For a truly good curry, go to India. For real biscuits and gravy, visit the American South. And for genuine fish ‘n’ chips, take a trip to … Sinchon.
For 17 years, no one knew Sharbat Gula’s name. Everyone knew her face, though — the haunting green eyes, olive skin, her apprehension and beauty. That face appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 and instantly made her and her photographer — Steve McCurry — famous.
Any night of the week, Jacoby’s Burger in Haebangchon will be packed. Jacoby’s is famous. People drive expensive sports cars from distant parts to try the tall, messy burgers. So we didn’t go there for our nine-restaurant burger-tasting mission. Instead, we tried lesser-known places in Itaewon, Gyeongnidan and Haebangchon. Our goal: to find the gems, and test the reputations of established places. Chris Holland – a Canadian home chef – and Read Urban and Paloma Julian – our regular food columnists – served as judges for the mission. We tried a cheeseburger at each restaurant, along with one of each of the restaurant’s specialties. We did discover a few gems, and a few less-than-gems.
PANGLAO, the Philippines — Talisayon and Red Hots wouldn’t look at each other until they were pushed together. Then they wouldn’t look away. Their eyes were locked on – one of them had to die. And one would a few short minutes later. That’s the game.
Chris Truter’s flirtation with charcuterie began in 2006. Back at home in South Africa he killed a kudu – a large antelope species with twisted horns. When he returned to Seoul, he did so with eight kilograms of kudu jerky – or “biltong” – in his luggage. It lasted a month. He wanted more. So he started making it himself, with beef. His recipe got pretty good, and the owner of Phillies in Haebangchon asked if he would start supplying the pub. He did, and so it began.
Hongdae partiers will recognize Shalla Ganai, the owner of this new North Indian restaurant. He’s been making kebabs in front of Club FF there for years. Now he has a brick-and-mortar operation in Itaewon (don’t worry, he’s still selling kebabs in Hongdae).
Little India has a more modern feel than many of Seoul’s Indian restaurants. The décor is understated, with a silver, gray and maroon color scheme. White wicker chandeliers light the place, and Hindi music plays softly in the background.
You wouldn’t be surprised to find Aladdin lounging on the floor in this basement restaurant, smoking opium with voluptuous, dark-haired women. OK, maybe you would be surprised. The point is, Yeti has a desert-tent, den-of-thieves vibe. It’s dimly lit and smells of incense; most of the seating is on the floor, atop patchwork cushions and pillows; silky cloth hangs from the ceiling; hookahs are always within arm’s reach, ready for the smoking.
Everest has long been my favorite Indian restaurant in the city, and most expats who’ve been here for any length of time have ventured to Dongdaemun for the experience. Everest has many things going for it: cheap and delicious food, cheap and abundant beer, unique décor, and Bollywood on loop.
Istanbul, Thunder Burger, Namsan Kimchi Jjigae. RIP. You are missed. They were fixtures on Noksapyeong-daero for years, but they are no more. Anyone who ever had a bowl of Namsan Jjigae is probably still lamenting the loss of that Yongsan staple – that kimchi was just… something special. The good news is new and different restaurants have come along to take the places of those that left, and some of them are pretty good. Here’s a look at three newcomers to Noksapyeong-daero, the short street that connects Haebangchon and Gyeongnidan with Itaewon.