Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Cooling Off With Dongbinggo's Patpingsu!

In the Philippines, to cool off, we have halo-halo (or mix-mix). Since I could only get halo-halo at the Pinoy market in Hyehwha-dong on Sundays, or at my friends' homes during summer, I resort to the Korean version of halo-halo, bingsu, a concoction of ice shavings, milk and a couple more ingredients, the most popular of which is sweetened red beans, or pat. And the most common bingsu is patbingsu.
(My friend Rio's halo-halo ingredients at her home in Seoul)

When my good friend Justin mentioned a patbingsu place as a comment to my Facebook post about my favorite patpingsu café in Hannam-dong, I thought he was talking about that area near Itaewon and Bogwang-dong.

Dongbinggo-dong  is a small neighborhood in Yongsan-gu, and Dongbinggo is the name of the most popular patpingsu  place in the whole of Yongsan-gu!  But this café is not in Dongbinggo-dong as I thought it was. It’s in Ichon-dong!

I only discovered the actual location of Dongbinggo when I was browsing the pages of http://english.visitkorea.or.kr  featuring the best patpingsu places in Seoul.  And when I learned that it’s just a quick bus ride away, I decided to visit the place!
                             (Ichon-dong's rubberized sidewalks! 
                           So comfortable to walk on!)
So, one very hot lunch time, I tried to venture out to Ichon-dong, which is just a quick bus ride from my office. Before having patpingsu as a dessert, I decided to grab a real meal before that. A couple of years ago, I discovered a good hamburger joint near the Ichon Station. This time, while I was walking towards that arcade, I stumbled upon another hamburger joint and decided to try it.
                                                                  (A good lunch)
                   (The view from the arcade's second floor)

Smokey Saloon is on the second floor of a low-rise arcade in front of residential apartment buildings. It’s actually just right on a bus stop and has a variety of hamburger choices, depending on the ingredients. I chose the easiest one, right on top of the menu. After all, they are all hamburgers to me. The only difference is the name the restaurants come up with. After munching down my Ambulance Burger (not sure if I remember it right), complete with a fried egg on top, I was now on my quest for the best patpingsu in the neighbourhood! It was a good lunch, by the way.

Since walking down from the Smokey Saloon arcade in this scorching summer day was out of the question, I took the bus again and got off in front of the Geumkang Hospital, and just across the street is my destination of the day.

                                 (My take-out number)

When I got there, the place was already full of patrons enjoying their shaved-ice delights and more were even waiting in line as Dongbinggo only had a few tables. So, when I got in, expecting to get a number, I settled for the other option: take-out!  I couldn’t afford to wait for a table and within three minutes, I got my take-out!  I ordered a patpingsu, although they have other bingsu varieties.  My take-out was put in a plastic bowl and sealed inside a pack with dry ice!  As they say, 'Have dry ice, will travel'!
                                                  (Dongbinggo menu and prices)
For only KRW6,500, my patpingsu from the famed Dongbinggo was now travelling with me back to the office ready to be enjoyed without having to wait for a table. But as I stood there at the bus stop waiting for the Blue Bus 100, I was surprised another patpingsu place was just across the street, Bukchon Patpingsu.  Hmm. Perhaps, another patpingsu place to try next time? 

                  (Bukchon Patpingsu across Dongbinggo)

And for the rest of Dongbinggo patbingsu story, I'd rather show you the pictures. Or what's left of my take-out. :-)
(Leaving Dongbinggo in a pack)
               (Take-out in a foil pack with plastic spoons)

(It was definitely worth the trip!)

Sunday, 28 July 2013

I Know Where To Get My Patbingsu Fix! Do You?

I used to think Paris Croissant in Hannam-dong served the best patbingsu. Last summer, I dropped by this cafe and enjoyed a huge bowl full of ice shavings, sweetened tteok and sweet red beans. But when I went up there on the second floor one Saturday afternoon to order one, I was disappointed. The image of the patbingsu sitting on my table was so different from the giant patbingsu photograph on their wall. The photograph was flowing with red beans. Mine was, well, I had to search into the ice shavings for the red beans. I complained and decided I won't return to Paris Croissant again for a patbingsu.

Luckily, there's another cafe that serves a better version of patbingsu in the neighborhood, Coffine Gurunaru! Their patbingsu is much more interesting: a scoop of sweetened red beans, two slices of sweet green melon, slices of sweet tteok, chips of almond and a flavored powder, all on a bowl of milky ice shavings. Although it's pricey, it's worth crossing to the other side of Hannam-dong! And they have strong wi-fi and seats with a view!
Actually, this summer delight in Korea can be quite heavy; a meal unto itself. That's why some people share it. But for me, if it's yummy, I'd rather have it for myself. Ha-ha-ha!

Squid Pro Quo: Ojing-eo Dinner For A Gangnam Evening

Before the monsoon rains ruined another trip south of the river, I hurried to meet up with my friend James, whom I hadn't seen in a year. The last time we met up was last year when another friend Soo-Jin and I drove down to meet him at Gangnam to enjoy a chat over dinner at  Bae Yong-Joon's restaurant.
This time, we decided to just venture around the block near the Gangnam Station, where, even during a week night,  was still full of people. If you visit this area on a weekend, you would find pedestrians and vehicles competing for space at the back alleys. And most restaurants, cafes and bars would be packed. Gangnam was already very popular even before Psy sang about it. Before, you could only see a lot of locals here. Now, with that hit video, international tourists have added this place to their itinerary.

But tonight, with cloudy skies hovering above the Gangnam skyline, I didn't see any tourist. Only office people and groups of friends flocking to the back alleys to have dinner or a drink. I asked James to pick a restaurant as this was his territory. He works in one of those tall buildings and during lunch, he would just pick one of those hundreds of dining places within a walking distance.

As my good friend suggested, we finally ended up on a restaurant that served ojing-eo bokkeum, or the spicy stir-fried squid dish. 'Ojing-eo' means squid and 'bokkeum' refers to any dish that's stir-fried. And what a dish it was! Paired with another huge plate of calamari and our funny stories, this dinner couldn't have been more enjoyable!

Before we finished off the squid, veggies and spicy sauce off the huge hot plate, the Korea ajumma added two cupfuls of rice and thinly sliced kim or edible seaweed, which she mixed with the remaining ojing-eo bokkeum. The whole hot plate then transformed into another picture of red, spicy rice with squid and veggies, and looking like another dish unto itself. By this time, although I felt a little bit full, not from our exchange of stories, anecdotes and jokes, but from everything else on our table, the image of a hot plate filled with meticulously mixed rice with the red pepper paste flavored with the taste of stir-fried squid and veggies was very tempting that we just had to continue. Eating. And chatting. Ha-ha-ha!

After dinner, we needed to wash off the spiciness of our ojing-eo bokkeum dinner with coffee and more stories. And we weren't surprised that most cafes nearby were also full of people as I thought, just like us, these crowds also wanted to spend a fun evening in Gangnam. 
Thanks, James, for the dinner! Until the next time in Gangnam!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Manapla Puto, The Best Puto In The Philippines

Yes, we are talking about puto with an 'o'. Ha-ha-ha! I just had to make sure I don't get misunderstood. 

Puto is actually a Philippine rice cake cooked through steaming and is very popular as a snack. But for my Spanish-speaking readers and friends like Jose Antonio, puto in Spanish may not sound like a snack. Ja-ja-ja! 

Now, translation aside, let's eat.

Every time I come home, I always make sure I have pack of the best puto in the Philippines - the Manapla puto. Manapla is the town next to my homecity (if there's a hometown, could there be a homecity, too?). And ever since I was small, all the best puto and pinasugbu come from Manapla. I wonder why? I have no idea how Manapla's puto tradition started, although I want to learn why.

And there were occasions when I even brought a pack or two with me here in Seoul and for my friends in Manila to enjoy. Of course, puto is best eaten when it's fresh right from the steamer of those who make them, and perhaps, the family that makes the best Manapla puto is Capulso's, whose puto shop is right at the entrance of Manapla
Years ago, when we made trips to Manapla to visit my grandmother's grave, we'd always swing by Capulso's. And there were times when their putos were sold out! Yes, they're that popular! So, if you want a pack of puto from their store, you have to be there early in the morning as I think they only make a limited number of packs each day.
I also have tasted a few puto variations from a few provinces of Luzon, but for me, the best one is the puto of Manapla, whose texture is so very fine that a bite of warm puto (especially with melted butter) just melts in your mouth. And as a fellow Victoriahanon Paul describes it (he also grew up enjoying Manapla puto), Manapla puto is the 'mother of all putos'.

Capulso's make plain and cheese putos, and either flavor is just as good as the other. I will be going home again soon, and when I do, I will get both flavors.
              (Plain puto is white-colored; cheese is yellow.)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Naksan Park: Hyehwa-dong's Quiet Corner

High above the busy alleys of Daehang-no in Hyehwa-dong is the quiet, breezy sanctuary of Naksan Park.

This place overlooks the whole Hyehwa-dong and seems to be a less noisy alternative to all the noisy and chaos happening below. It is just within the area of the artsy Ihwa-dong neighborhood.

The Park has a gallery of Naksan's history, where you can read up about its past, its rehabilitation and its present geography.
                                             (Mrs. Lee's coffee shop)
When I visited this place last weekend, I dropped by the Naksan Cafe and chatted with Mrs. Lee, the owner. This cafe is her own, although she said she doesn't live in the neighborhood. And as always, everyone within earshot of our conversation was curious as to where I was from, since we were chatting in English.

                              (The Naksan Park Museum)

Of course, I told her I was from the Philippines. Although I didn't tell her that her iced cafe mocha was a bit pricey as it cost a few more hundred won than my favorite subway station cafe, and considering we were up a hill, in a public park and there was no barista was around. Ha-ha-ha! I guess she knew she was running a monopoly since the nearest cafe was at least 300 meters down the zigzag road!

And after walking up the Naksan Park, I saw a part of the Seoul Fortress, which is part of the huge project being built by the city government. 

Around the Naksan Park lies Dongmanbong, where, Queen Consort Jeongsun of King Danjong was said 'to have climbed everyday and looked to the east to Gangwon Province where her husband was exiled'

Also around the Park lies Hongdeok's vegetable patch, which was given to her by King Hyojong 'in appreciation for her loyalty and her delicious kimchi'. Hongdeok was one of the king's maids. Wow. A vegetable garden as a royal gift.

The Park is part of the Seoul Fortress, which stands guard around the Park and its neighborhood, much like a spine of walls running from one end at the Hyewha-dong side to the Dongdaemun side. This Seoul Fortress is another huge government project to resurrect the historical walls that once guarded the old city.

Tracing the Seoul Fortress walls afforded me another view of  the city: the NSeoul Tower, the Dongdaemun area and the northern front of Seoul.

As I walked around the Park, I thought, even in summer, this place must be a cool alternative with the breezes and trees.

But for those trying to escape the chaotic life downtown, Naksan Park offers a quiet corner. Aside from the artsy character of the Naksan neighborhood, which is more like the tourist attraction of the area, those who want to find a less crowded space have to be brace themselves for the steep climb up to the highest point, where the view is more interesting and the breezes cooler.

Unlike going up Namsan where you can take a bus, one has to be prepared with comfortable shoes and stamina when heading to Naksan Park. I'm not sure when I may be able to visit this neighborhood again. But when I do, maybe I should bring my own iced cafe mocha. Ha-ha-ha!

If you also want to visit Naksan Park, just take the Subway Line 4, and get off at Hyehwa Station's Exit 2. From that exit, turn left and just meander your way up towards that hilly side of the area. You can actually just lose yourself and enjoy the art works along the way...