I walk listlessly through the streets and clean subways of Seoul’s Jung-gu, with bright buildings featuring a zoo-like mascot and its flailing arms, towering over me, until I find an endless street brimming with people. The sheer number of immaculately-dressed youth, stuffing their faces as they gear up to start the night, intrigues me. I gravitate towards the street without another thought and the minute I see smoke rising from the stuffy street and mutter to my friend in glee, “It is street food time!”
Myeong-dong, says the big blue board that welcomes us into a surprisingly clean street with food carts lined along either side (considering the number of people who visit the street on a daily basis, this is almost unbelievable).
On the outer line of the street, are brand outlets such as H&M and Innisfree, constantly trying to lure the college-going crowd. The contrast is glaring — with affordable, makeshift food carts and souvenir shops on one side and international outlets on the other. Needless to say, I am instantly hooked. It is a heavenly combination — food, cheap retail stores and cosmetics.
There are plenty of cut fruits, cut in the shape of octopus and starfish! The Koreans sure know how to attract their foodies. Seafood is everywhere — even in fruit — as are the egg buns! This Korean dish, as the name suggests, is a pretty sight with the yellow yolk, dancing on the bun.
If you like your egg dish sweet, the egg bun will surely be your cup of tea. Then there is tornado potato, which is not much of a surprise, thanks to our spiral potatoes that are relished by foodies back home. Except here, they are crispier. Let’s admit it, the name too is fancier than ours.
Trudging on to a heavier main course, I discover a platter of assorted fish cakes in different combinations — rice, seaweed and sausages. They are best savoured with mustard and chilli sauce. Each platter with four cakes cost 4,000 Won. Not bad, huh?
The opposite cart has a jet-black pan of teriyaki pork — creamy and brownish-red in colour. Visible layers of oil peep out as the vendor stirs it. The curry amounts to a sizeable meal when had with rice cake. So far so good — my Indian palate sighs in relief.
But my next choice turns out to be a disaster — a starfish takoyaki. The overpowering smell and taste of starfish puts me off almost immediately. Was it the grainy consistency of the fish or the blandness? I can’t decide.
I am getting tired of all the meat. But, this isn’t something a native of Seoul would complain about. Seafood and pork belly is what they live for. With these thoughts, I waddle further down the street and can’t help but think a swig of soju (traditional Korean wine), would be perfect to wash down all the meat.
Without second thoughts, I march into the nearest 7-Eleven with a purpose.
The writer was in South Korea at the invitation of the Korea Foundation