Cheeseburger Gothic

Hefty chunks and creamy head

Posted December 11 by John Birmingham

I'm one of those people who doesn't like to travel too much when he travels. For sure, I'll happily fly around the world and through the night, but when I get where I'm going I like to sink my roots deep. I like to dig into every nook and cranny of whichever neighborhood I'm staying in rather than flitting about the country, changing hotels and moving from city to city every couple of days. It's possible I'm just weird and lazy, but ... okay, I guess it's more than possible.

In Korea this meant hanging out in the University district of Hongdae most of the time, occasionally riding the subway into the heart of the city, and not really venturing much further. A few people asked if we were going to go up to the DMZ, because it's awesome. And maybe if I'd been there another week, we would have. But not this time. Had too much hanging out to do.

One of the things I really like about my approach is not just getting to know a place, but letting the place get to know you. I like to choose a bar, a café and a couple of restaurants to get most of my business, for instance. The first time you roll in, they'll treat you like a tourist. The second time too. But by your third visit they're onto an earner and you start getting better treatment. In Seoul this often took the form of the password for the superfast Wi-Fi, nicer snacks with the drinks—seriously, these people serve snacks with every damn drink that arrives— or even free drinks.

Luckily, Thomas is a bit the same way. Probably even more than me. He's a good traveller, fearless* in many ways, but when he finds something he likes it's difficult to shake him of it. We ate the same breakfast nearly every day for 10 days.

We had one break from the routine to try out a specialist toast place. Yes. The Koreans have specialist toast shops. They are more civilised than us.

We tried Korean barbecue of course, but to be honest I never really found a place that grabbed me. There were two restaurants, both of them pretty cheap, that we kept going back to. One was a place called to Ddobagi chicken, which offered about a dozen different variations on fried or barbecued chook.

The other was Mawang, a specialist pork joint which had more than generous service of beautifully cooked pigmeat. We ordered one platter, medium sized. It defeated us.

Neither place was looking for the tourist dollar and none of the staff spoke English. But they did have menus with pictures of the food for idiot Westerners who wandered in by accident and we did just fine by pointing at those and rubbing our tummies. So too with the beer.

Chicken and beer it turns out, is the national dish of Korea. Not that fiery cabbage shit everyone goes on about. We defaulted to the same two or three dishes each time at Ddobagi – an eponymous sort of nugget mound in which hefty chunks of deep-fried breast meat arrived in a crunchy coating of spiced rice flour, and a platter of legs and wings smoked and baked in a sticky sweet seasoning. There was a barbecued menu item that looked amazing, but the staff anxiously mimed to us that its fiery spices would kill us instantly. Should I ever be in Seoul at the same time as Mr Barnes, we shall see about that. The beer was some ice-cold local brew which appeared to be called Max Cream but which I insisted on ordering as Creamy Head because at heart I'm a 14 year old boy.

We doubtlessly would have discovered two or three other really cool places if we'd stretched our legs. But then I'd have eaten less Ddobagi chicken and Mawang Pork.


*You have not seen determined until you've seen a 17yo boy negotiate across an impenetrable language barrier with the staff at an Internet cafe for access to the gaming 'puters.

6 Responses to ‘Hefty chunks and creamy head’

jl reckons...

Posted December 11
That food n stuff looks amazing. Totally agree with your method of seeing the world. Much better to get to know one place well, then a dozen places superficially. Plus the tourist shacks are always horrible, a real rip-off.

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Spanner puts forth...

Posted December 11
Where is my fried chicken?


I’m sitting here at work like some sort of fried chickenless numpty and this will not do.

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Barnesm asserts...

Posted December 11
I can testify to the awesomeness of the Beer & Chicken combination embodied as the Korean national dish. Around my neck of the woods in Melb I am fortunate to live in a largely Asian community and from the smallish Korean eateries to the larger Korean franchises such as NeNe Chicken or Bon Chicken & Beer the stuff is deliciously satisfying. I am a little alarmed that at my local they no longer ask for my order but as I come in simply look up and with a slightly raised inflection at the end of their statement 'the usual'.

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Doccs ducks in to say...

Posted December 11
Good stuff JB, getting to know the place you’re visiting is cool.
I never could understand all the sightseeing and photos me self.

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Bondiboy66 mutters...

Posted December 11
Yes have done the same thing - staying put that is. We stayed in a small southern French town about 2 years back, went to the same cafe for breakfast for 2 weeks. By day 3 we were virtually locals!

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she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted December 11
"There was a barbecued menu item that looked amazing, but the staff anxiously mimed to us that its fiery spices would kill us instantly." I'm not sure why, but I laughed so hard at this.

I am a late convert to Korean fried chicken, but by every known god it's good. I want to go to Seoul now :(

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