Category Archives: markets

The Chois Eat Their Way Through Jeonju + Gunsan (Part 2)

I really don’t know where this year has gone. The food in this blog was eaten in May. It is now November. There have been a few times like this in the past when I haven’t blogged in months, have accumulated an overwhelming backlog of food photos, and thoughts like “Should I just not bother? Is it finally time to hang up my amateur food blogger hat?” start to enter my mind. But I’m always too stubborn to quit. I’ve pushed through a six-month lag before and I can do it again. I just gotta sit my butt down and remind myself how much I enjoy writing these, that it’s worth opening my laptop and pumping out some words even thought it would be much easier to turn on the TV and binge-watch K-dramas.

So where were we? It’s Spring. I’m in Jeonju. With my parents. Trying very hard to preserve my sanity.

On the morning of our second day in Jeonju, we asked our hanok stay host to recommend a restaurant for another signature Jeonju dish: soybean sprout souprice (콩나물 국밥/kong-namul gukbap).

I LOVE having soup and rice for breakfast. My parents were so well assimilated to Aussie-culture that I grew up with the standard cereal, toast, and eggs for brekkie so having Korean style gukbap in the morning is still a novelty for me and I love it. I don’t care if I have garlic and kimchi breath all day – gimme that breakfast gukbap!

Our sent us out of the hanok village to the Nambu Shijang, an old-school market where the goods on sale look like haven’t changed much since the 1960s.

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The market is like a maze without a map and the restaurant was pretty hard to find – I was expecting to see a massive line since it seemed like you needed to stand in line to eat anything decent in Jeonju. But it turned out to be a tiny, dingy looking place with a few shabby chairs and tables and only a couple of people inside. It made me think, “Did our host just send us to his aunty’s restaurant?” We were too hungry to care at this point, so we just sat down. This kind of food is best made by an aunty anyway.

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In the kitchen there’s a huge vat of broth, a big bowl of rinsed soybean sprouts, and an impressive array of spices and sauces. Soybean sprout souprice seems like a very simple dish, but I guess there really is an art to it.

I actually hated this kind of soup growing up – it was one of the few Korean dishes that just made me groan when I saw it on the dinner table. There’s no meat involved – the broth is made with dried anchovies which gives it an unpleasant bitter flavour. And the soybean sprouts were just… I mean, who ever gets excited about soybean sprouts? It was just a sad, boring, bland loser of a soup.

Coming to Korea, however, I discovered that Jeonju-style soybean sprout souprice was a much-beloved hangover cure soup that people were willing to travel for. I gave it a try in Seoul and I don’t know what it is – maybe some special broth recipe, maybe MSG, maybe the salted shrimp sauce and spices that they add on top – but I LOVED it. It’s still a very simple soup based around an incredibly unexciting vegetable but there’s something about it that’s very comforting and addictive.

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This one came out with the rice already in the soup because you need the rice bowl for the thing that makes Jeonju-style souprice truly special: the lightly poached egg-sauce. First-timers might be confused about what to do with this little bowl of egg, but don’t the mistake of putting the eggs in the soup. What you’re actually meant to do is put the soup in the eggs.

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It’s egg as sauce!! My favourite thing!! You’re meant take your soybean sprouts and dip them in the runny egg yolk. You can also take spoonfuls of souprice and mix it all into the egg bowl too. This just proves the egg makes everything – even boring old soybean sprout soup – more awesome.

The soup is wholesome and satisfying, but also has a very clean taste thanks to its simple ingredients, with just enough kick from the garnish of chopped fresh chillies, chilli powder, salted shrimp, crushed garlic and sesame seeds. It’s strangely refreshing, and the heat will get you sweating, which I guess is what makes it the perfect hangover cure.

It wasn’t really much different or more special compared to the soybean sprout souprice I’ve had in Seoul, but I’m glad I got to try at a dinky little no-name restaurant, with zero tourists and just one ahjumma in the kitchen working up a sweat in her floral apron. Much much better than standing in line for an hour to eat it at a place so famous it’s got two branches in Seoul, which completely defeats the purpose of going all the way to Jeonju to try it.

After breakfast, we headed back to the Hanok Village to have morning tea at one of its many cute cafes.

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It’s a place called 1723 and it has a particularly special dessert that came up in several of the blog posts I’d come across while researching this trip.

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Injeolmi icecream: vanilla soft serve with chopped up pieces of red bean-stuffed sticky rice cake, extra bits of mochi, topped with injeolmi bean powder. So good! This is maybe the best modernized Korean traditional dessert I’ve had. And Koreans are very very good at modernizing their traditional desserts. Incredibly simple but so delicious… got me singing

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Injeolmi-themed desserts are quite common since Koreans lurrrve their bean powder, with injeolmi bingsu being one of the bestselling items at Sulbing (one of the most popular dessert cafes in Korea). But the texture of the bean powder works SO MUCH BETTER with ice cream than it does with shaved ice. And the red bean mochi which is a sickly sweet to eat by itself is much better served in little pieces as a topping.

Do you miss my mum? I do, too. Here she is modelling our dessert and wearing sunglasses indoors like she’s Kanye.

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And we couldn’t leave Jeonju without one last tumbler of slushie beer.

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Cheers!

So that was the end of our time in Jeonju, but because people told us there wasn’t enough  to do in Jeonju to last us three days and two nights (they were wrong… there was plenty of stuff left to eat do) we also booked a night in Gunsan, a little-known town that’s most famous for the Japanese style houses and buildings that have been preserved since the occupation. Not sure why Koreans would want to preserve Japanese architecture from such a dark time in its history . . .  but this is a food blog so let’s not go into that.

Gunsan is definitely not the food-mecca that Jeonju is . . . in fact, there was so little to see that my mum couldn’t help but mention to every local she met, “There’s not much to do here, is there? Honestly, it’s a bit disappointing.” I called her out for being a rude, obnoxious tourist and she called me out for being a mean, overreacting daughter . . . but this is a food blog so let’s not go into that.

I managed to find a couple of matjibs that looked pretty decent, one specializing in soy-marinated crabs (간장게장/Ganjang Gejang), which is my mum’s all-time fave but for some reason, I had never tried it.

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We took a cab to the restaurant which was in the middle of nowhere. We were told we had to wait 45 minutes for a table and possibly even longer for our food, so clearly everyone else in Gunsan also realized that this was the only decent restaurant around. Annoyed and hungry, we still waited because we had no where elseto go and no way to get there. I really really hoped that the food would be worth the wait, because three grumpy, hungry, annoyed, disappointed Chois is NOT a fun time.

We finally got a table and ordered the jungsik which was 23,000 won per person (very decent price for this kind of meal) and came with the marinated crab, soup, rice, and a bunch of sides.

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Apparently, soy-marinated crab is all about the roe. There are certain seasons when the roe is more abundant, and the better gejang restaurants only serve super-fertile crabs that are overflowing with that gooey bright orange roe.

Roe is something I’ve been developing a palate for since I moved to Korea. I’ve always loved salmon roe because of the way it pops in your mouth, but HATED cooked roe (still do) because of its grainy, rubbery texture. Other types of raw or marinated roe I didn’t really enjoy because I found the bitter taste off-putting. But thanks to the gradual Koreanification of my taste buds, I’m finding that I like it more and more. So while a raw, roe-based dish like ganjang gejang wouldn’t have interested me at all before, I was pretty excited to try it.

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Gejang is prepared with a soy-based marinade that is boiled, cooled, and then poured over fresh, salted crabs. According to mum, our resident gejang expert, the cheaper places serve the crabs after they’ve been sitting in the marinade for a while because the crabs can stay preserved for up to a few weeks. But as a result, they become extremely salty, tasting more like a pickle. The better restaurants with fresher crabs don’t let the crabs sit in the marinade for too long – so it just tastes like crab sashimi with the delicious soy marinade poured over it.

This place was one of the good ones – the crab was so fresh and the marinade was perfectly balanced – sweet, salty, infused with the flavor of the crab with hints of ginger, garlic and chilli. Gejang’s nickname is “rice thief crab” (밥도둑) because something magical happens when the sauce and roe touch those fluffy grains of white rice. The marinated crab tastes great by itself but it’s what happens when the dish is mixed up with rice that makes ganjang gejang ganjang gejang. Even the carb-conscious will stare at their reflection in the empty steel rice bowl and not think twice about ordering another one.

More than the fleshy crab legs and roe though, my favorite part of this dish was taking the shell with all its yellow-green guts and salty-sweet sauce and mixing up all my rice in there. I don’t have a photo because I was too busy eating it.

The next day we visited Lee Sung Dang, the oldest bakery in Korea. It’s been around since 1945 and is famous for its red bean bun and vegetable bun which apparently haven’t changed much since its opening. There was actually a separate line for those two signature items, and it stretched all the way out the store to the street corner. They had run out of vegetable buns (boo) and even though none of us really like red bean buns, we forced dad to stay in the line because we couldn’t come to the oldest bakery in Korea in a random place like Gunsan and NOT get their most famous bun. Mum and I went inside to check out what else they had on offer.

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This is what most Korean bakeries looked like twenty years ago. Much simpler than the stuff you see these days at Paris Baguette and other bakeries that are trying to be more Western and are moving away from these traditional Korean sweet breads. These kinds of bakeries are actually not that easy to find now.

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This is my old fave – sesame sticky rice bread (깨찰빵) – the bread batter is mixed with sticky rice powder which gives this slightly sweet hollow bun a crusty/chewy texture – so good but quite hard to find these days. Regret not buying the whole tray.

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Here are my parents and their bread haul. Both wearing sunglasses indoors like they’re Beyonce and Jay-Z. LOL at the fact that everyone else captured in this photo looks like they’re staring at us thinking, “Who are those freaks and why are they taking a photo inside a bakery with their sunglasses on?”

People were leaving the bakery with massive boxes packed with the red bean buns, but we were quite self-controlled and only bought five. I’m kind of a red bean bun hater but these were so fresh out of the oven that I actually really enjoyed them.

And here ends the Choi family’s eating adventures around Jeonju and Gunsan. I’ll sign off with a photo of mum looking ever-so-chic drinking a tri-coloured slushie.

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“See you next time, fatties.”

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The Chois Eat Their Way Through Jeonju (Part 1)

My mum hates my food blog. Well, she hates that I write a food blog because she blames it for making me fat. I’m pretty sure she’s never read it because scrolling down through photo after photo after photo of all the fatty foombah carb-a-liciousness would just make her sick at all the food her daughter is ingesting and converting into fat cells. I would get an angry phone call after every post I publish.

We’ve had a lot of conversations that go along these lines:

“Heather, I’m worried because your cousin told me that all the photos on your Instagram are of really high-calorie and high-fat foods.”

“Mum, it’s because those kinds of photos get the most likes.”

“But why can’t you just eat more salads?”

“WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LET ME LIVE MY LIFE?!”

But since we live in a different countries and only communicate via messaging and phone, the frequency of her nagging had really died down, leading me to think, oh-so-naively, that maybe she had accepted that I had grown up into my own person and could make my own adult decisions about my body and the food I put in it.

When my parents told me they were visiting in the Spring, I thought it would be nice if we went on a short trip together. Conveniently, I planned a trip down to Jeonju which also happens to be one of the top foodie hot spot in Korea. I’d been wanting to go since I first heard about it. This trip seemed like an amazing idea: I could spend some quality time with my parents, pig out on amazing food, and get some great material for the blog. Little did I know that I was actually signing up for three-day fat camp.

As soon as my mum saw me, she unleashed a tirade of fat-shaming that did not end until I waved goodbye to her as she rode away on the Airport Limousine to catch her flight back to Sydney. Padded with affectionate squeezes of my butt and belly, and assurances of “I’m only saying this because I love you!” her incredible ability to never run out of things to say about my weight gain gave my self-esteem a good ol’ fashioned beat down.

“What happened to you? What did you eat to gain so much weight? Heather . . . are you depressed? If you’re not depressed then why are you eating so much?! Stop ordering delivery! Why are you so lazy? Just make yourself something healthy for dinner! I thought you would actually lose weight because of how skinny girls are here in Korea… don’t you feel bad when you see how thing and pretty all these girls are? How much do you exercise? I thought so. You need to exercise!! Just go for a walk after dinner. Matt’s lost so much weight, so why can’t you? You disgust me.

(Okay, she didn’t say the last thing, but it was strongly implied.)

Suddenly, a trip where eating would be the main activity didn’t seem like such a good idea. But with accommodation and bus tickets booked, and my will not yet broken by my mum’s incessant harassment, I just went ahead with it. What followed was one of the greatest tests of my emotional and mental fortitude of my life thus far.

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Me and my mum.

Jokes, that bear is way skinnier than me.

So mistake #1 was planning a foodie road trip with my fatphobic mum. Mistake #2 was planning a trip to Jeonju on a long weekend.

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This is meant to be a quaint “hanok” village made up of traditional Korean houses and cute little shops but because of it’s increasing popularity as a local tourist destination, on weekends and public holidays it is literally swarming with people. Hungry people. Standing in lines. Lots and lots of really really really long lines.

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Mandoo lines. Kalguksu lines. Bibimbap lines. Sandwich lines. Gukbap lines.

I’m not one to be afraid of a long line if I know that the food pay-off at the end will be worth it, but I did not want to spend the entire weekend waiting in line with my 60-ish parents who would probably spend the whole time lecturing me about how only fat people wait in line for food. Fortunately, thanks to the fierce competition here and Korean people’s willingness to shamelessly rip of a popular shop’s food and concept, there are plenty of copycat shops that offer pretty much the same food as the more famous places, but without the long wait.

Our first stop was flame-grilled octopus on a stick (문어꼬치)

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Big fat chunks of octopus, skewered and grilled, then served with worcestershire-ish sauce and bonito flakes.

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Kind of like a naked takoyaki. I’ve never really been a fan of octopus, so this is not something I would usually be attracted to, but Koreans LOVE it. It’s delicious – chewy on the inside and charred on the outside.

We shared one of these between the three of us because, you know … calories.

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Then we went right next door for some jumbo cheese chicken skewers (치즈 점보 닭꼬지).

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About double the size of a regular chicken gochi, this sexy beast is covered in sauce (you choose how spicy you want it) and a helluva lot of melted cheese.

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Here is mum taking a huge bite out of this high-fat high-calorie treat.

“Give it to me, you shouldn’t eat too much of things like this.”

“Yes, mum.” *cries on the inside*

Although the hanok village mainly consists of little permanent shopfronts, everything here is very street-food. Most things are served on long wooden skewers (gochi) – they have their own special rubbish bin.

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Because we wouldn’t want these things poking holes in the rubbish bags… or in people. Given the volume of people squished into this place when its busy, there’s gotta be a few gochi related injuries per day here.

There’s a shop here that’s really famous for its hand made mandoo (dumplings) but it had the longest line of ALL the restaurants. Actually it had two lines, and both looked at least 40 minutes long. I love my mandoo, but even I have my limits.

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So we went to the place next door that we hoped did a pretty good imitation of the original.

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Whole-prawn steamed dumplings. There was five between the three of us, but I only ate one. I didn’t want to get my hand slapped in front of all these people.

These tasted just okay – made me feel a bit sad about missing out on the real thing. But I plan to come back for them someday soon – when it’s less crazy busy and without my fat camp coaches.

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Mum got these water cakes (물방울떡) for dessert – there’s a bit of a craze happening around these lately, but I’m not a fan. They taste like nothing. They’re just big blobs of colorless, flavorless jelly.

And that was our lunch. I didn’t get to try as much as I wanted, half because of the lines, half because my mum’s hawk-eyes were watching me, with her claws ready to pounce if I dared get near “over-eating” territory.

We took a short nap in our tiny hanok stay and then headed out to dinner. Before the hanok village food street took over, Jeonju was mainly known for its bibimbap. We asked for a recommendation from the ahjusshi was ran our accommodation and headed over to restaurant called “Hangook jib” (literally: Korean house).

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Outside the boundary of the main touristy area, this place was pretty quiet but our guy assured us it was authentic and delicious and kind of famous because a former president had dined there once.

Bibimbap is normally a humble dish, but in Jeonju it gets quite fancy. The Jeonju version is based on a dish that was served in the royal court of the Joseon dynasty. It is presented in a gold metal bowl and includes some very special ingredients that you won’t find in your standard bibimbap: raw beef, yellow mung bean jelly, pine nuts and gingko nuts.

Here is how it looks pre-bibim:

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And post-bibim:

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My mum used to tell me off all the time for the “unladylike” way I would mix my bibimbap. Rice and gochujang would go everywhere and I’d end up with more outside the bowl than inside. But I’ve discovered a new technique to elegant bibim – use your chopsticks instead of your fork. It mixes things more evenly more quickly and is much less messy. See – only a few stray rice grains on the side of the bowl!

Unlike the usual bibimbap, all the ingredients of Jeonju bibimbap are cold to preserve the special flavor of the raw beef. The rice is still warm, but not steaming hot. So the resulting taste and mouthfeel is quite different – it’s fresh and the unique flavour and texture of each component is kept distinct. It’s interesting and tastes great, but given the choice, I think I would still choose the standard dolsot (hot stone) bibimbap over fancy Jeonju bibimbap. Dolsot bibimbap is my death row dish.

I’ve clearly inherited my tastes buds from my mum because despite being in Jeonju, she couldn’t resist the hot sizzling call of the dolsot. It came with the exact same ingredients except that the beef on top is already cooked.

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The ONE thing I was a bit disappointed with was the absence of a glossy raw egg yolk, which is the golden crown that sits atop the dish in all the photos I’ve seen. According to my dad, historically accurate Jeonju bibimbap doesn’t include the raw egg, which is a more modern addition. I still felt gypped. If I had to choose between authenticity and egg, I choose egg.

Even without the egg, its about as high-class as bibimbap gets. I loved it – but I made sure to leave at least a spoonful of rice in my bowl to create the illusion of self-controlled eating. But it didn’t really matter anyway – my parents were too busy lecturing me about my foolish reluctance to resume my legal career to even notice how much I was eating.

After dinner, we walked back to the Hanok village to grab some slushie beer which we had been coveting all day. Everyone we walked by seemed to have one in hand, but we had to wait until after dinner to get ourselves one to avoid being red-faced and drowsy in the daylight (all Chois have a very severe case of Asian Flush.)

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The concept of a beer slushie is pure genius. It combines the most loved beverage of our childhood (slushies) with the most loved beverage of our adulthood (beer) into the perfect summer refreshment. I don’t understand why it isn’t EVERYWHERE. It’s amazing!

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They mix cold beer on tap with the syrup of your choice (we got grapefruit) then top it off the cloudy white beer slush.

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Mrs Choi approves.

A few sips of slushie beer got my mum in a good mood, so I convinced her that we also needed to try some deep-fried whole squid on a stick (통오징어튀김).

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Mrs Kang smiles tipsily and has no idea how many grams of fat she will soon be consuming.

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Of all the [blank]-on-a-stick things I’ve eaten in Korea, this one WINS. It’s a whole squid lightly battered and deep-fried, and then seasoned with whatever flavor your heart desires. It comes to you hot, fresh, salty, crispy and chewy and is even better when washed down with a sip of slushie beer. It was so good that mum completely forgot to give me her favorite smackdown about the perils of eating fried foods late in the evening.

It was an emotionally taxing day, but I managed to get through it without bursting into tears, causing a scene, or stabbing someone with a wooden skewer. And I still got to eat some yummy food… just conditioned on the promise that I would exercise regularly and eat more salads back in Seoul. A promise I had no intention of keeping, but in wartime, you just gotta do whatever it takes to survive.

To be continued . . .

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Ansan Multicultural Food Street: Noodles Worth Traveling Pho

A question I get asked a lot by people is “What food do you miss the most from Australia?” They’re probably expecting an answer that has something to do with Vegemite or meat pies or avocados or kangaroos. But truthfully, what I really miss most is the ethnic food. One of the greatest things about Sydney is how multicultural it is, and all the amazing, authentic food that comes along with that. I get cravings for random things all the time… in fact I can give you a list of the top ten foods that I miss right off the top of my head:

1. Kebab
2. Pork roll
3. Yum cha
4. Pho
5. Hainanese chicken rice
6. Laksa
7. Pad thai
8. Indian curry
9. Lebanese meat plate complete with falafel, garlic sauce, hummus, tabbouleh and bread.
10. Wonton noodle soup

Thai curry would make that list too, if only I didn’t have a life time supply of Marion’s Kitchen and other miscellaneous curry pastes in my pantry thanks to the black market curry smuggling operation I have going on.

And yes, there are versions of these things available in Korea (except Hainanese chicken and laksa . . . IF YOU’RE MALAYSIAN OR SINGAPOREAN AND YOU’RE READING THIS YOU NEED TO MOVE TO KOREA BECAUSE THERE IS A MASSIVE MARKET OPPORTUNITY HERE FOR YOUR DELICIOUS FOODS) but they all seem to be lame Koreanised imitations of the real thing and/or come with premium “foreign food” price tag. You can get a cheap kebab in Itaewon but it’s really just a glorified chicken salad wrap. You can also get delicious, authentic Turkish food but it’ll cost you more than 20 bucks for an iskender plate. I miss Auburn and Parramatta and Granville and Harris Park and Haymarket and Greenacre and Eastwood and Haberfield! I’m back in Sydney for a week in October, but that’s already more suburbs than days I will have to see them again!

So I’m always complaining, “Wah wah wah, this pho tastes like dishwater… whinge whine whinge, a pork roll without pate and pickled carrots is NOT A PORK ROLL, etc etc” And then one day, somebody tells me that there’s this magical place on the outskirts of Seoul called “Ansan.” The pho there is actually good, they tell me, and actually made and eaten by actual Vietnamese people. It’s the Cabramatta of Seoul. Where the bulk of Seoul’s migrant population live, work, and eat. Not only is there good Vietnamese food, but there’s also Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Uzbek… it’s the most multicultural place you’ll find in this largely homogeneous country.

I made it my mission to visit as soon as I had the opportunity. It’s an hour away by subway which is a long way to travel for a bowl of pho, but I was quite confident that it was going to be worth it.

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The “Multicultural Food Street” of Ansan is right opposite the station and stretches several blocks. We went on a Saturday night when the area is alive with hungry locals and curious visitors. We decided to walk around and explore for a little while before we sat down for dinner.

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As I walk around, I start tripping out. are we still in Korea? Did the subway take us through a magic portal into a different universe? There are signs everywhere in languages that are NOT Korean OR English … OH MY G… IS THAT WHAT I THINK IT IS?! IS THAT A FREAKING BANH MI CART?!

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YES! OMGOMGOMG IT’S A BANH MI CART!!! A REAL VIETNAMESE SANDWICH CART!!

At this point, Matt had to tell me to calm down and lower my voice. It looked like the cart had closed shop for the evening, but I vowed to be back again during lunch hours.

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We walked down the main plaza and there were just ALL KINDS of street food that I had never even seen before. Signs we couldn’t read. Languages that I couldn’t even identify. Shop owners we couldn’t communicate with. Almost all traces of Korea had been taken over by foreigners.

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“Excuse me, what is that big round thing?”

“This? It is like pizza. Very good!”

“Pizza? Is it like a roti?”

*blank look*

“Is it sweet? Savoury?”

*blank look*

“How much is it?”

“Very delicious! Just two thousand!”

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Even though we didn’t know what half the stuff was – it all looked delicious. I saw this lady’s spread of meats and got excited thinking it was Chinese BBQ, but on closer inspection it was mostly offal and offcuts. Not quite brave enough to try it, but still happy to see something completely different and exciting.

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See the big red words that say “개고기”? That’s a sign for dog meat. You know you’re truly in the Korean ghetto when the local butchers specialise in dog meat!

Taking in the smell of all this unidentifiable ethnic food made us hungry. We walked over to a Vietnamese restaurant that a couple of Korea food blogs had recommended.

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It’s called Dieu Hien Quan. I love that I have no idea how to pronounce that or what that means!

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The place was covered with gorgeously tacky Chinese New Year decorations. There were a few other diners there, but none of them were Korean. And they were all eating fetal duck eggs! Which I had never seen in real life before! I felt like a foreigner in my own home country. It was great.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a sauce caddy. Just like the ones back home… *sigh*

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I wanted to order the deep fried spring rolls, but Matt’s on a ridiculous diet so we got the summer rolls instead.

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It came out with some sexy looking sauce that bizarrely resembled the Aboriginal flag.

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Really simple fresh rolls – mostly vermicelli with some greens and mystery meat. But tasted so good! Especially with the sauce. Fresh flavours and textures that are unmistakably Vietnamese. I missed you mystery meat!!

And now the moment I had been waiting for. One half of me bursting with anticipation, the other half trying to stay calm, knowing that almost all of the ethnic food I’d eaten in Korea had been a disappointment.

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First the garnishes. There was plenty of coriander… but no Thai basil! Coriander is fine, but the pho I know and love is always served with Thai basil. Surely someone in Korea must grow it. Okay, this was slightly disappointing but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I still had high hopes for the soup.

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I took a deep breath before my first spoonful and said something theatrical like, “Okay, here it is. The moment of truth.”

And… thumbs… are …. UP!

This is good pho. Not the BEST pho I’ve had, but it’s good. Really good. Needless to say, INFINITELY better than the el blando bowls of rice noodles they sell in Seoul. The broth is clean but full of flavour (I added some chopped birdseye chillis to mine for extra heat). Worth an hour on the subway? Definitely yes.

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Matt had chicken pho. Pho is the only time our preferences switch and he always takes the chicken option while I take the beef option. I still don’t understand chicken pho… I feel like pho is in it’s essence a beef based dish. You can choose to have raw beef, beef brisket, or beef tripe, or any other part of the cow! But chicken? Seems wrong. Well, whatever, his life, his choices.

I just realised I didn’t take note of the price. How very unlike me!! That just means it wasn’t cheap enough to excite me, but it wasn’t expensive enough to outrage me. I’m guessing each bowl was around the 8,000-9,000 mark? Seems about right.

Once we we were done, we decided to hit the streets for some dessert.

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I like my dessert savoury, and these big pastries with specks of green were catching my eye. But then I spotted the rolls in the corner that looked like they were filled with chives and possibly, scrambled egg? SOLD.

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Doesn’t look like much but gosh…. this little thing was SO DAMN GOOD. Something about that salty egg and galicky chive combo… one of the best street snacks I’ve had in Korea! And it’s not even Korean! Google tells me that it’s Chinese and called Jiu Cai He Zi. Jiu Cai He Zi, I’m in love with you, and I will come back for more of you.

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Ansan is an adventure. There’s a lot to explore and try, much of it unfamiliar, some of it even a bit scary. It’s like nothing you’ll find anywhere else in Seoul; it is the anti-Itaewon. Just pack a good book and take line 4 all the way down. I’ll be back soon for banh mi, more Jiu Cai He Zi and a Pakistani restaurant a friend recommended. And then I’m going to find a pho place that has Thai basil and actually try that big pancakey thing. This may turn into an Ansan food blog, just warning you.

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Dieu Hien Quan

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