25 November 2004


I have absolutely NO fashion sense. To me, being fashionable means wearing matching colored socks to work. I would thus make an ideal candidate for the Queer Eyes' Fab 4. Notwithstanding that, my warped fashion sense shouldn't deprive you lovely readers of sharing in on my recent shopping trip.

So, if you're into shopping, then read on. If you're not, read on anyway since you're probably slacking in the office to begin with, otherwise you wouldn't be here surfing from your work-place.

Previous posts on shopping in Myeong-dong here, Dongdaemun here and here, COEX Mall here and Itaewon here, just in case anyone missed it. Yeah, shameless plug I know.

However, this time around, let's ditch the well trotted path of the tourists and discover some local gems that even locals hesitate to share. Specifically, we're searching for designer-labels or branded goods at discounted prices. Yea, it's sinful ain't it? So if you're into upmarket goods, yet still want to save a buck or two, then I have just the place for you.

Ori and Munjeong are 2 locales on the outskirt of Seoul that prides itself as "factory outlet" shopping havens. They're both within the boundaries of Gyeonggi Province, and easily accessible by subway. Factory outlet shopping, if you asked the uninitiated like myself, means bypassing the retailers in the distribution chain and selling direct to end consumers. So in theory at least, you'd be getting the same retail goods at lower prices, and with some luck, at deep discounts. If not for these places, then designer labels and branded goods can only be had at those nose-in-the-air establishments such as the likes of Lotte, Galleria, Samsung & Hyundai Departmental Stores.

Here are some random shots of Munjeong, taken around 6.00 p.m. last week.

The main street of the Munjeong shopping area, aptly named Rodeo Drive.

This is a side lane off the main street. It's a pretty long stretch choked with stores on either sides.

If the store ain't big enough, just lay it out on the sidewalk.


Hazzys is a popular home-grown brand in Korea owned by the LG Group. The other local brand that's pretty popular (at least to my knowledge) is Bean Pole which is owned by Cheil Industries.

The wonders of advertisement and target-marketing.

The unmistakeable swoosh. Next door is Saville Row wanna-be LG with their own brand of gentlemen suits.

Munjeong is pretty unknown to the tourist fraternity, and I believe the locals want to keep it that way. In the course of my leisurely stroll here, I noticed that locals actually DO buy stuff, they're not just window shopping. So to me at least, that is adequate testimony to the validity of Munjeong.

Although somewhat different from Barstow, where I lost my factory outlet shopping virginity enroute to Las Vegas, Munjeong does offer some decent choices at fairly discounted prices. Some of these outlets offered discounts of 40%-80% off the rack price, but even after the discounts, they're too rich for my blood. I'll stick to buying my stuff at Carrefour and Wal-Mart.

What we have here is a lady selling pul bbang (풀빵), a snack of sweetened mashed red beans filling.

Pul bbang is very similar to bungeo bbang (carp-shaped cake).

Here's a lady selling hoteok (호떡).

19 November 2004

Frosty the FatMan

It's that time of the year again - time to hit the slopes. Dust off your skis and snowboards and head on down to the winter wonderlands.

Here's a concise guide to what's available around Seoul. I'll see you guys at Yong Pyong - just look out for a fat man bouncing down the hills screaming "aaaaaaaaaarrgghhh".

12 November 2004

Good Eats

I'll be honest. FatMan Seoul is going through a dry spell. The blog I mean, not the man. The man's as wet as ever.

Lately, I haven't been very excited by many of my foodie adventures. Pretty much same old same old - there's only so much dosirak a blog can take. Hence the lack of food posts of late.

The ones that did excite me and worthy of blogging, didn't make it to the blog. They were either formal lunches and dinners or because they were in settings not appropriate to poke my digicam into the food. So you guys have missed out on some rather interesting seafood such as live octopus, monggeh and other unmentionable creepy wriggling stuff. Not to worry, I'm sure I'll get the chance to blog it for you guys one of these days.

That said, I thought I'd start blogging, not personal recommendations mind you, but rather leads that I've read about or sent in by readers - just to share with you guys. Who knows? Maybe some of you living in Seoul MAY actually find it useful. Goodness knows this blog has been utterly useless thus far.

Legalish gibberish out of the way first - I'm reproducing The Korea Times articles on the blog itself as Korea Times will archive older materials, and the links below may no longer work in time to come. Pasting them here should preserve it for latecomers to the blog. All credits to The Korea Times and their reporters.

Red bean juk at The Second Best Place in Seoul (Seouleso Duljjaero Jalhaneun Jip), Samchongdong-kil (Samchongdong Road), near Kyongbok Palace.

Autumn Delight: Try Red Bean Soup at Seoul's 2nd Best Place
By Kim Hyun-cheol, Lee Yong-sung, Staff Reporters

Autumn is a season many South Koreans are proud of. Leaves change color and prepare to shed for the upcoming winter.

With weather like this, it is no wonder Seoul has some really nice promenades like Samchongdongkil (Samchongdong Road). It is a small but long stretching road that begins at the corner of Kyongbok Palace and runs through Samchong Tunnel, leading to northern part of the city.

Strolling along the path and enjoying the flurry of yellow gingko leaves, you may miss a small teahouse with the sign “Seouleso Duljjaero Jalhaneun Jip” (The Second Best Place in Seoul) among the many fancy restaurants and cafes lining both sides of the road. But once you spot the place, curiosity about the mysterious name may urge you to explore what’s inside.

“I find the word “second best” charming,” owner Kim Eun-sook, 65, said. She can often be seen cooking through an open window that faces the street. “So many people argue that they are the best and it’s not fun. Second best sounds more unique to me and it also inspires me to always try to do better.”

Although it is called “second best,” do not underestimate this place. Since opening in 1976, the small oriental teahouse has been serving select oriental herb teas that are popular when the weather starts to get cold.

The old-fashioned but cozy interior soothes visitors and the aroma of oriental herbs linger in the narrow hall usually packed with people eating or waiting for their takeout orders.

The majority are here for one thing, especially at this time of year. What they are after is a small bowl of red bean soup (5,000 won).

Red bean soup is a traditional dish in Korea and China and is believed to ward off evil spirits and ghosts with its red color. The version served here; however, is one similar to a sweet Japanese-style dessert. Owner Kim says she added it to the menu to remind her of her childhood.

The soup is composed of peeled red beans and has a light but sweet taste. It is quite different from the typical overly sweet Western dessert. Seasonal nuts such as gingko nuts and chestnuts along with a dash of cinnamon are used as toppings. A huge chunk of rice cake is hidden in the soup and tastes wonderful, as it is covered in the sweet soup.

“I try not to change the interior of the cafe or the flavor of my dishes and as long as I run the place things will stay the same,” Kim said. “That’s also what my regular customers want. I think they want their favorite places to remain unchanged since they themselves have to change to adapt to the fast pace of life.”

Kongnamul kukbap at Koryo Sikdang, Sodaemun, near the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and Kangbuk Samsung Medical Center.

'Kongnamul Kukbap' Perfect Hangover Remedy
By Lee Yong-sung and Kim Hyun-cheol, Staff Reporters

Upon hearing its name, people might wonder if the restaurant, Koryo Sikdang is in North Korea, since the name is rarely found among the names of diners here, sounding a little outdated and even rustic.

But trust us. You cannot judge a restaurant by its name, as much as you can’t judge a book by its cover. In fact, Sodaemun, where the 21-year-old restaurant is located, is one of the busiest business districts of Seoul, where five of the major newspaper companies and a few of the nations’ leading corporations have their headquarters.

Densely packed with office workers who often binge drink until midnight, or even through the next morning, the soup is perfect to calm down one’s stomach after a long, heavy drinking session. Koryo Sikdang, located on the way to Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education from Kangbuk Samsung Medical Center, has well served the need since it was opened in 1983, with premium quality kongnamul kukbap (rice with bean sprout soup).

A first time visitor might be wide-eyed, realizing there is much more than just bean sprouts in the soup costing only 4,000 won. Dried pollack is used to make the rich broth, while plenty of small shrimps, bajirak (a kind of small clam) and an egg are also added, deepening the flavor, as well as increasing its nutritional value.

When it comes to kongnamul kukbap, what usually comes to people’s minds is Chonju, North Cholla Province. The area is famous for the soup in which rice is served in it from the beginning, with kimchi and changjorim (marinated and stewed beef). However, few know that the modern, metropolitan city of Seoul has its own distinct food traditions like the one presented by Koryo Sikdang’s kongnamul kukbap.

Open all year around from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., the kukbap of course is not the only dish available at the restaurant.

Pulnak kongnamul (rice with seasoned pork and small octopus, 5,000 won) has been the two most popular dishes from the time of Koryo Hospital, 21 years ago, where the Samsung Medical Center is now. Besides the two, ttukbaegi pulgogi (steamed beef, 5,000 won) and Tolsot Pibimbap (steamed rice mixed with vegetables and meat, 4,000 won) are equally recommended.

"Like in any other food businesses," Kim Young-ja, 55, the restaurant’s owner told The Korea Times. "Freshness of ingredients is the key. We never use anything older than a day". Among the loyal customers of the dinner are popular television actor Im Hyun-sik and news reporters and even CEOs.

"The soup is refreshing and also tastes good. I bet every one will like it, especially after drinking," Jeon Hyun-ju, an employee of nearby publisher Darakwon said.

Tel: 02)739-5293, 5166
Parking: Unavailable
Credit Card: Available
Opens every day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Taiwanese food at Hyangmi, Yonnam-dong, near Hongik University.

Try Taiwanese Flavor at 'Hyangmi'
By Kim Hyun-cheol, Lee Yong-sung, Staff Reporters

The fate of the Chinese community in South Korea, most of whose members are from Taiwan, not mainland China, went together with the relationship between Korea and Taiwan when South Korea broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1992.

Once thriving with many businesses around Myungdong, where the Taiwanese Embassy located, the community is just visible in another area of Seoul where some Chinese schools are available.

Along the road across from the Yonnamdong area, between Hongik University and Yonsei University, stand several Chinese restaurants. But you can’t expect the same kind of dishes to be served in those as in other typical Chinese restaurants in Korea. Dishes such as Chajangmyon (mixed noodles with Chinese bean-paste sauce) and Chambbong (spicy seafood noodles) are simply not on the menu.

Run by Hwakyo, or Chinese people living in South Korea, usually in the form of a family business, they serve dishes more similar to the authentic Chinese style and the same applies to Hyangmi, one of the "real" Chinese restaurants in the area. The place is well known for its Taiwanese-leaning menu.

Hyangmi, which means "flavor of homeland," serves various kinds of Chinese dishes attracting both Chinese and Korean customers and most dishes here are served in two sizes, large and small to help vary the choices for customers. Some authentic Taiwanese dishes like Paigufan (Taiwanese style pork cutlet on rice, 5,000 won), which are hard to find in other places, are also available here.

The most loved on the menu are, no doubt, jumbo-sized baozi (dumpling, or mandu in Korean, 5,000 won) and the peculiar Taiwanese dish of niuroumian (beef soup noodle, 6,000 won for small and 8,000 won for a large serving).

Once the plate full of baozi, formed in Shandong style after the shape of traditional Chinese foot binding, is placed on the table, you can’t help being surprised by the gigantic size of the dumpling.

Five pieces make one serving but for most normal eaters, it will take a bit of work to finish them off because they are all just a little bigger than an adult man’s fist. Splitting one in half, you will see stuffing made of a variety of ingredients including a couple of different mushrooms, pork, vegetables and fried bean curd.

"A total of 10 things are there," Chao Lienyi, 63, owner of the restaurant, said. "I started the menu because I wanted to try something not common to others."

Niuroumian, one of the more typical dishes back in Taiwan, has the unique flavor of Chinese dishes that comes from a stock seasoned with Oriental spices like wuxiang (ohhyang, five assorted spices). The dish is a favorite among many Koreans because of its fresh and chewy noodles and clean aftertaste from a long-boiled beef stock.

Among other dishes, "Chicken cooked with wuxiang" (8,000 won for the small serving and 15,000 won for large) is another preferred one. The deep-fried, steamed and chilled chicken pieces, marinated in a special sauce with spices and garlic, makes a great compliment to Chinese liquors. Watch out for the generous sprinkling of coriander topped on the dish if you are not lover of this herb, which is not too popular among South Koreans.

"Taiwanese dishes are characterized by unique and impressive fragrance and relish from lots of spices, but we try to balance the amount of spices used in our dishes to satisfy both Chinese and Korean customers," Chao said.

Buddhist-temple vegetarian at Sanchon Vegetarian Restaurant, Insa-dong.

Their website provides extensive information, so it's pointless to regurgitate it here. The site also accepts reservation (required) and provides direction to the place. Map reproduced here for easy reference:

Sanchon Vegetarian Restaurant was recommended by long-time reader Willow (wonder if she's still reading the blog) and offers a 17-course vegetarian lunch and dinner.

Bear in mind I've not tried any of the above, YET, but rest assured if and when I do, they'll find their way onto this blog. It'll be light blogging here for the next few weeks. Till next time, happy eating.

08 November 2004

Noryangjin Fish Market

Tucked in the shadow of 63 Building, South Korea's tallest, is the Noryangjin Fish Market (노량진수산시장). Come join me as we get down and dirty today.

(Update - reader "Dong" rightfully pointed out that 63 Building is NOT Korea's tallest. This bragging right belongs to Samsung's Tower Palace 3 (Tower G)).

As you get off the subway at Noryangjin Station, you undeniably know you're at the right place. I smell something fishy here, and it ain't my breakfast.

Step out of the station and you're greeted with this long overhead pedestrian bridge, which leads you across the railway and subway lines before you find yourself at the roof carpark of the Fish Market.

As you can see from the photo above, the Fish Market is located just a stone's throw away from 63 Building - ok you have to throw the stone pretty far to reach it, I admit. To the left of 63 Building is the Kumho Richensia Towers, all of which are located in Yeouido-dong, the little patch of "island" along the Han River.

As you take the stairs leading down from the rooftop carpark to the market proper, this is your first glimpse of the market.

Noryangjin Fish Market is technically a seafood market, so you don't just get fish here, for clarity's sake. It is also a wholesale auction market, and the bulk of seafood into Seoul and the surrounding regions is routed through here. The auction is conducted between 0100-0630 in the wee hours of the morning, and the very same seafood will find its way to restaurants all over in time for their day's business. The retail market takes off where the auction ends and business is conducted until the late hours of evening.

The market has a total floor space of over 6,000 square meters and sees over 15,000 customers every day - not that I counted. Moving on before they stare me to death ....

Here's a sampling of the variety of seafood that's available here.

Octopus (문어), still wriggling with freshness.

Here's a quick game you can play at home with the family - can you find the one with 9 tentacles?

The king crabs (깅크랩) are from Russia whilst the hairy crabs (털게) and snow crabs (대게) are from North Korea. The flower crabs (꽃게) are local and the most common.

More pics of crabs ....

crabs ....

and more crabs.

A variety of seafood - some familiar, some not at all - prawns (새우), abalone (전복), clams (조개), oysters (굴), sea snails (소라) and sea cucumber (해삼) are some of the familiar ones.

These are the more interesting bits.

Small octopus (낙지) is a popular delicacy here and eaten cooked or raw. If eaten raw, it is eaten whole or sliced up, its tentacles still wriggling as it goes into your mouth. I have tried it several times, and the suction action is interesting to say the least. Talk about your food fighting back!

The pinkish worm-like sea slugs are gaebul (개불). The bright red ones are known as monggae (멍개) - they're like seafood with a severe attack of acne. Both of these are usually eaten raw and served in sushi restaurants.

And of course, live fishes are in abundance here. You point at the fish of your choice and the seller weighs it and informs you of the price. Haggling is encouraged, but only to the point when the fishmonger starts pointing his knife at you. Once you're satisfied, pay up and you can take the fish home with you, whole or gutted and cleaned.

The popular choice from my observation is to have them prep it up for you as hwee (회), i.e. sashimi complete with a disposable plate. See the guy sitting by the wooden slicing board? That's the hwee master carver.

Here's another interesting bit. On the floor above the Fish Market, you'll find 8 seafood (seafood - what'd you expect?) restaurants - yes I counted. This is the same floor from which you'd come into the market from the subway station - second photo above.

These restaurants "specialise" in hwee (회) raw fish, steamed crabs and other seafood-based dishes and soups. I say "specialise" with a grain of salt as they don't actually do any of the hwee bit. You actually buy your hwee from the market and bring it upstairs or have it delivered upstairs to consume. The restaurants will provide the side dishes, liquor and prepare hot soup from the carcass of the recently deboned fish - you just pay the restaurant a standard flat rate per head.

Of course, if you don't want the hassle of doing it yourself, you can just order at the restaurants and the ladies will yell your order downstairs and it'll be on your table in a couple of minutes - as depicted in the photo above. How much fresher can your seafood get?

I can't share any dining experience at the restaurants here, as I left the Fish Market without eating. Here's an interesting article I dug up from the internet on eating at one of these restaurants. Enjoy!

Do correct me if I've made any mistakes in this post, resident experts.

04 November 2004

Jujube Tea & Ginger Tea

Koreans are rather fond of something called the Citrus Tea or Citron Tea, more so the women than the men from my observation. Perhaps it has something to do with slimming, I dunno. The word slimming is muted from my vocabulary. Whilst I'm not covering citron tea today, while shopping at that section of the local supermarket, I came across this and decided to give it a whirl.

Honey Jujube Tea. KRW6,500 for this jar of Pooh juice.

For those unaccustomed to jujube, they're also called red dates, chinese jujube or chinese dates. More info on jujubes here and here if you're interested.

Here's another (albeit finished) jar of Jujube Tea from a different make. KRW6,350.

Jujubes, or red dates, are in essence a fruit and thus can be eaten on their own. They can also be used in a variety of ways to enhance flavour or impart remedial properties. I've had them floating around in soups, deserts, medicinal concoctions, stuffed in chicken, duck, laced in rice dishes etc. They add natural sweetness and a pleasant "feel-good" aroma to everything.

Jujubes on their own are already sweet. But when combined with honey, well, diabetics beware.

Mix with hot water to dissolve the honey and you get a very aromatic cup of jujube tea. Very nice, indeed. Add ice or stick it in the fridge if you want it cold.

For those who are susceptible to excessive gas by-production of the intestinal tract leading to internal combustion, popularly referred to as farting, ginger is a great remedy for the bloated. So they came up with something similar, except substitute jujubes for ginger. Spicy (from the ginger) and sweet (from the honey) cuppa "tea". KRW6,400 per jar of fart-diffusing tea.

01 November 2004

Shawn's Korea Life Blog

While some of you may already be familiar with Shawn Matthews' Korea Life Blog, his announced (possible) retirement from blogging must come as a surprise to most. After all, it isn't April 1, a prank he pulled on April's Fool this year.

This time, he's seriously contemplating hanging up his keyboard - he cites his reasons on the blog. Should this crystalise, the Korean blogosphere will miss him dearly. However, I respect his decision and from one blogger to another, I understands his reasons.

Cheers mate and remember, stay HAPPY always. Peace.