Monday, December 28, 2015

Korea in Winter Day 13: Myeongdong Dog Cafe, BBQ and Bingsu

Time to say goodbye to our travel-buddies... but not so fast. There was still time to squeeze in a visit to the Dog Cafe. Our visit to the Cat Cafe in Gangnam was quite a hit with the kids, and we were eager to visit the canine version after lunch so that we can spend the morning having a late hotel breakfast, and doing some laundry and packing. Mummy had been in Korea for about a month, and our family of four was going to be bringing home quite a number of bags.

Map from pamphlet.

We decided to skip lunch after a late breakfast and look for the Dog Cafe first. Lo and behold, on the street appears the mascot, and he gladly leads us to our destination.

Up the narrow stairway to the fourth floor to the cafe entrance.

The entry fee of 8000won entitles us to a drink each. The staff in charge briefs us regarding the do's and don'ts of handling the dogs.

Each of us ordered drinks such as ice/hot cafe mocha, aloevera soda, iced lemon tea, and hot green tea.

Every visiting group is given a card.

There are overhead cubby holes provided to stow away bags and jackets.

This Golden Retriever lived up to its name, always looking out for cards that were left unattended and taking them back to the cafe counter for a treat.

The kids were apprehensive about interacting with the dogs at first as some of them were quite large. After a while, they warmed up to the smaller dogs.

Something smells good... ... I wonder what she's been stepping on.

Grab a towel and lay it on your lap to invite a dog to snuggle up to you. We had to wake this fella up when it was time for us to leave.

Others just snooze anywhere.

The dogs kept the staff busy cleaning up after them as they seemed to pee whenever and wherever they wished. Some table legs were especially 'lucky' to have dogs watering them frequently. The larger dogs really let go quite a puddle, and the smaller dogs sometimes lay 'mines' that were not easy spotted by the untrained eye. Nevertheless, the staff tried their best to keep the place clean, wiping and sanitizing the floor whenever necessary, which was once every few minutes.

In the centre or the room is a cleaning station complete with all the gear needed when duty calls.

After about two hours, we had to get ready to leave as we had to get something to eat before our friends caught a bus to the airport. We had a barbecue place in mind we scouted out earlier that was just next to the hotel. Yesterday's barbecue was quite a disappointment but there was a chance for redemption today. Like yesterday, we did not have lunch so we were ready for a hearty meal. Our hosts did not disappoint, and in contrast to yesterday's experience, the trump card of the staff today was their friendly, hospitable and sincere service and initiative.

The restaurant on the second floor.

Lots of endorsements on the restaurant exterior, but will it live up to expectations?

We're the first customers for dinner, and the staff are already eagerly waiting to offer us their best service. They immediately ensure that the kids are comfortable and took various initiatives to makes us feel welcomed. Our youngest member even had a cluster of balloons to take home.

We ordered Mummy's favourite pork belly, and a couple more servings this time as based on yesterday's experience, the kids love barbecued pork belly too.

Looks good, but the service was even better. Throughout the meal, a member of their staff waited on the kids and served them individually to ensure that they were eating well. She made sure the meat was not too hot for them and got rid of those with bones for them.

The boss decided to throw in a couple of his signature seafood pancakes as complimentary sides for us to try. It was a hit with both the kids and adults. The boss was delighted that we enjoyed the extras.

We decided to add a serving of pork belly and seasoned beef ribs. The beef is cooked over a charcoal fire instead of a hotplate.

While the second serving is cooking, the staff takes the kids to the live octopus tank.

Seasoned beef ribs over the fire. As this had more gravy, the wait staff was concerned that the juice would splatter and land on the kids so she cooked everything on the adults' table before serving the kids the meat.

When we left the restaurant, we were extremely satisfied with the both the quality of the food and the sincerity of the staff. Even the kids said that they wanted to tip them for their good service. Definitely a recommendation for any of our friends coming this way.

There was still time for some dessert just next door, and we hopped over for some sweet treats for a celebratory ending to our holiday.

Sulbing Cafe.

Plenty of space upstairs with a romantic window view of the bustling Myeongdong below.

Mango Cheese Bingsu. The cheese was really good, and the cups were so deep you really had to dig to get to the ice-cream bottom.

Strawberry Bingsu - check out the large red-bean mochi adorning this creation.

The original Injeolmi Bingsu - Korean Milk Ice Sorbet.

Chocolate Tiramisu Bingsu.

Caramel Coffee Bingsu. Crushed nuts, mocha ice-cream, expresso sauce and crumbled flakes adorn the ice shavings covering caramel sauce and red-bean paste.

We were quite full by now and had to be forgiven for not finishing every bit of it, but it was fun attempting to do so. A time-check and we made our way to grab the luggage and make our way to the airport shuttle pick up point.

Time for some street side shopping while waiting for the bus.

The last bus arrives at 8.20 pm. Good thing we didn't party a little longer.

Till we meet again!

Boy that was fun. Before the bus departed, one of the kids stuck out his head and told us he missed Korea already. That just means we get to start planning for next year tonight right?

Korea in Winter Day 12: Myeongdong-Street Food

We said goodbye to Pyeongchang and caught a bus to Myeongdong from the Holiday Inn Welcome Centre. The kids had instant noodles for a late breakfast to last the three hour non-stop bus ride. Mummy had the wisdom to pre-purchase tickets online ( The bus was packed and there was a chance that we might have been off-loaded if we did not pre-purchase tickets.

As we walked through the bustling Myeongdong shopping belt to get to Metro Hotel, the street food seemed to call out to us. We had to remind ourselves that there will be plenty of time for this later, after a good old traditional Korean barbecue perhaps?

Mummy considers Metro Hotel Myeongdong one of the best value for money hotels in the area. More than the family friendly amenities, spacious rooms, cosy finishings and strategic location is the excellent service. To reduce our luggage volume, we deposited some of the bags we were not going to need at the Metro Hotel before leaving Seoul for Alpensia Ski Resort.

Laundry room and dryers are available at the family lounge on level 2.

A small play area, but we all know how helpful this could be if the weather was too harsh to go outside.

Basic amenities in the pantry.

After checking in, we abandoned our unpacked luggage hastily to hit the streets. A couple of blocks away, we decided to do our barbecue debut at 'Myeongdong Call'. Mummy had visited the eatery and even though the sausage stew was disappointing (they had to add a lot chilli paste and ingredients to bring out the taste), she thought we might enjoy the BBQ. At first glance the wood flooring and simple finishes resembled that of a traditional meat house. The pork-belly slices were nicely grilled and the bulgogi stew might have been the best pot of meat we've tasted all holiday thus far. But in the end, it was the intangibles that left us disappointed. To avoid stereotyping the entire crew based on our interaction with just one waitress, we would consider ourselves unfortunate to be served by a lady who was obviously unhappy. She was somewhat curt when serving us, asking why we ordered so little (we ordered a bulgogi stew and two servings of meat with the intention of ordering more later) and showed her displeasure when we did not order any alcohol. The extra bowl of rice that we ordered from another lady did not arrive and when asked, she was very defensive and insisted that it had been delivered. It would have been better if she double checked with the other staff instead of raising her voice defensively. The lettuces for the BBQ meat were served in a small dish, of about eight pieces and we had to ask for more top-ups as we ordered more servings of meat. The lady got angry and said that we had too many and could not ask for anymore. We had only four plates of leaves for four servings of BBQ and a bulgogi stew. She was also angry when she had to top up other side dishes too, and kept expressing her irritation with mumbling under her breath and angry glances. Fancy being scolded by the waitress for banchan top-ups! We had the intention of ordering more BBQ but decided not to. We were even more upset when she started serving the tables of Chinese tourists behind us with warmth and smiles. She chatted and offered them plenty of assistance but left us in the cold, The bill was slightly on the pricey side, but good service was not something money could buy. Perhaps our previous experience at Chungmuro's Ssamsarang Restaurant set the bar too high?

The restaurant's name is translated literally as 'Myeongdong Call'.

Every eatery seems to have a live tank, and each time the kids are intrigued by the octopus and shellfish in it.

Traditional finishes and plenty of space.

Pork belly on the tilted grill so that the flavourful oils season the roasted mushrooms as they empty into a pan.

Smoking and almost ready... can you smell the aroma yet?

A consistent non-spicy favourite of ours: Mul-Naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles in chilled broth).

Simple ingredients make a tasty dish!

Yummy. Definitely a hit with both the adults and the kids: thinly sliced beef in a rich, non-spicy vegetable stew.

The grown-ups had competition today as the kids unexpectedly ate a good share of the meats. That meant more room for what Myeongdong is famous for: a colourful collection of the best street food in Seoul! Braving the winter cold everyday just after lunch till 10pm and having a flair for efficiency and creativity, behind each stall are some of the most charismatic vendors we've ever seen. We'll let the pictures do the talking as the foods taste as good as they look! Enjoy!

The Sunday night crowd was out in full force! We had a contingency meeting place and time should our group get split up... and we had to use it!

Fried squid on a skewer. Brings back memories of our second day at Lotte World!

Seafood is everywhere!
Plain grilled squid is tough and chewy just the way some people like it. However, it was a little too tough and dry for my liking. My jaws got tired.

Another more primitive member of the mollusk family are whelks (likely smaller versions of the shell on display).

Sea snails on a skewer with chili sauce and garnishing.

The banner says it all: broiled eels! Looked absolutely tasty...

But at 8,000 won for a fillet of over-glorified grilled fish, I decided to save the calories for something more exotic.

Some stalls had a little bit of everything they are difficult to classify. This vendor has french fries embedded in battered hot-dogs on a stick, skewered grilled meats, and other delicacies in spicy sauce...

Finally, something that sounds exotic: Sundae - bearing no resemblance to ice-cream, its actually boiled or steamed cow or pig intestines stuffed with various ingredients such as glass noodles. More about this traditional heritage on Wikipedia.

The non-spicy version of Sundae is also available, served in a bowl or...

... on a skewer with rice cakes.

I chanced upon this stall selling grilled pig feet.

It did not look as pretty as the other street food, but that's why Daddy had to give it a go.

The vendor chops it up and tosses it into a pan with shredded cabbages and garlic. The spicy version probably has chili sauce added.

The final result looked much prettier. The fatty pig skin with very little meat clinging on to the soft bones resulted in a very unique soft and chewy texture.

Some stalls focus on just the deep fried foods. A wide array of bottled drinks in the background for patrons to complement the salty foods.

Pan-fried vermicili with vegetables. Many of these are served simply in a bowl or cup with wooden chopsticks so that they are meant to be consumed on the go.

Vegetable rolls with pork.

Vendors creatively use handheld torches to singe their grilled goodies to give it that charred flavour and aroma.

Sometimes it's nothing new, but having it cooked right under your nose and then savouring it hot under the winter night sky makes it a novel experience. French fries are a typical example of this.

Sweet and sour chicken in a cup.

Rice cake, cheese and hot dogs on a skewer.

Instead of buns, hot dogs are sandwiched between rice cakes.

More deep fried battered goodies...

Why have hot-dogs and fries separately when you can have them together in one hand?

And how on earth do they find a way to stick prawns to grilled meat on a stick?

Another innovative version of the humble chicken wing, stuffed and grilled over the fire.

The sweetest things can be made with the simplest ingredients... ...

Nutella, bananas and cornflakes wrapped in freshly grilled crepes!

Sweet treats rarely get any simpler than a couple of scoops of ice-cream in a hot waffle sandwich.

The honey pancakes are a favourite of ours, but we were disappointed that the Myeongdong version had a little less honey than we wanted.

For thos of us who like whole-food, there's sweet corn on a stick. Choose if you want it boiled or grilled.

Roasted chestnuts and ginko nuts.

Traditionally baked sweet potatoes have been a favourite of Daddy's. They are baked in a coal oven and then paraded atop a large urn filled with heated stones to keep warm.

The result: the deep yellow colour is due to caramelisation of the sugars in the soft flesh. Some peel of the skin to avoid the burnt exterior, but Daddy enjoys all of it!

Pure sugar never looked as pretty as sculptured candy-floss on Myeongdong street!

There were a number of exotic freshly squeezed juices seldom seen. Pomegranates are juiced to fill small, disposable ziploc packets.

Or perhaps you'd prefer grapefruit juice or coconut water in its husk?

This stall specializes in honey tea. Pick your honey, and she'll brew it into the tea.

Freshly cut fruits to complement

Steaming pots of pumpkin soup and red-bean porridge.

Chocolate covered strawberries.

Lots of street food results in plenty of disposable containers, skewers, and other refuse. I wonder how the cleaners deal with this on a daily basis. Vendors have plastic bags hanging from their stalls and there are rubbish bags for patrons to throw their used containers, wrappers and utensils into. However, cleaning up the street on a daily basis must be a mammoth task.

I douby this was an official rubbish collection point.

Looks like someone has been working overtime to consolidate the trash.

After catching up with the rest of the group, Mummy introduced us to O'sulloc, a popular brand of Jeju Green Tea. The company champions the appreciation of the traditional Korean tea culture. The outlet in Myeongdong exudes all that but our priorities were for some tea-flavoured dessert tonight.

The green-tea powder seems to adorn all the sweet treats sold here.

A corner in the cafe displaying O'sulluc teas, vessels and other souvenirs for sale.

Clockwise from right: Jeju Milk Tea Ice-Cream;Green Tea Cheese Tiramisu; Green Tea Roll Cake; Hallabong Tangerine O Fredo; Sweet Persimmon O Fredo. 

The Jeju Orchid GreenTea was served on a wood-block coaster...

Check out the open-top tea bag that hangs from the paper covering.

One thing we learnt to appreciate about travelling in a group of good friends is the chance to try a little bit of everything. Whether it's street food, barbecues or desserts, it's a lot more fun when we love or loathe it together. As the trip approaches the final days, we have to accept that all meals come to an end, but relationships last for a long time. On this trip, our love for unique Korean breakfasts, lunches and dinners (and everything in between) has drawn us together. It has been a means to an end, not an end in itself.

How about one last barbecue tomorrow before we fly off? (Heheh...)