Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gangnam Review: Helen's Kitchen : Rice Wine Bar

Helen's Kitchen

Helen’s Kitchen : Korean Cloudy Rice Wine Bar

Makgeolli is called farmer’s alcohol because it is a simple alcohol made from ground rice, water and yeast (nuruk). Served chilled, this drink has a crisp taste and it is slightly carbonated so it goes well with greasy dishes such as onion or potato pancake or spicy dishes as sauteed pork in chili paste or kimchi and tofu. Makgeolli can differ from city to city and the taste can be altered by the use of different rice or by adding bean, corn, herbs, and even fruit like raspberry.

Helen’s Kitchen offers a wide range of artisan makgeollis served with traditional dishes such as savory seafood and onion pancakes, tofu with kimchi, acorn jelly with chive salad, and grilled garlic octopus that are a fine match with the drink. They have seasonal makgeolli's and specials on most nights. At Helen's Kitchen you can taste a wide range of different makgeolli's. They have makgeolli's at different price points as well. You can try the very common Seoul makgeolli (4,000 won) to some that might cost 20,000 won a bottle. At this pub, they have over 25 different types of rice wine drinks.

I can't say it is my favorite Makgeolli bar, but it is great for Gangnam. They really try their best to show the wide range of rice wines and the food is cooked right. Now, I didn't see a Helen in the Kitchen (I think there was a Mr. Kim), so I don't know what the meaning of the name means. I should have asked the owner, but I think it was the 3rd stop and at that point my conversation skills were limited to talking about...forgettable stuff. The kitchen is not the main draw for this place- it's the wide variety of rice wines. Sure, it is much more expensive than other places but everything in Gangnam is 20 to 30% higher. But in comparison to other places in the area, Helen's kitchen isn't too bad. You can get out of there nicely drunk and full for about 15,000 won a person.

The atmosphere is comfortable and the staff are very friendly.

Recommended makgeollis are: Takbaeggi, Saeng Doksan, Sobaeksan Dong-dong ju, and ask the bartender what the rice wines of the day are.

Name: Helen’s Kitchen
Address: 149-31 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Phone Number:  02-539-6067
Hours: 4pm-2am
Category: Bar: Korean Rice Wine
Price: 10,000-20,000 won
English Menu: No
Spoken English:Yes
Vegetarian Options:Yes
Directions: Directions: Go down the road across from Seven Luck (Samseong-ro 104 gil) and walk 2 blocks
Busan Makgeolli
Makgeolli Bottles

Monday, February 23, 2015

Soy-marinated Crab: Pro-Soy Crab

Pro-soy Crab in Sinsadong
One of the better meals that I have had this year has been at Pro-kanjang Gyejang. This place specializes in soy-sauce marinated crab. This dish is a delicacy in Korean culture and some might (I heard that Chef Pierre Gagnaire didn't care for this dish). This is a dish that most people can only have at certain times of the year and winter is the best time for the crabs gorge themselves on food to get ready for mating season. What sets Pro-kanjang gyejang apart from other places that the crab is delicate in texture yet not overpowering in flavor.

Some of the places that make this dish make the dish too salty and it requires several bowls of rice in order to eat it. Here the crabs are full of flavor and yet subtle enough that you can eat a whole plate of them without any rice at all. They are simply addictive.

I was lucky enough to follow Chef Andreas of the JW Marriot Hotel to Prosoycrab. He was doing a shoot for a German Television Show and I was asked to tag along. What that meant was that I got to talk a lot about food and then eat it. Not a bad gig I must say.

In the kitchen we watched the cooks expertly chop the crabs so it could be easily picked up and eaten. The crab is so delicious that you'll want to pick clean every little bit of meat. The prize of this dish are the golden eggs which is like foie gras and uni. Absolutely delicious.

Afterwards we had some of their famous crab soup. For the soup they use the male crabs and the for the soy-marinated crabs they use the females. I guess it is an equal opportunity restaurant.

Great food and good service. I must tell you that it is not the cheapest restaurant. A small order of the soy marinated crabs (enough for 2) costs 55,000 won and a large costs (enough for 4) costs 80,000 won. You can see the menu below.

Pro-Soy Crab (프로간장게장)
Seocho-gu, Jamwon-dong 27-1 Pro Building


Pro-soy Crab Menu Seoul
Pro-soy Crab Seou Menu
Pro-soy Crab Menu

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It takes 24 hours to marinate pigs feet at Pyeongando Jokbal jip (Korean Marinated Pigs Feet)

Pyeongando Jip's Famous Marinated Pig's Feet (Jokbal) in Seoul, Korea
Pyeongando Jip's Famous Marinated Pig's Feet (Jokbal) in Seoul, Korea
Pyeongando Jip is famous for their marinated pig's feet and during the dinner rush you'll often see a line out the door even in winter. The owner, now grandmother, Lee Gyeong-soon is a no nonsense woman that is all about efficiency and order. Since her place is an institution, so she can run it the way she would like.

The place is not pretty or modern- it actually looks quite drab. Good thing that this doesn't affect the taste of the marinated pig's feet.

The recipe is Gyeong-soon's secret and the feet have to be marinated for 24 hours before they are cooked. The meet falls off the bone and the normally chewy pig feet is tender and buttery. It is absolutely  delicious. It even feels healthy when you eat the meat with some garlic and wrapped in lettuce. Gyeong-soon assured me that this was good for my health.

Now I can't say I recommend their bindaetteok. I like mine a bit crispier but here it is a bit soft. I guess they can't be good at everything. I highly recommend you take a trip over here.

Pyeongangdo-jip (평안도집)
Seoul, Jung-gu, Jangchungdong 1-ga, 62-16
Cost: 13,000 or 15,000 a person
Directions: Go out Donguk University Station Exit 3 and walk straight. It's down an alley. If you take a taxi, just tell them the name.
Pyeongando Jip's Famous Marinated Pig's Feet (Jokbal) in Seoul, Korea

Revisited: Giant Mandu Hotpot at Sadong Myeonok

Sadong Myeonok
Good restaurants are places you want to go to again and again and introduce to your friends. Sadong Myeonok is exactly that type of restaurant. It's famous for their giant dumplings that they make hotpots with it with beef, noodles, and veggies in a rich broth. There is also an egg yolk that they put in an onion and you mix the yolk into the broth. The dumplings are great and so is the seafood pancake. It is so crisp that it is mouthwatering. The restaurant has been around for over 25 years and the owner said that many famous politicians including Lee Myeong-bak has been there.

I can see why. The place has great food.

Here is the original post I wrote on the place with contact information and directions
Giant Dumplings
Joseph and his Hot Pot
Mandu Jeongol
Yummy Dumpling
Seafood Pancake
Me and the owner
Sadong Myeonok

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Exploring the Old Noryangjin Fish Market

Noryangjin Fish Market: Fish Mongers at Work
Noryangjin Fish Market: Shot from above
Noryangjin Fish Market: Octopus in Waiting
Noryangjin Fish Market: Shellfish of Doom
Noryangjin Fish Market: Bright-eyed Snapper
Noryangjin Fish Market: Miso Skate
Noryangjin Fish Market: Jelly Fish Noodles
Noryanjin Fish Market: Mackerel: Ready for Grilling
Noryangjin Fish Market: Byeong-oh or Butterfish, by either name, delicious
Noryangjin Fish Market: Swordfish sans Sword
Noryangjin Fish Market: Fresh catch by the man wearing eye shadow
Noryangjin Fish Market: Alive Breakfast 
This post is part of my "Seoul Tourist" articles written for visitors to Korea. If you are looking to visit Seoul on vacation and are interested in exploring the city. If you are looking to do a tour of the market, feel free to contact me at seouleats at gmail dot com. This is of the Old Fish Market, the new fish market will open in August 2015.

The Noryangin Fish Market is Seoul’s largest marine products market. Covering over 66,000 square meters the warehouse is a teeming wonderland of all that swims in the sea. There are over 700 small shops, and several bigger ones, that sell everything from shrimp, flounder, and live octopus to the exotic spoon worm, sea cucumber, and sting ray. If you can’t find your aquatic friend here, it probably doesn’t exist in Korea.

The market is open 24 hours. If you are up around 2am (except on Sundays and holidays), you can witness the wholesale auction. At the auction they sell everything from very high-grade fish to low-grade bulk products. Just don’t yawn, because you might accidently buy a couple hundred kilograms of fresh fish. The Toro and the giant squid tentacles fetch hundreds of thousands of won (equivalent to hundreds of dollars) each. And when these items go on the auction block, the room becomes very exciting because these fishmongers don’t like to lose.

When you enter the market, you will catch the strong scent of the sea and of, obviously, fish. The warehouse is cold because of the large amounts of ice that that are brought into the market to keep the fish fresh. It’s like a giant, open-air refrigerator. Here, many small vendors that sell shrimp, crab, flounder, oysters, and eel greet you. It looks like an aquarium at times because of the large number of tanks swarming with fish and crustaceans. You can buy things by the gram or individually. The prices here are usually about 30% cheaper than what you would get at supermarkets and department stores. Haggling is sorta expected, so haggle to get a discount. If you pay cash you might be able to get 15% percent or so off your food. Some places will take credit card, but don't expect too much of a discount. Also, if you buy in bulk (or if the vendors like you) you might get a couple extra shrimp or maybe a something you’ve never eaten before.

Now most of you will probably go to Noryangin to see the spectacle and to eat some fish. The Korean specialty is Hwae. Hwae is a raw fish dish that is usually sliced Kwango (flounder), Wooruk (rockfish), and Nongo (Sea Bass). The sliced raw fish is placed on a leaf of lettuce and then topped with a sliver of raw garlic, a piece of green pepper, a dab of vinegared red pepper paste and then eaten. The fish is chewy and the clean taste pairs well with the minty garlic and the tangy sauce. You eat this fish with a plethora of different side dishes such as figs, fried vegetables, broiled fish, salad, kimchi and soju (Korean liquor). After your fish is gone, the restaurant will bring out a bowl of Maeuntang, which is like a spicy Bouillabaisse. The soup is made from the bones of the fish you just ate. The spicy and hearty soup is a great way to round out the meal because it will warm you and fill you up. Koreans always like to leave a restaurant full and happy.

If you are a bit more adventurous, you can go for the live octopus: sannakji. It’s not as scary as it sounds and it’s actually quite delicious. The octopus is first thoroughly cleaned and then sliced up. The nerves in the octopus don’t die right away, so they squirm around on the plate. The live octopus is first dipped in a salt and sesame oil sauce so it has a chewy, nutty, sea flavor. The best thing is that the little suckers will grip the plate, then the chopsticks, and finally the inside of your mouth as you chew away. It’s playing with your food taken to the highest level. It’s a delicious new experience.

In my opinion, the most delicious thing at the entire fish market are the king crab. They have varieties from Russia and Korea and during the winter months, they are the meatiest. They are big- like 2 kilos or more and they cost from 30-50,000 per crab (depending on the size). I love to take these crabs to the restaurant and then have them steamed. Afterwards, they will cut the crab open with scissors and save the butter part to make a fried rice. The rice is heavenly. It is like the best crab risotto you'll ever have.

So hopefully you’ll make it out to the market. It’s not as intimidating as it might seem and it’s quite fun. It’s like fishing, but you don’t have to do any of the work and you always get the freshest and best catch. Let me tell you how you can do this.

1. Take a friend (or several) because you’re going to have a lot of food.

2. Go up to a fish vendor and look around for the kind of fish, or shellfish you might want to eat.

3. Point and ask the man, “how much.” (O-my-aio). At this point he’ll look at you and give you a price. Tell him you would like a discount, “Taka jusayo.” He might give you a discount or he might not. Regardless, you should say thank you, “Kamsahamnida” and walk away. At this point he’ll come get you and he’ll give you a better price. At that point you should say, yes, “Ne.” Take your picture with the man and your catch. He’ll go and slice it for you.

4. Now that you have your fish, you need to buy some shrimp, live octopus, oysters, and other fish to accompany it.

5. Then you take your fresh catch to a restaurant that’s nearby. There are many in the back row. My favorite is Jinnam Sushi Restaurant. It’s on the second floor in the back of the market. They have excellent side dishes and good service. (02 815-2732). Hand them your catch and they’ll prepare it for you as you have a drink at one of their comfortable tables.

6. Once the food is prepared they’ll bring it out for you and your friends to enjoy.


Take the Subway Line 1 to Noryangjin Station. It is on the dark blue line (line 1). At the station you’ll see signs that will direct you over a bridge and to the market. If you are in a taxi then tell him, “Noryangjin su-san shi-jang” you can get picked up from your Hotel in Seoul.