Sunday, February 01, 2015

food slummin'

When it comes to food, sometimes it's good just to go slumming—to get right back to the dirty basics of, say, street food, which is about as lowbrow as food can get. Street food is normally eaten while standing right at the food stall or while strolling along the sidewalk; there's nothing formal or pretentious about it. In the wintertime, street food can be especially satisfying: it's a way to get something good and warm and rib-sticking inside you.

Tonight, I had thought to walk out to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza to grab some burritos from a local burrito restaurant that I've been curious about, but as it turned out, tonight was the one goddamn night the place was closed. So—Plan B. I turned around and went over to one of the numerous food stalls across the street from the Design Plaza and had myself some ggochi, i.e. food on skewers (please observe that I wrote ggochi, not gnocchi). First, I helped myself to a sausage-and-ddeok modeum ggochi (modeum means something like "everything"; in a culinary context, it refers to a variety of things all served together, so it might also mean "assorted"). After that, I devoured a french-fry-covered corn dog (well, not really a corn dog, per se, but a batter dog—see a pic here). After that, I helped myself to a sausage-on-a-stick, and had to stop myself from moving on to the wang-odaeng in spicy broth.

I thanked the lady at the stall and lumbered off in search of a street-foody dessert. Another stall caught my eye: crêpes! I had to see what this was about—whether the granddad manning the crêpe stand was really making the French pancakes the way they're supposed to be made, or whether he was just doing some sort of bullshit imitation. He was eating his dinner when I arrived, so I walked away and gave him a few minutes to eat. Two teenaged Korean girls came up to the stall not long after I had walked away, and they had no compunction about making the old man get up and serve them. Once the girls had received their goods and departed, I let the guy finish his meal, then I sauntered up and started asking him about his crêpes.

"Where'd you learn how to make crêpes?" I began.

"Oh, a friend I know taught me," he said. Then he asked me, "This your first time here?"

"I've lived in the area a while, but yes, this is my first time stopping by your place."

"Ah," the man said. "So what would you like?"

Still feeling hungry, and powerfully tempted by the different varieties of crêpe filling on display, I ordered one Nutella-and-banana crêpe and one blueberry-banana crêpe. The guy ended up messing up my order: the second crêpe he gave me was blueberry-and-Nutella. But I didn't mind. Both were amazingly tasty, and the method the old man employed was exactly the same as what I'd seen while in Europe: he used a real crêpe iron and a real râteau à crêpes rond, i.e., the "round crêpe rake" (see here) that smooths and flattens the batter as the batter cooks (see a flat rake in action here). He told me that he'd set up shop here only a few days ago; I complimented him on his crêpes, told him that I hoped he got a lot of customers, and went on my way. About the only crêpe-related complaint I have has nothing to do with this gentleman, but with the fact that, in Korea, no one pronounces "crêpe" the way it's supposed to be pronounced: in Korea, everyone says kraepae ("keu-reh-peh"), which sounds creepy. Granted, Americans don't pronounce the word correctly, either: they tend to say "craipe," rhyming with "grape." (In French it's pronounced "crep," with a rasping "r" sound that resembles the hacking-up of a hairball.)

But damn, what a satisfying dinner and dessert! I definitely want to visit the crêpemeister again; he's very good at what he does, and he makes those crêpes fast. If you're ever across the street from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, look that man up. His crêpes are W3,000 each, and he'll stuff them as full as you want—with cereal, even.

And that was my evening of food-slumming. I'm glad I didn't end up eating burritos. Tonight, street food—bunshik—was a far better choice.



SJHoneywell said...

I don't think I ever had a better meal in Paris than nights my wife and I would walk a block or two and order two mushroom and gruyere crepes followed by two Nutella/banana crepes.

Damn, but those were good.

Kevin Kim said...


I'm a fan of street food, hole-in-the-wall food, and walk-through-window food, where a restaurant has one outer wall devoted to the pedestrian equivalent of drive-thru service. When I was in London in the late 1980s, English cuisine wasn't experiencing the revival it is today, and the best food tended to be either Indian or Turkish. I ate a lot of Turkish when I was in London, especially from those walk-thru places. Never once entered a pub for bangers and mash (or—God save me—mushy peas).

In Paris, yes, I'd agree: the street food is quite good, although I'm also partial to the bakeries and groceries (épiceries).

Switzerland, at least back in 1989, really needed to work on its street-food culture, which was boring as hell. The Germans, by contrast, were quite good at it: there were plenty of Wurst stands where you could get some permutation of sausage plus fries, or some other meat-heavy fare. My favorite was the Leberkäs, which sounds gross ("liver cheese") but tastes much better than it sounds: it's essentially a solid rectangular hunk of a bologna-like meat. Mmmm.