Carlos Eats Seoul: Gaya-Gaya 가야가야 (がや-がや) ramen shop in Edae (이대)

During my second week in Seoul a friend who I met in Florida took me to a small ramen shop in an alleyway by Ewha University in Edae (이대). This shop makes Japanese style ramen for under 10,000 won. The shop is quaint and has lots of wood inside…its atmosphere felt very Japanese to me. The ramen we had on my first try was their simple 7,000 won ramen. I was surprised at the fresh taste of both the noodles and the liquid broth. I ended up eating every last drop of it. The tastes  of Japanese cuisine are so different from Korean cuisine…it is refreshing to taste something different.

This past weekend I brought some Canadian friends from Vancouver to the restaurant for some ramen at Gaya-Gaya. This time I decided to try the miso ramen for 7,500 won. Miso ramen was created in Hokkaido, Japan and became popular in the 1960s. The broth normally consists of miso blended with either chicken or fish broth and strays from traditional soy ramen.

These two sides are given with the ramen. I have only nibbled on some, but the taste wasn’t powerful.

One thing many people do not know is that Japanese ramen served in a restaurant is completely different from the instant noodles you have at home. Japanese ramen takes hours to make (sometimes over 24 hours) and is a delicate process that requires much attention to details (an art the Japanese love). The miso broth was more powerful than the soup I had during my previous visit, but quite enjoyable. The ingredients on top were all fresh and gave the noodle soup an invigorating taste. The pork was integrated well into the soup.

The arrangement of the ingredients on the bowl was also made perfectly.

My Canandian friend was sick and felt the soup soothing his throat. Both friends frequently eat ramen in Vancouver and although the taste was different from how they have it at home, they both enjoyed their noodle soups and finished it all as picturesd. We were happy customers. I hope to visit other ramen shops in Seoul and see how they match up against Gaya-Gaya, though the convenience of being right next to Yonsei University is a nice plus.

Restaurant Name: Gaya-Gaya 가야가야 (がや-がや)

Cuisine: Japanese

Neighborhood: Edae

Address: 서울시 서대문구 대현동 56-21 1층

Phone Number: 02-363-7877

Map: http://map.naver.com/?mid=bl01608268

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Carlos Eats Seoul: Visiting Taco Bell (타코벨) in Sinchon (신촌동) during their grand opening

It was hard to miss Taco Bell on their Grand Opening Day in Sinchon (신촌동) last Friday. Employees walked around with signs pointing towards the restaurant and a man dressed as a taco greeted and waved at people walking through the city. Music played outside the store and employees outside gave away free tacos or soft drinks to visitors just for stopping by (this reminded me of the Panda Express grand opening at USF earlier this year). Some girls were in love with the taco bell man and the amount of buzz seemed to be marketing working its magic.

I was one of the lucky ones who won a taco and I literally jumped up and down when I won. The employees at the booth were very friendly certainly did their part to make visitors feel more welcomed.

This scene looked familiar. The menu items were a little different, but mostly just the same items you will find in the U.S.A. with different combinations of items.  I decided to order Combo #3 (called sets in Korea) for around 5,000 won, which consists of a Crunchwrap Supreme and nachos with a soda. There was an electronic television to the side showing Americans eating tacos and burritos. The turn-around time was quite short and before I knew it I was heading to the drink machine to pick my beverage. The good thing about Taco Bell in Korea is the prices are actually similar to the prices in the United States and not marked up (Burger King being my prime example).

This is a sight you will rarely see in South Korea. Most fast food places (even McDonald’s and Burger King) remove the self-serve beverage machines when they enter foreign markets. Essentially it means you get less for your buck, though it is probably healthier to have less soda. Regardless, I was excited to use this machine I had not seen since my arrival (with the exception of Shake N’ Burger in SK Global House at Yonsei – meh) and quickly poured myself some Mountain Dew. Oddly, there is no Mountain Dew Baja Blast in Korea (my favorite flavor and one of the main reasons to go to Taco Bell in the U.S.A.!). I hope Taco Bell Korea will consider bringing this flavor to Seoul if their new stores succeed.

Like most fast food chains and coffee shops in Seoul, Taco Bell is 3 stories high and has plenty of seating arrangements on the second floor that overlooks Sinchon. It makes fast food seem so much fancier when you compare it to the Taco Bell locations in the United States that are so uncomfortable that you are almost always inclined to make an order to-go. There are even comfortable booths you can relax in at fast food chains in Korea.

The taco itself tasted remarkably similar to the ones in the United States. The shell was slightly less crunchy, but the cheese tasted better. The meat and other ingredients were the same. The Crunchwrap Supreme was as tasty as in the U.S.A. and was oozing out cheese.  They supplied you with 2 sauces of your choice (I normally go with mild) and the taste was slightly different, but similar. The nachos were average and the cheese dip was satisfactory. Overall, a cheap and enjoyable fast food meal and cheaper than most competitors in Korea.

Restaurant Name: Taco Bell (타코벨)

Location: Sinchon (신촌동)

Cuisine: Mexican

Website: http://www.tacobellkorea.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Taco-Bell-Korea/194679020581660

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/theboldchoice

Carlos Eats Seoul: Taco Bell (타코벨) Grand Opening in Sinchon 09/16/11

Many food bloggers in South Korea report an increasing interest in Mexican food throughout the nation as many local chains begin to pop up around Seoul. It certainly makes sense for a popular franchise, such as Taco Bell, to expand into the country. However, Taco Bell previously failed to expand into South Korea with 2 locations in the 90s and closed down in China back in 2008. The change in interest in foreign foods and increase in foreigners visiting South Korea may also play a factor, in addition to the powerful marketing today with the use of the internet and blogs to make food trends.

Taco Bell suffered serious losses in the United States after it was falsely sued in January for only having 35% meat (the lawsuit was later dropped) though international locations did better financially. The move to Seoul is a big step with only 250 locations out of the United States as of September 2010. The price of Mexican food can be pricey in South Korea and a cheap resource like Taco Bell is certainly welcome by me. Also: Taco Bell is perhaps the only fast food chain in Korea that offers free refills on soft drinks. There are only 3 Taco Bell locations currently open in Itaewon (이태원), Hongdae (홍대), and Sindorim (신도림). The next location will have its grand opening this Friday, September 16th, in Sinchon (신촌동) by UPLEX  just a short distance from Yonsei University and Ewha University.

Website: http://www.tacobellkorea.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Taco-Bell-Korea/194679020581660

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/theboldchoice

Carlos Eats Seoul: Caffe Bene (카페베네) in Sinchon (신촌)

During my first weekend in Seoul I was really hungry and wandering around looking for something good to eat in Sinchon. My rusty hangul was preventing me from reading many of the signs around me and I somehow ended up wandering into Caffe Bene or 카페베네 (It wasn’t hard for this to happen as Caffe Bene is seen almost as frequently as Paris Baguette). You’ll find cafes practically everywhere around South Korea. Coffee is actually really expensive in South Korea, it can cost more than 7,000 won for a drink…and I thought Starbucks in America was expensive. I normally pay around $3/$4 (~4,000 won) maximum for a coffee. Coffee is so easy to make at home it really should not be an expensive luxury item unless the taste is phenomenal.

I did see something that looked very appetizing on the menu: Caramel Cinnamon Bread. This large piece of bread was a sweet and satisfying (though certainly an extremely indulgent and unhealthy) choice and it has to be one of the best desserts I have had before. You’ll find many dessert shops throughout Seoul and you have to really wonder how Koreans manage to stay so skinny with waffles and ice cream literally everywhere.

There was a bit of language barrier problem here when, despite me pointing and saying the name of the item, the cashier had no clue what I was trying to say. Luckily, she grabbed someone who spoke some English and helped me out some. She got me my honey bread item, but gave me the wrong beverage: a sparkling organic blood orange drink, which actually ended up tasting quite good but probably cost me more than I really wanted to spend.

Cafes are also a nice place to lounge and usually have Wi-Fi. It sure isn’t no Cafe Kili, but I’ll take the desserts here anyday.

Restaurant Name: Caffe Bene (카페베네)

Cuisine: Cafe, Desserts

Neighborhood: Sinchon

Website: http://www.caffebene.co.kr/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/caffebene

Twitter: http://twitter.com/caffebenehq

Carlos Eats Seoul: First Nepal Restaurant – 2

My first few days living in Sinchon I had a difficult time finding good places to eat. Sinchon is surrounded with hundreds of restaurants. Lots of chains and plenty of places for people unfamiliar with the area to waste lots of money on overpriced food. I started to get a little discouraged after the first few days, but as if the food stars shined a light of guidance on me; some friends randomly took me to First Nepal Restaurant for my first good meal in Edae right by Sinchon. Ironically, my first great meal in Seoul would be Indian cuisine and not Korean.

This restaurant would be easy to miss while passing. Scratch that: most places in Seoul are easy to miss. Most things are built upwards with some buildings having over eight floors of businesses. My friends and I mostly stick to places on the first floor unless we know what we are looking for. I was lucky to have a Korean friend guiding us to this restaurant.

When you enter its almost like you left Seoul for a second. The windows looking out into Edae are the main thing reminding you that you are still in Korea. The man working there is from Nepal, but speaks perfect Korean and also understands English. You will find the most interesting combinations of people in Seoul. The menu had a variety of things to choose from appetizers, tandoori, curries, and nan bread to various dessert choices.

We decided to order Butter Chicken Makhani Curry (8,000 won), Seafood Curry (~9,000 won – not currently listed on their website), 2 orders of Butter Nan (3,000 won each) and 2 orders of Garlic Nan (3,000 won each). We also ordered 2 orders of Korean rice (1,000 won each). We ordered some extra Nan throughout our meal and the waiter even brought us an extra nan for free during our meal. You guys know college students love free stuff.  Service was above average. The waiter refilled our water for us quite a few times and the food came out in a timely manner.

How can I describe the taste of the curry dishes? I don’t think great does it justice. It was amazingly appetizing. We consumed every last drop of the curry with our nan bread. The seafood curry has an especially great taste to it. The curry tasted good with Korean rice and I could just as well throw the curry on a sandwich or anything else for flavoring because it was downright delicious. The thing about Indian food is you don’t realize how full you are getting as nan bread and rice tend to expand in your stomach after consumption, be careful not to order too much.

The Butter Nan was really sweet. It would have been a little too sweet on its own, but once it was dipped in some curry it tasted perfect. My friends also decided to order the Paneer Nan (4,000 won) which has cheese inside and it was also fantastic. I would recommend it.

We had about 5 people in our group and were able to get full on around 38,000 won worth of food total (~8,000 won per person). A really great deal for a meal like this. You would probably pay at least $13 (~13,000 won) before tax and tip for an Indian dinner per person in the United States. They have set meals as well for lunch and dinner, but I think it is better to just grab some friends and share so you can have a greater variety of dishes (as is the cultural thing to do in Korea anyway).

Overall, First Nepal is a great restaurant out in Edae and is close to Sinchon so both Yonsei University and Ewha University students can easily get to the restaurant. I recommend heading out there with a few friends as soon as possible so you can experience the great food I had for yourself. I really want to try the Galub Jamun dessert in the future and anticipate to have many future meals at First Nepal.

Restaurant Name: First Nepal Restaurant – 2

Neighborhood: Edae

Cuisine: Indian, Nepali

Menu: English, Korean

Address (English): 2F, #90-24, Daehyun-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, Korea

Address (Korean): 서울시 서대문구 대현동 90-24번지 2층

Phone Number:  02-364-8771

Website: http://www.firstnepal.com/

Other blogs about First Nepal:

http://www.seouleats.com/2010/03/first-nepal-indian-and-nepalese.html

Carlos Eats Seoul: Taco & Rice Mexican Fusion (Edae)

After a few days of living in Seoul some friend and I took the Ewha Station back to Yonsei University. It is a bit of a faster route then walking through Sinchon and far less crowded. On the way we passed by a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Taco & Rice. It had all the signs of a good restaurant: crowded locals, location away from main street tourist traps, and a large menu of food that looked appetizing.

I finally had the chance to try it a few nights ago while walking home to Yonsei University. The employees speak a decent amount of English and are helpful when you order. There are about 3 seats there if you want to relax and eat there as well. The prices are reasonable as well and you’ll find many other Mexican-style joints in town charge more. A taco is 3,000 won and 5,000 won for a set, while a burrito with rice inside is 3,300 won and ~5000 won for a set depending on the size. A set includes some potato wedges with ketchup and a medium soda. They package the food nicely if you take it to-go.

I tried the taco and was surprised at the good quality of the beef and how fresh the ingredients inside tasted, even the tortilla was surprisingly fresh. The salsa inside had a small kick to it, but it wasn’t your usual Korean hot sauce – a credit to this stands effort to not simply please regular Korean taste buds, but offer something different.

It does not taste better than some of the Mexican places in the United States, but for South Korea Mexican fusion it quickly became a favorite for me. They even use cilantro in their tacos & burritos – a sign of authenticity. I went back to try the burrito with rice and it was great. The burrito wasn’t too different from the taco. They have sour cream on the side for 400 won and I might add some next time. Their nachos are 2,300 won and they also have quesadillas with beef or chicken (chicken is cheaper as beef is more expensive in Korea).

Restaurant Name: Taco & Rice

Cuisine: Mexican

Neighborhood: Edae

Address: 서울 서대문구 대현동 56-74번지

Phone Number: 02-3291-5050

Daum ID: http://place.daum.net/place/Top.do?confirmid=13323958

Directions: 1) Take subway line 2 to Ewha Station exit 2) Go straight for about 3 minutes. It will be down in an alley on your left.

Other blogs about Taco & Rice:

http://www.cyworld.com/romiezzang/6536691

http://www.cyworld.com/dowhatuluv/6530861

http://blog.naver.com/PostView.nhn?blogId=maroo8&logNo=90094691220

http://yurimjeong.blog.me/70091020318

Photo Credit: Toan Nguyen