After wrapping up my solo day trip to Suwon, I rushed back to Seoul and rejoined my family for a celebratory dinner.
This was our last evening in Korea, so our band of merry travellers decided to splurge on a proper Korean feast: a welcome change from the usual evening dash to the nearest 7-Eleven for a cheap microwaved supper. (The fact that the parents in our two-family group were going to pay for this luxury made the decision so much easier for us happy children.) After a bit of rest in our hotel, my sister and I did some quick research and settled on a restaurant in the lively Myeongdong district, just across the street from our hotel. Alas, I’ve completely forgotten the place – I neglected to take photographs of the shop front and I seem to have misplaced their business card – so I can’t write a standard food report, but at least we’ve got a few pictures of the meal.
Dinner was preceded by a pleasant evening stroll through the narrow, maze-like streets of Myeongdong.
Deathly quiet during the early morning hours, this famous shopping area explodes into life later in the day – and most especially when the sun goes down – with row after row of brightly-lit shop fronts and crowds of eager shoppers milling about its many twisting pathways.
The area is particularly rich in (read: infested with) cosmetic stores. Pretty much every major Korean brand is represented here, and what’s more (read: worse), there’s often several branches of any given brand scattered throughout the district. For example, I think I must have counted no less than four or five Nature Republic outlets during our brief pre-dinner walk (a recent article states that the chain has 12 such stores in this area alone). With its prime corner location not far from a major road, the branch pictured below is said to be standing on some of Korea’s priciest land.
Strung up over one of the streets was a large sign welcoming visitors to the district – in Japanese.
Yōkoso Myondon e! it screamed in big blue characters. Or Yōkoso Meidō e!, to use an alternative Japanese reading for the kanji that spell out Myeongdong (明洞). Either way, the message was clear: “Welcome to Myeongdong!”
The sign might seem a little out of place, but its presence comes as no surprise. Japan, after all, is Korea’s next-door neighbour, and despite their strained history the two countries exchange quite a lot of tourists each year. The result is a fair bit of Japanese signage, and a good number of locals trained in the Japanese language (which, as I’m about to reveal, will prove very useful to us before the evening’s out).
We arrived at the restaurant in due course – aaargh, still can’t remember the name – but had to endure a rather long wait for a table to open up. What’s more, there was no English menu available and none of the staff spoke the language fluently.
No worries, it’s all par for the course when one goes on a foreign adventure, and it’s actually quite unreasonable for any traveller to expect all inhabitants of this planet to speak English. Having said that, it was admittedly a bit touch and go for a while as we tried to make sense of the Korean menus (at least they had pictures!).
I’m not sure what triggered the breakthrough I’m about to describe. Perhaps a parallel translation on the menu, or hearing the conversations of the other diners around us? Whatever it was, I had a flash of inspiration and addressed the server in Japanese.
There dawned on his face a massive look of relief as he replied in the same language. My sister, who also knew a little Japanese, joined the exchange and we soon got our orders worked out.
Now the good stuff began rolling in. First came a dazzling spread of banchan.
The side dishes also included a jjigae of some kind, though I’m not entirely sure which specific variant this was . . .
. . . as well as a bowl of cold noodles in a spicy sauce. It seemed like a spicy form of naengmyeon, but not made with the more usual buckwheat or glass noodles.
And of course, the customary bowl of rice – kongbap in this case.
We ordered a different set of mains from the rest of our party (who were seated at a different table due to the restaurant being packed). Ours included a type of jeongol, which began with a heavy metal bowl filled with beef, vegetables, and glass noodles, all swimming in a rich sweetish broth that was gradually brought to a lively boil over a small gas stove. The end result was reminiscent of sukiyaki.
We also ordered, er, something . . . can’t remember what it was called, but the dish consisted of thinly-sliced strips of grilled beef served with large cloves of garlic.
Not that it mattered much to us what this, or any of the other dishes were called. What mattered was that the stuff tasted absolutely delicious.
I sorely regret not taking down more information about this place, but if I ever come across it again, I’d be happy to pay them another visit. (But only if mum and dad are also there to foot the bill because, my word, was it expensive!)