Unexpectedly in Asia Part 4: Seoul…my body is starting to rebel…

I knew such a long trip would weigh heavily on me. The older I get, the less I can cope with long trips it seems. And I sensed something flipped in the Philippines, especially when I got sick. But it was really the excessive food…I felt I was losing my appetite…

That is quite a disaster for a trip designed around eating…especially as I made my way to Seoul. My last trip to Seoul 9 years ago I loved it, from the hard-drinking culture to the octopus I grabbed at a street stall walking back to my hotel at some ungodly hour after drinking with random locals. This time it began a bit of a mess, to be honest.

I was shocked at how crazy some Korean kids behave these days…when we were on final approach into Incheon and several kids jumped out of their seats running around, and the parents were oblivious — playing with their gadgets, taking pictures. Flight crew nearly had to tackle the kids… Crazy… And after a long (and arse-burning hot) train ride to Seoul Station, I nearly died walking up the hill to my hotel.

Note: in Asia, when you can see your destination, it means nothing. Roads are never anywhere near straight or passable.

That ruined any interest I had to go out eating. I wasn’t hungry despite the poor lunch I had. So I just ordered room service, a helpful samgyetang — Korean ginseng chicken soup. Very helpful as I was still recovering from my illness, and to heal my painful body from dragging that heavy bag up the crazy hills and stairs…

Slept very badly and the next day I decided, despite not being totally hungry, to head to the so-called “Sundae Town” across the river. I will skip my commentary about poor transfer signage at some metro stations… But of course the feature here in its many mini-restaurants is sundae — black pudding/blood sausage. This place has many middle-aged ladies selling their versions of the popular dish, and I was corraled into a seat (stall #307) and served with a monstrous (“smallest”) portion…

sundae

Left is before and right is after cooking on the big tray. Now how am I gonna eat this? To be honest it wasn’t that great. The sundae was very glutonous rice-y and really not very bloody. I miss the stronger taste of the European versions. Some nice intestines in there too, but I’m not a fan of pancreas so left a lot of it… I did abandon a small portion of food, having consumed most of this. I headed back to the hotel to have a kip…needed one after this monstrous lunch… BTW this cost only USD 7…

I actually fell asleep longer than I planned and had to rush to get to my dinner at the well-regarded Congdu. The place is in a restored historical house next to the Deoksugung Palace complex, but is very modern inside. I had a nice table upstairs, but it was so bloody dark that there was no usable photo from my tasting menu…which is why I decided to incorporate the review within this bigger unit. No pictures makes it too bland to stand alone, which is too bad.

I went with the big tasting menu and it sure didn’t disappoint. The amuse bouche was a tofu curd with lotus root, seaweed and sesame leaves. Interesting texture, as this restaurant was focused on bringing out the best in local ingredients, especially beans. The first dish was a simple salad with sesame oil and sesame-coated chicken. Nothing special, but solid.

The second dish was a thick taro and mountain yam soup. I’m not the biggest fan of taro from my Hawai’i days, so this was a miss. But then the production came. The showed me a giant prawn sitting in a bucket of ice. Then she poured boiling sake into the bucket and held it closed for just enough time for this guy to be cooked… Now this tasted delicious, rich and uncompromising. Lots of roe too. Messy eating, but tasty!

The next course was glass noodles with abalone, which was quite nice. Then a piece of the most delicious black cod I’ve had in ages, with a touch of miso. Fabulous. Then the main course was the “black pork” from Jeju. Now my criticism is to bring out a piece of pork the size of your fist after all the earlier goodies? I barely finished it, and it was not bad, but the portion was too big to really enjoy it.

The last savoury was a palate cleanser, mullet roe. I love these things, but these were frozen for effect so the flavour was a little restrained. The dessert was rice cakes in a red bean base, pretty good. I enjoyed this tasting menu and it was more sensible way to eat (finally), and more balanced. I finally got veg!

I headed back to the hotel rather knackered, despite the earlier kip. And just went to crash out… Woke up the next day after yet another bad sleep, and got ready and headed out. Most of the stuff I want to eat “don’t open” for awhile as they are usually accompanied by copious drink, so I headed to a mandoo place that I was told was the place to go…hmmm…

So I went to Koong and felt a bit guilty taking a place for 4, so maybe I overordered…plus, I was used to a more modest size for these dumplings from earlier experience, but these were gigantic…how did I manage this?

mandoo

One portion was soup, one was not. The mandoo were the same. These were the size of a fist each…but I fought through it and ate all of it. It was good, but not that great. I actually prefer smaller ones I’m used to. These seemed rather bland.

But with all that food weighing me down I took the rather long walk back to the hotel, skipping the subway. Long walk plus a hill climb left me tired…and I fell asleep again… But I got up for my dinner, planned for a place I was told was one of the best places to get excellent Korean beef, Daedo Sikdang. This was the original location, so I thought it would be the best.

Got a floor seat (there goes my legs…) and it started out great as they fried a big piece of beef fat on my grill…

cooking fat

Then it all went downhill. The beef was actually not that good, and the resulting fried rice was better than the beef…that’s saying something. I left very disappointed, and reeking of grilled meat…

I made my way to Brew 3.14, the small pub and pizzeria opened by the guru of Seoul Eats, Dan Gray. Had a good night drinking there, but was too full to partake in the delicious pizzas…but drinks were enough, just what I needed…

Cabbed it back and woke up the next day just not hungry…wow… So oddly I just did nothing. My body just gave up. No energy to go anywhere, no appetite to eat. What has happened to me? Just actually did work on my laptop…

Before you think this is the end of the world, rest assured it all changed that evening for dinner. An unexpected dining partner and a spectacular meal that ranks as one of my all time top meals in my life. So let that be a lesson, that appetites do return when most unexpected.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed in my Seoul eating. Congdu was good and the last meal (review forthcoming) was brain-meltingly good, but the others were very meh…and I hate using that term meh… I left Korea saved by the wonderful last meal, knowing that the spectacular dinner was gonna bring me back here again. Now off to Tokyo…last stop…

“Sundae Town” [원조민속순대타운]
1640-31 Seowon-dong
Gwanak-gu, Seoul

Congdu [콩두]
Deoksugung-gul 116-1
Jeong-dong, Seoul

Koong [궁]
30-11 Kwanhoon-dong
Jongro-gu, Seoul

Daedo Sikdang [대도식당]
431 Hongik-dong
Seungdong-gu, Seoul

Brew 3.14
95-1 Ikseon-dong
Jongro-gu, Seoul

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4 thoughts on “Unexpectedly in Asia Part 4: Seoul…my body is starting to rebel…

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