie went crazy shopping in the beauty stores.  Not me, tho, The Girl Whose Beauty Regimen Consists of Safeguard.   Hahaha.

Malen was telling us about the snail cream she got all the way to Incheon Airport.

Rhoel:  So habang magkausap tayo ngayon may nakapahid na kuhol sa mukha mo?


3.  Is this a museum?  An art gallery?  No, it's a subway station.  Drool.

Dendee:  Kelan kaya magiging ganito kaganda ang transport system natin sa Pilipinas?
Rhoel:  Baka pag lolo na si Boots.


4.  The gas masks.  Bcoz the nukes are literally just a few miles away.

5.  The funny resto names.


Bcoz it's so lame to say 'French fries' like everybody else.

Clarity is underrated.  If you're not a formal dining place, then call yourself the Korean Casual Restaurant.

6.  The signs that need more English tutorials.

I'm at a loss as to what language this soupy dish will actually translate to 'fried chicken'.

Ano daw???

I'll pass on this kind of tea, thank you.

Oh, but they make up for all of that with this beauty.

7.  The quaint country-style stores.

8.  The Starbucks with unique looks.

9.  The tourist police who are everywhere making our lives easier.

10.  The buildings with so much character.

An ancient post office.

Their trial court.  This is where Jon and Donemark will be kicking ass if they practised law in Seoul.

11.  And my personal favorite:  Mona Lisa in a hanbok.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bibimbap Booboos

We were all looking forward to pigging out on Korean food in Seoul.  Perhaps more than the others in the case of the Austria Family who are in love with that one word:  samgyupsal.  Hahaha.  

Rhoel was The Most Prepared One in terms of food, bcoz even before we left he had sent out a long list of go-to restos within the Myeongdong area.  Slow clap for Recheta.  

The first place we tried out of that list was merely a minute away from our hotel.  It was something called Jangsoo Bunsik, and its specialties included spicy bean sprout soup (which Ches had) and hot stone pot udon (for me).  We shared with the boys who split bulgogi and rice.  So yummy and reasonably-priced, too.  Plus, the cashier who doubled as a waitress spoke flawless English with a British twang, to boot.  That's a big plus right there.

I wish I could say that the rest of our meals were as satisfying or even just as peaceful as that first one.  For dinner we tried this place right behind our hotel.  We chose it mainly bcoz it was near the hotel and we saw this sign saying it's highly-rated as a good resto by some Korean government office.

The food was good and the price normal under Seoul standards (steep if you compare to Metro Manila) - but the galbijim (spicy ribs) we ordered never came.  We ordered that, bulgogi and bibimbap, and I had to follow up 60 million times before they served the galbijim.  When it finally came, surprise - it was still another bulgogi, exactly like the one we were already having.  Sigh.  The same thing happened to Dendee et al in the other table.  All we could do was laugh it off and enjoy our surplus of bulgogi.

And the adventure did not end there.  One waiter got into a shouting match with this costumer who refused to pay for a dish that didn't come until he was already paying up (or at least that's how we understood the story, they were all speaking Korean).  It would have escalated into a boxing match right there if the two weren't restrained.  Aaargh.  Is it too much to ask for peace and quiet while you're savoring your bulgogi-pretending-to-be-galbijim?

The next day we tried another one from Rhoel's list.  It was called Hadonggwan and specializes in gomtang (beef soup).  In fact, it's the only dish they've ever served since opening in the 1930s.  This resto usually closes by 4PM, or earlier if they run out of stock before then.  So after all that hype, it was a massive letdown to be served this bowl of rice and something like five slices of beef swimming in broth that was too bland there was nothing all the salt and leeks on the table could do to save it.  (Olats.  Walang sinabi sa goto ni Mang Macky sa Marikina.)      

It was a good thing we were just there for snacks, bcoz if it had been lunch or dinner, we would've gotten so mad at Rhoel we might have ended up mauling the guy.  Hahaha.  Even he agreed we should ditch the friggin list right there.

The kimchi here was good, in fairness.  This being Korea, they serve kimchi everywhere.  You can probably order it with your ice cream if you were so inclined.  Giggles.  It's an acquired taste, and I've grown to love kimchi.  I read from the tourist guides here that it's one of the Top 5 healthiest foods in the world, bcoz the fermentation process gives it that live bacteria that is also found in yogurt.  (I guess bagnet did not make it to that Top 5, or even Top 500 for that matter.  Hahaha.)    

We got so stung by the beef soup booboo we wanted to have something simple for dinner.  So we went to this fried chicken place near the hotel.  Kirsten wanted even something more simple:  KFC fried chicken.  Hahaha.  You can't go wrong with KFC, right?

The chicken was good and the servings huge.  We had the requisite ramen and bibimbap, too, as usual.  It was Donemark's turn to have a bad experience that night, tho.  The waitress snatched the menu from him before he even started ordering, and she ignored his 60 million requests for water that he ended up just buying bottles for all of us at the grocery next door.  Now Donemark has always been The Good One in the gang.  If you give me bulgogi when I ordered galbijim, we can easily laugh that off as karma bcoz I'm nasty and violent, and we all know it.  But if you mess with good people like Donemark - that's what's called a travesty of justice.  Owww.

Maybe the waitress was harassed bcoz she was the only one attending to the whole second floor.  Or maybe it's a culture thing?  We noticed that the locals do not linger when eating out.  They slurp down their food with hardly any chats, and they're off as soon as they finish their plates.  Not like us Pinoys who like to socialize for a good three hours over lunch or dinner if we're out with family or friends.

Two Two Fried Chicken was right next to a milk tea place called Bubble Pong that promotes itself as the No. 1 in Korea.  We tried it but it was no great shakes.  It was double the price of milk tea back home, too. 

I asked Ches to take me to Chatime to add to my collection of pix of Chatime abroad (KL, Sydney, Bali) - but apparently there is no Chatime in Seoul.  Boo.  How can you live in a city where there is no Chatime?

So we've had the Bulgogi-Switching/Near-Boxing Incident, The One With The Bland Beef Soup, and The Menu-Snatching Episode.  Our next dinner is what I call The Nothing Night.

It was in another resto behind our hotel, again highly-rated as an excellent resto by the Korean government. It started out happy enough, with us occupying this long, low table, and eating while squatting on the floor the way Korean traditionally take their meals.  But then we placed our orders, and apparently the waitress thought that what Dendee et al ordered for their family was too little for all of them.  She got visibly perplexed, pointed to the menu, and started angrily shouting, 'Nothing!  Nothing!'  And of course Dendee was incensed and added everything else in the menu to their orders.  HAHAHA.   

Omg, that waitress was so wrong insulting them like that.  If there was anyone among us who was truly loaded, it would be the Calimons.  

Rhoel:  Kung sino pa ang tunay na mayaman sa atin, yun pa ang ininsulto.  Kung kame sana ni Jo ang tinawag na nothing, tatanggapin lang namin dahil mahirap lang naman talaga kame.
Me:  Oo nga.  Nagkamali si Ate dun.  Hindi nya alam hawak ni Dendee ang Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas! 

Hahaha.  (Dendee's a big boss at BSP, as a matter of fact.)

At least the Zunigas got their galbijim, and it was g-o-o-d.  Ches also tried the cold noodles.  It's literally swimming in shaved ice.  Malen heard somewhere they actually take it straight out of the freezer.  Eeooww.  I'm happy with my normal noodles, thank you.  In fact, the main reason I eat them is to have the comfort of the hot soup.  We all had a taste of the cold noodles, but Ches had to down most of it bcoz the rest of us were just too weirded out.  Ches has always been The Adventurous One with food.  He's win some, lose some.  

Our next meal out is probably my other favorite in addition to that first one at Jangsoo Bunsik.  We had it at Insadong after touring Jogyesa Temple.  We initially thought the restos here would be even more pricey bcoz these are the traditional houses that have been converted into commercial use, but we looked at the menu and the prices were same same.  The restos were also packed so we thought that was a good sign.  We chose a nice-looking one and were not disappointed with our food at all.  

That dish above is, hands down, my favorite out of all we had in Seoul.  I call it The Mother of All Bibimbap. It's in a large hot plate and among the six of us, we couldn't finish it and had to take it out for dinner.  The rice is generously mixed in that yummy spicy sauce, and topped with all kinds of leaves, meat, prawns, octopus, and 60 million other goodies.  It goes for 30 thousand won, and with the food quality and serving size, it's so worth it.

Mercifully, too, we had no scary encounters with the staff at this resto.  The most eventful thing about the lunch was Malen asking me about the size of my waistline.  Hahaha.

Me:  Pwede ibulong ko na lang sa yo mamaya?  Kelangan talaga naka-announce during lunch?
Malen:  Si May kase lumaki, baka kasya yung mga jeans nya dati.
Me:  27 ako.
Malen:  Ah, 26 sha dati.
Ches:  27 ka talaga, ha?  Di ba nung college pa yun?
Me:  Che!  Kelangan honest answer dahil papamanahan ako ng damit!  


I love Malen for thinking I'd fit into her 18-year-old daughter's hand-me-down jeans.  It's one of the reasons why I call her My Favorite Friend-In-Law.  There's that, and also the Murano necklace and earring set she gave me from their Europe trip last summer.  Who does that?  I love the Zunigas.

Jon wanted to try a dessert he saw in Myeongdong.  It was this shaved ice/ice cream concoction with almond flakes, but the base turned out to be something made out of yellow beans.  Since he was the one who was craving for dessert, we made him pay for all of ours, too, which, to be honest, tasted way better than what he ordered.

Me:  Sorry, Jon, mas ok talaga tong green tea at cookies and cream kesa yellow beans mo.
Jon:  Masarap din naman order ko ah.    
Rhoel:  Sige, Jon, ulit-ulitin mo lang sabihin yan hanggang makumbinsi mo ang sarili mo.

Hahaha.  (Nanlibre na nga, inapi pa.)

The name of the place was Cafe Coin, and it was a bit more formal and had some semblance of ambience unlike all the other restos we tried.  I think this is the one place we tried in Seoul that separately imposed service charge.  Yes, tipping is not customary in Korea.  Maybe that's why they bring that habit when they come over to the Philippines.  But isn't that one of the primary rules of travelling, that you should read up or ask around about the customs of the place you're visiting?  Sigh.

We kidded Rhoel that we chose Cafe Coin bcoz Jon craved almond flakes, and Rhoel needed ... hospitality.  Hahaha.    

I guess we were all so traumatized by The Nothing Night that we decided to just pig out on street food for our last dinner in Seoul.  This was the Monday night when glorious food stalls selling all kinds of local delicacies took over Myeongdong, right on our last day when we were also trying to finish up our won supply.  We sampled everything that caught our fancy and ate all we can.

We had ice cream, egg tarts, meatballs, chicken nuggets that also came with crab sticks and prawn balls, lemon squeezed right before our eyes and mixed with soda, a giant potato fried and placed in a stick in a single perfect swirl.       

Our runaway favorites are the sausages on sticks. Rhoel meanwhile lusted after the mongo-filled pastries.  After all these years, I didn't know that guy likes his beans.  Well, that explains the smell.  Hahaha. 

For some reason they sell churros all around Seoul.  I saw all these signs saying 'Spanish churros for sale'.  I guess it's a bit like otherwise foreign food like Taiwanese milk tea or Middle Eastern shawarma making their way to the mainstream market in the Philippines.  Boots craved those churros.  

As for me, I'm loyal to my daing na pusit all the way.  I may be in Boracay, or Disneyland, or Seoul.  Once I smell daing na pusit wafting in the air - I'm so there.