Nearly two years to the date, we walked around one of Seoul’s most touristy spots, Myeongdong, in the frigid cold with the intention of eating as much street food as possible. My memories of that trip (that I have still yet to blog about) are somewhat hazy, and maybe even a little disappointing. I don’t remember there being a huge variety of food and can only recall eating two notable things: spiral potato on a stick (tornado potato) and a sweet and savory egg-stuffed soft bread roll.
On our last trip to Seoul, we ate in Myeongdong as often as possible. We took the free shuttle from our hotel (a 10-15 min ride) and indulged in all the trendy, new, constantly changing, Korean street food items. The tornado potato and egg bun were still going strong, but one of the most popular items we saw was fresh seafood topped with cheese, baked until bubbling on a hot grill.
Our first stop was a place called Isaac Toast which was so popular that it often had a line out front. I knew of this place because I ate there for lunch the previous day before an afternoon of window shopping in Myeondong. I can’t say for certain if this type of sandwich place was a recent thing (pretty sure it was not) or if I just never noticed it before (more than likely), but after I ate at Isaac, I kept seeing similar restaurants all over Korea!
A standard Isaac Toast sandwich consisted of your choice of meat, a perfectly square-shaped scrambled egg, shredded cabbage, cheese, sweet pickles, tomatoes, a sweet and spicy sauce, stuffed in between two thick slabs of grilled and buttered bread. The most expensive item on the menu cost around $3.50, but most sandwiches were around $2.50. So cheap!
Of course, the meat in the sandwich was a bit of a mystery, and kind of reminded me of the Japanese version of Salisbury steak/burger patty (hambagu) that can be found pre-made at Japanese grocery stores or 7-11s. There was a sort of school cafeteria processed food element to the patty that I found oddly comforting, and something really addictive about the sandwich as a whole. Obviously I must have really liked it to have gone back for seconds! The first time I ate the “hot chicken” and the second time Sly and I split a “hot tteokgalbi.” Both were pretty tasty in that I-probably-shouldn’t-be-eating-this-but-I-can’t-stop sort of way.
Sidenote: I mentioned in a previous post that our sandwiches came wrapped in spiritually enlightened wax paper, and I just assumed this was a sort of one-off thing. But then when we went snowboarding recently, we ate at different toast place that was also overtly Christian in its messaging and branding. There are many (non-religious) bakeries in Korea, so why did Koreans choose this particular type of sandwich to spread the word of God?
Egg bread (Gyeran-bbang: 계란빵). We didn’t eat any this time, but we were tempted.
fried stuff on a stick is always a good choice
Grilled lobster tails topped with cheese, sweet and spicy sauce, and herbs was THE number one street food dish I wanted to try. This was one of the newer, trendier street food items in Seoul these days, and also one of the more expensive at ~$15 a serving.
I never understood when cooking shows berated chefs for combining seafood with cheese because I have never had a problem with the combination of those two flavors. Hello, shrimp and grits anyone? Salmon and cream cheese? Tuna helper? We saw all kinds of grilled seafood topped with cheese while walking around Myeongdong, but only tried the lobster and cheese combo, which tasted kind of like an Asian version of lobster mac ‘n’ cheese….without the pasta? If it hadn’t been so pricey, we would have probably eaten another few rounds. Instead, we chose to split one and save our stomachs for other street food goodies.
More fried and grilled things on sticks. FYI, I love grilled corn on a stick (especially Mexican style which is one of my most favorite things ever), but Korean corn on stick is never my first choice when it comes to street food. The corn is a different variety (waxy corn) and is tough, chewy, gummy, and gets all up in your grill. It’s called “sticky corn” here and is a very popular snack that is usually eaten by twisting off the kernels one by one. Pass.
excellent posture as always
Another street food item that I don’t recall seeing until recently: an omelette pancake topped with a fried egg (put an egg on it!). The omelette pancake consisted of a thicker-than-normal crepe stuffed with cabbage, thin shaved slices of pork, loads of bean sprouts and topped with a fried egg, a drizzle of bbq sauce and mayo, and a handful of bonito flakes. Remind you of anything? Because it totally reminded us of a deconstructed Korean version of okonomiyake. Yum.
This photo has nothing to do with food. At first I thought this was another food vendor or maybe like a fortune teller…until I read the signage…and until the elderly lady in the tent started chant-singing in Korean and broadcasting down the entire street via her megaphone/speaker. I’m not trying to poke fun at this person, I just did not understand what was happening. What does “Jesus will come soon gluco chip soon as…something kill? Or something Hell?” What does it mean? Specifically, what does the gluco chip mean in relationship to Jesus and going to Hell?
After our slight distraction we were back to eating again, this time we tried fried baby crablets. The baby crabs were dipped in batter, fried until they were super crisp, and topped with a healthy drizzle of some of the spiciest red pepper sauce I have ever had. The crablets had a soft shell and were supposed to be eaten shell and all. This wasn’t our favorite dish. We loved the crunchiness of the crabs, but flavor-wise, they tasted like an indistinguishable fried item and lacked a pronounced crab flavor. Also, we have a really high threshold for spice, especially Sly, but even he confessed that the sauce was much too spicy for him. It numbed my mouth and tongue to the point where I could no longer really taste anything. Maybe that was the point? Maybe this dish was more about the crunch-factor and the spice? If you try this dish, I recommend getting the sauce on the side, if possible.
Surprisingly, one of my most favorite street food snacks that I tried in Myeongdong was freshly made strawberry mochi. I say “surprisingly” because I don’t usually like when fresh fruit is obliterated by things like sugar or chocolate, and at first glance I thought these were some sort of chocolate covered strawberry.
As it turned out, a huge, plump, sweet strawberry was wrapped in a sweet red bean paste and then wrapped again in chewy rice flour – essentially a freshly-made strawberry mochi, or Ichigo Daifuku as it’s known in Japan. I’ve had plenty of mochi in my life, but mostly the store-bought, ready-made, or stuffed with ice cream kind. This strawberry mochi was so damn good that I could not get it out of my mind. After we finished our mochi dessert, we continued walking around Myeongdong looking for other things to nibble on, but all I wanted was more mochi. So we returned to a different vendor and bought two more strawberry red bean mochi…each…and took them back with us to the hotel for our midnight snack.
My nephew, Jack, is currently obesessed with mochi, and I really wished that I could have sent some back home or even shared the experience of eating his first Ichigo Daifuku with him. I’m pretty sure I’ll be seeking out these tasty little devils every time we eat street food now. I could easily have eaten at least a half dozen on my own. And that’s AFTER eating all the other stuff that we ate beforehand.
I didn’t even realize I was in this picture until just now
When it comes to trying new foods, if at first you don’t succeed, try and eat again. Our return trip to Myeongdong was a tasty success. Part of it was that the winter night was uncharacteristically warmer than expected and instead of desperately wanting to duck into the warmth of a coffee shop every ten seconds, we happily strolled and ogled and sampled and ate until our stomachs were more than content.
Myeong-dong / Myeongdong | DESCRIPTION: Probably one of the most touristy spots in Seoul due to it’s proximity to a ton of shops, restaurants, markets, and street food. It’s a well-known place to eat street food and it is packed most evenings (weekday or weekend) with people in search of a tasty bite. Most of the street food is under 5,000 KRW, with the exception of the lobster and some other higher end grilled seafood dishes. You can also find a good number of gimmicky cafes (dog, cat, etc) and dress-up photo studios in this neighborhood. | VERDICT: We don’t often go to Myeongdong because it can be very crowded and very touristy, but if you’re visiting Seoul for the first time, this is a definite must-see place.
Isaac Toast | CUISINE: Korean-ized sandwich (with Christian messaging) | COST: Inexpensive, ~$2-$3.50 for a sammy | LOCATION: The shop we visited was in Myeondong, but there are many Isaac Toasts throughout Seoul and Korea. | DESCRIPTION: Toasted Korean-fusion sandwich shop that sells sandwiches stuffed with meat, a square-shaped egg, shredded cabbage, cheese, sweet pickles, tomatoes, a sweet and spicy sauce, stuffed in between two thick slabs of grilled, buttered bread. Vegetarians can order a sandwich without the meat (egg and cheese). Isaac toast also serves breakfast sandwiches, fruit smoothies, and I want to say coffee as well? No seating at the Myeongdong location. If you want water, chips, or other snacks, there’s a convenience store right next door to Isaac. | NOTE: there are many toast shops and local vendors who also sell similar toasty sandwiches. They are all more or less the same, so if the line is too long, you won’t be missing out on anything if you find another vendor. | VERDICT: I think people will either love or hate this type of sandwich. Personally, I find something about them to be very addictive.