World of Travel: Try Korean pancakes with soy sauce
June 9, 2008
Pancakes do not always require vanilla ice cream and walnuts with generous servings of maple syrup. Instead, some require soy sauce and beans, at least in Korea.
If you have been reading my commentaries, you would know that everything comes in packages. It's not a building or just food, it's the whole experience that is worth the visit.
This time I invite you to Gwangjang Market, an original Korean market that specializes in food and fancy Korean duvets. I am not sure about its fame for the duvets, but certainly Korean pancakes and other foods are very popular amongst locals.
This is also an oasis for a week-end stroll on the Chunggyechun, the stream that runs through the center of the city. As you get hungry after a walk, you can easily pop into the nearby market stalls for snacks. The market itself is not big, which makes it easy to find your way around. All the pancake places are near the junction under one roof, so whichever direction you go, you will see many pancake vendors.
As you walk into the market, you will notice loads of middle-aged men, also known as 'Ajussee,' having food and soju. There are parks near the market where these Ajussees hang out during the day time. It has a very unique ambience that none of the tourist sights can offer. It is not hyped up by shops and pretty displays. Rather, it is like 'what you see is what you get.' If you seek down-to-earth Koreans and their food culture, this is definitely the place to be.
You will know that you're at the pancake stalls when different vendors try to persuade you to eat at theirs. I personally think they are all equally good, so just pick one place and sit down on the benches. You may have to share the table with other people when the market is busy, but that's still a part of the experience. These chilled-out crowds may strike a conversation with strangers, just like in an Irish pub.
There is no menu, and there is no need to worry about how to order in Korean. As soon as you sit down, Ajumma is highly likely to bring you the only dish available, one massive fresh pancake (enough for 2-3 people), without asking you. My personal recommendation is to order maggulri, a fermented rice wine, to complement the food, help digest it and bring more flavors out from the pancakes.
Now, what is it that you are about to eat' The Korean pancake, properly called 'Bindaedduk,' is mainly made of ground mung beans, spring onions, sprouts and cabbage. It is packed with healthy ingredients and is a good source of protein. It is pan-fried with enough oil to make it crispy on the outside and very soft inside. The food is harmless to those who aren't fans of spicy kimchi or strong spices.
I took a co-worker to this market to witness the local atmosphere and taste the delicious pancakes. He was impressed by the originality and bustling energy of the market that was truly Korean. He seemed very amused by a bunch of local 'Ajusees' having a good time.
I highly recommend making a day out of this little food excursion by walking along the Chunggyechun to burn off the calories and see the stream.