Daerim Chinatown: A Little Piece of China, Here in Seoul
One of the things I miss the most in Seoul, believe it or not, is good Chinese food. Korean food is fine (I love bulgogi as much as the next person), but after a while, I just get tired of all the stews and spicy ____ (put anything here: octopus, tofu, noodles, cabbage). In my personal opinion, I think that there’s just more variety in Chinese food. You have dumplings (unlike the Korean mandu they serve here, Chinese dumplings don’t contain “fillers” like noodles), a variety of noodles, noodle soups, all sorts of stir fries (with unique flavors), meat skewers, hotpot, and “pancakes” filled with meat, scallion, and egg.
Surprisingly, despite the proximity, most of the “Chinese food” in Seoul is overpriced and not very good. I’ve been on the search for good Chinese food, and luckily, so has my friend Laura. She’s the fiance of one of Alex’s good friends from business school, Zach.
Last Saturday, the four of us rode the subway for what seemed like an eternity (40+ minutes, to the west) to Daerim station (exit 12). Laura had done some research and found that there’s a little Chinatown near Daerim station. As soon as we exited the station, it was as if we were transported to China. The restaurant signs were in Chinese! People were speaking Chinese! There were numerous stalls selling the exact same street food that you can find in China. There were stalls selling scallion pancake, Chinese fried dough (in both pancake, youbing 油饼, and stick, youtiao 油条, form), shaobing 烧饼, mahua 麻花, steamed buns with a sweet and savory fillings, and Chinese hawthorn (山楂) skewers covered in hardened sugar (bingtang hulu 冰糖葫芦). If it weren’t so cold (20F), I would have stopped and tried every one of them…
From the blogs we had read about the Daerim area, we were informed that there area has many dog restaurants and many of the stores sell dog meat. Having been to many Korean markets in Seoul, I had already seen dog meat for sale at butchers’ shops. Laura, however, hadn’t and was appalled. She and Zach own a cute little Corgi named Nugget (Noodles, Nugget? We’re really into “N” nonsense names for our pets). I don’t think I would ever eat dog (when I was little, I used to bawl whenever I saw roasted duck… now I LOVE duck; when Alex and I were in France, I cried after learning that I had just eaten rabbit), but in Korea, dog meat is quite common.
We found a bunch of small grocery stores (stalls, really), selling Chinese goods. Laura has been looking for a Chinese cooking wine, but apparently it’s not allowed to be imported from China to Korea… we’re not sure why.
We sat down (literally, on the floor… A Chinese restaurant with Korean style seating?) at a restaurant and ordered three dishes. Usually at these Chinese restaurants, the restaurant will serve you one complimentary dish of their choice (usually a cold dish). We ordered pan fried beef, eggplant, and fried tofu, and we were given a tofu/cabbage salad. The four of us shared a bottle of makgeolli (Korean sweet, fermented rice alcohol). We were teetotalers compared to the (mostly) Korean clientele, who were getting drunk (and rowdy!) on soju. After dinner, we headed across the street to a newly opened bubble tea shop, where we had bubble tea filled with red bean and two kinds of jellies… I think next time I’ll stick with the tapioca balls. Laura bought a jianbing 煎饼, kind of like a Chinese crepe, which was really good!
Daerim Chinatown is a trek for us, but I think the street food makes it worth it. I’m sure we’ll be back often, especially when the weather gets nicer!
p.s. In other news, I made zha jiang mian 炸酱面 for the first time in Korea. I bought the soybean paste from a Chinese market, and added in scallion and ground pork. So yummy! Koreans have their own version 짜장면, which is readily available at most restaurants and for takeout. The Korean version has less meat and fewer vegetables, and the sauce, I think, is a little too glutinous. After having had the Korean version, and my version, Alex has finally conceded that the Chinese version tastes better! 🙂