Dumplings… Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Uzbek, Polish, and whatever other nationalities independently or collectively came up with this miracle food, you have my everlasting thanks. As the years creep on and I begin to look more like a dumpling, I seek out these glistening sacs of gorgeousness wherever I can find them. So imagine my delight to encounter Stacked, a brand new dumpling bar at the foot of Itaewon’s hottest food street overlooking Noksapyeong station.
Taking up the funky space once occupied by the late lamented Hassdog is a new-ish venture called Head Lock Sandwich (헤드락), which has been operating for a couple of months now. The concept is simple: prawn sandwiches (or shrimp, if you prefer).
[UPDATE, JULY 2017: This location has now closed, unfortunately.]
For years, I’ve been saying that a proper bagel place in HBC / Gyeongnidan would make a fortune. For years! I even considered opening a bagel shop on the HBC main road. The only thing that stopped me was (a) I don’t have the money to open a bagel shop (b) I don’t know how to make bagels. I was so close, though, dammit!
[UPDATE, JULY 2017: This pop-up has now ended. You can find Pick a Bagel at their main location in Apgujeong.]
I’ve travelled quite widely in the States, and ate my way from Tex-Mex in Texas, through Cincinnati chili (don’t ask) to some awesome NY pizza in the tourist traps of Bleecker Street and beyond, but one thing that had evaded my radar until this week was Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I knew it existed and knew that it was thicker, deeper and just… different from what I was used to, but the reviews of Chicago pizza places in Seoul were so uniformly negative that I stayed away.
Fortunately, that’s changing. James Yu has done what most armchair internet critics of foreign food in Korea dare not attempt, and is putting his time and money where his mouth is. His fledgling business, if we can call it that, is named Windy City Pizza and he’s done a couple of pop-ups in Hongdae and Gyeongnidan, bringing the genuine Chicago deep dish pie to a hungry expat audience. I’m pleased to say that it’s a winner.
I wouldn’t know real Chicago pizza from a hole in the head, so Google it if you want more details on what it is and how it’s made. The short version is; it’s terrific. I had two slices of the sausage pie, which is priced at 7,500 won per large slice. I’m a big man, but two slices nearly defeated me – one would be enough for many normal people, particularly at lunchtime.
The sausage is made by Hassan from Hassdog and the rest is handmade by James. The crust is totally different from a thin crust NY pizza, let alone the cardboard crusts of many Korean pizzas – this is more like the pastry crust on a Scottish meat pie, which I mean as a compliment. The tomato sauce was garlicky and packed with flavour. Basically the whole thing was on point and completely delicious, which my photos may or may not demonstrate. Quite a hard thing to photograph well.
James is also making two other versions at present, a spinach and a mushroom slice, which I didn’t try because spinach and mushroom. But if it’s anything like this, it must also be great.
Check out the Windy City FB page for details of more pop-ups, the next of which is happening from Monday at Cali Kitchen in Gyeongnidan (which is also well worth your while even outside of special events like this). James sold out in record time this week, so make sure you reserve a slice so you don’t end up disappointed.
- Category: American
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Sausage slice (7,500 won)
- Directions: Cali Kitchen is just behind Maloney’s pub in Gyeongnidan. See map below. Future pop-ups may be in other locations, of course.
- Hours: Check out Windy City’s Facebook page for latest news and advance notice of any further pop-ups.
Always on the lookout for new things to try and new lunch spots within an easy reach of my HBC redoubt, I stumbled upon something interesting last week – a small chain of restaurants that serve one of my favourite Korean soups, yukgaejang (육계장) with a big bowlful of kalguksu noodles to pour into your soup. Just perfect for a filling lunch in this chilly weather, I thought I’d give it a try.
Munbaedong’s Samgakji branch is about as hole-in-the-wall as it gets, a real ajosshi hangout on the “wrong side of the tracks” near Samgakji station. Inside it’s wall-to-wall with people slurping back bowls of spicy beef soup. On my first attempt to have lunch here, there were people waiting outside in the cold for a seat, so I came back a few days later, and managed to bag a small table in the corner.
There’s just three items on the menu (though I never saw a menu): yukgaejang spicy beef soup (육계장), kalguksu noodle soup (칼국수), and the combination of the two, “yuk-kal” (육칼) that I was here to try.
The soup came out in less than a minute, a pleasingly deep red in a big silvery bowl. I added about half the noodles, which were very soft, like overcooked linguine.
Snapping away with my camera brought some eye-rolling from the ajumma, but there were a few young people in there who were also taking photos on their phones, so Instagram away.
The portion of noodles was extremely generous, so much so that adding all of them to the soup, as I eventually did, made it almost more like a soupy bowl of pasta than a soup.
As for the soup itself, it would probably divide opinion. It was spicy but not overly so – after the initial hit of chilli, I barely noticed much heat. It was thick, though that might have been down to the starch from the noodles, and almost tasted like there was a tomato base, though I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t have been.
There also wasn’t much “filler” in the soup, which normally comes piled with bean sprouts, little fronds of fern bracken and some boiled taro stems along with the beef. This was pretty much beef and spring onion. Now, I really liked that about it, because I enjoy yukgaejang despite all that crap, not because of it. But it’s fair to say that without the noodles, I’d have probably thought this was a decent 육계장, but nothing special.
It was only afterwards that I realised that maybe the little dish of beansprouts and greens served next to my kimchi was supposed to be added to the soup, not eaten as a banchan…? Duh!
So, in summary, check it out next time you’re at Samgakji, or near one of the other locations about town (see below). It didn’t rock my world, but I’ll be back to have it again, because I really liked the combination and it makes a change from soup with rice, and because I’d rather eat in places like Munbaedong than fancy Gangnam dessert cafes every day of the week.
- Category: Korean
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Yuk-kal (육칼) (8,000 won)
- Directions: Munbaedong is a little tricky to get to. It’s at the base of the bridge across the train tracks at Samgakji – from Samgakji station exit 6 or 10, walk up and over to the “wrong side of the tracks” and it’s just on the left. An easier, if slightly more circuitous route, is to get the green No.3 bus that runs from the Hyatt down Gyeongnidan via Noksapyeong towards Samgakji – after some twists and turns, it will turn back towards the railway tracks, and you should get off there and match the map on your phone with my map, below.
- Hours: 9:30am – 6pm every day, though they may stay open a couple of hours later. It gets busy at peak times, so consider visiting after 2pm, especially if there’s more than one or two of you.
Regular readers will be aware of my enjoyment of Vietnamese pho, which for the uninitiated is a beef and noodle soup served with herbs, thinly sliced onions, lime and chilli sauce to taste. Most Korean chain pho is rubbish, but there is the odd gem here and there doing it right, most notably Pham Thi Chinh in Wangsimni.
Pho For You is much closer to where I live – a four minute walk rather than a 40 minute journey. So when it opened up a few weeks back I was intrigued, and a positive review on a Facebook page made me curious to go in.
Advertising itself as an American pho restaurant, Pho For You is a nicely appointed restaurant with plenty of seating just past Craftworks Namsan, in Gyeongnidan. The menu is quite small; a couple of spring rolls, rice dishes, and the main event, the pho. I had been told that pho in the States is usually made with a deeper and darker broth, which often leads people to be disappointed with the “real thing” when they actually visit Vietnam.
Certainly as soon as it comes to the table you can see and smell the difference. The broth is certainly darker and a bit more intense. I’m not sure it tasted all that rich to me, but there was no mistaking the depth of colour. I added some bean sprouts, coriander, a bit of green chilli, Sriracha and hoi sin, and squeezed over some lime.
Verdict? Pretty solid. The portion of meat was quite generous, as I’d have expected for the slightly high price of 9,000 for the regular bowl (I ordered the version which comes with two cuts of meat, brisket and deckle; you can get it with other bits and pieces, including tripe, if that’s your fancy). I felt it lacked much in the way of complexity; the broth was flavourful, but not particularly aromatic. I ended up adding more of everything to amp up the taste.
I also ordered some shrimp spring rolls, but they were out, so I didn’t get to try that. I’ll be back to experiment with some of the other menu items, and its convenience so close to my bus stop to work means that this is likely to be a semi-regular lunch stop for me. But Pham Thi Chinh retains its crown, for now.
- Category: Vietnamese
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Pho with brisket and deckle (9,000 won)
- Directions: Pho for You is at the base of the footbridge which connects HBC with Gyeongnidan, just a bit past Craftworks. From Noksapyeong, walk up towards Namsan until you get to the bridge, and you’ll see Pho for You on the other side of the road.
- Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, lunch and dinner – I think.