Flip Flops In Seoul: Itaewon

I love traveling. I love flip flops. So as the final days of summer are upon us and the leaves start changing, I’ve decided to put together a new travel series. Rather than video, these will be chronicle my life… in flip flops for the time being. Thus I present to you: #FlipFlopsInSeoul and the inaugural offering, a day in Itaewon.

Enjoy.

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Vatos Urban Tacos



Okay folks, it’s time to strap on the feed bag and head to one of my favorite restaurants in Korea – Vatos Urban Tacos. They started out small in Itaewon and have grown to be one of the hottest places in town with a reputation that’s well deserved.

This past weekend, Jo and I went there for a weekly date night. In fact, we were craving their kimchi french fries, tacos, and caronaritas. Seriously, the place is filled with awesomesauce – in fact, on a scale of one to five, I give it my highest rating of five bottles of awesomesauce. It’s that good. Don’t believe me? Check out the video – filmed at Vatos’ Itaewon location in Foodgasm Slow-mo vision.

Your Neck of the Woods: Paul Ajosshi’s Itaewon

One of the things I love about my job, is often we’ll get to travel to exotic destinations to see sights many often gaze upon only in textbooks or through a computer screen. However, even when armed with a great guidebook and pages from the Internet, there’s nothing better than getting the scoop on an area from a local. That’s why we started the Your Neck of the Woods series. Traveling to a single destination is great, but when someone who lives and breathes the air at a destination can show you around, you’re able to walk away with a greater appreciation and understanding of what its like to live there.

Itaewon, right on Namsan, claims about 22,000 people as permanent residents and is frequented not only by the US troops stationed near by, but by millions looking to enjoy it’s acclaimed night life and other less-than-reputable offerings. Because of this draw, several international restaurants have sprung up over the landscape, providing visitors with a diverse range of flavors to choose from – something that this episode’s guest was more than pleased to share.



Over the years, I’ve made it a point to avoid this little area of Seoul because of its bad reputation; however, Paul Ajosshi (www.paulajosshi.com), as he’s known on the Internet, calls Itaewon home. “The Mecca for foreigners, the ghetto for foreigners, the den of iniquity,” he tells me as we kick off our discussion of experiences and those terms all ring true in my ears. All of my previous visits to Itaewon at night have seen scores of youths lining up to drink the night away. Seeing as how Paul has lived in Itaewon and the immediate area for eleven years, he’s had ample time to explore the back streets and find the true gems of the neighborhood – which is exactly what I was hoping for.

We quickly ventured off the main street into an alley that was under construction. In fact, as Paul tells it, this is taking place more and more, as Itaewon is reinventing itself. No longer is it just a place to come and get drunk, “but a place to come to vintage shops, have a good meal, or go to a nice café,” Paul says. Walking with him it’s easy to see why. The older, run down places that seem to be void of life have been turned into new shops with an amazing energy. In fact, on our walk, he brought me to an art gallery that was created out of an old garage.

Paul knew how to speak my language. After stopping off at the Yongsan District Office, where two new theaters have been staged, Paul and I sat down to talk theater inside “A Dream of Seed.” While the coffee itself wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, everything about this shop had been placed with careful attention to detail. Instantly one’s mind was put at ease and you could forget about the outside world and drown yourself in that delightful nectar of the gods. For those that like Charlie Chaplin, you’re in luck. Paul reports that from time to time, they show these classics on the second floor.

Many of the stories on Paul’s blog revolve around food, so it was no surprise when he told me, “I very much live to eat. I love food in all its forms. In all its glory.” Hearing this, I knew I would be in for a treat as we sat down to our table in the OKitchen (http://www.ofoodart.com/), which, as Paul puts it, might just possibly be his favorite restaurant in Korea. Our meal was a steal at just over 20,000원. Some may balk at that price, but for a four-course meal, it’s a bargain. The food was astounding, and as Paul puts it, “When you describe its taste, Steve, you seem to have an almost orgasmic quality to your expression.” He’s right. It’s that good.

Paul knows Itaewon and our conversation soon turned to the arts and the numerous galleries, sculptures, and plays currently running throughout the city. But as busy as Itaewon can be, it has a quieter side. Namsan is one of the things Paul loves about living where he does. The trails and parks that line the mountain offer those seeking a rest bit from the urban environment, tranquility. Walking among the fallen leaves as the sun started to dip below the horizon was the absolute perfect way to end our afternoon together.

In all, Paul and I shot this video over the course of six hours. It was by far some of the most fun I’ve had on a shoot in a long time. What made it so special is not only Paul a genuinely nice guy, but that he loved to talk and have great conversations about his passions. These traits made capturing his love of Itaewon easy, despite me flying solo on this trip. Unfortunately, Jo was on another assignment and I had to shoot the entire video alone. While this is easily accomplished, a few times we had to stage a few scenes, that otherwise Jo would have been able to capture on the first go… and she’s always good about reminding me to turn on my mic – something I forgot to do several times.

Pie Me!

Recently, Jo and I had the pleasure of being invited down to Ruby Edwards’ Tartine Bakery & Café. It’s a small cafe and bakery located not far from the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon. For those not in Korea or haven’t been to this establishment, I will say that you’re really missing out on some excellent food.

Most of us think of pies in the large tins we made in Home Ec or that mom made for us (and even more recently that I tend to purchase from Costco), but here at Tartine’s, while they do have the large pies, the ones that people flock to order, purchase, and scamper away with are a lot smaller. These single serving pies are simply delicious and when I sat down to have my rhubarb pie, it was gone before I knew what happened.

How come these pies are so delicious? Is there some special formula? Some secret ingredient? Executive Chef and owner D. Garrett Edwards says there’s no big secret and that he believes the best pies are the ones made with the best ingredients and simplest recipes. While on our visit, Jo and I had the opportunity see Chef Edwards bake from scratch one of these magnificent creations that ultimately lead me to my first sampling of rhubarb (despite being A Prairie Home Companion fan for ages). Below is the full cooking video, clocking in at just under 20 minutes.




So what makes a good pie? Let’s take a look!

In my opinion, pies start at the bottom and work their way up. Tartine’s pie crusts are amazing. The way the Chef blends the ingredients makes the crust crispy and flaky throughout. In fact, the fluted portion is simply to-die-for.

Each pie uses 60g of dough and is baked to perfection. Then they’re uniformly filled with the desired flavor and topped off with a clear glaze. The end result is an amazing presentation in the open case.

Another great feature about the Bakery and Café, is that Chef personally makes butter for sale. This isn’t the store bought stuff. This is real butter and if you haven’t taste the real goods, you are really missing out on something that is full of awesome.

See how cheap it is???? W3500 for some authentic, hand-crafted butter. You owe it to yourself to get it. You can thank me later. While you’re there, I’d also recommend getting the drinking chocolate. It’s fantastic.

A bakery’s got to have bread right? It didn’t start off that way, but Tartine now has three distinct loaves on sale every day. They’re made fresh and are as unique as the pies sold here. Those of you that love to cook, may find it interesting to know that Chef’s sourdough starter is 30 years old and got its start back in Oregon (USA). He carefully brought it over when he came to Korean and has nurtured it ever since.

I’d really like to thank Chef for inviting Jo and me down for the day. Cooking has always been a passion of mine and seeing a master at work is always a pleasure. If you’re in the Seoul area and want a great pie and an awesome cup of coffee (and you should), be sure to stop by.

Now for the fun video…




Suji’s Deli

Oh yeah! I love a good sandwich and in Korea, it’s been pretty hard to get what I like to call a good one. Sure, you can go to a Subway’s (if you can find one), but the one’s you usually find at a Paris Baguette just don’t cut it for me – and truthfully, neither are really sandwiches.

I miss the good deli sandwiches I could get in Scottsdale, Arizona. Those wonderful creations on rye bread, stacked high with thick slabs of meat and a dill pickle on the side. That’s what I’m talking about.

The good thing to know, if you’re in Seoul or Tokyo, is that you can still find these great sandwiches. To do so, just wander into Suji’s Deli and you won’t be disappointed. Recently, Jo and I were invited to film a video for Suji’s and we were really excited, since they have been running a special promotion: an extra 100g (free) on their pastrami sandwich. It was something I dreamed of for a long time and it was about to appear before me.

This shoot was very cool, because they asked me just to come out and shoot what every I wanted. They also asked if I had any requests and what my plan entailed. I shot them back a quick email and said I wanted to be able to talk to someone about the restaurant. Who did I get to talk to? Suji Park, the restaurant’s founder and owner.

Beauty in a cup!

Time with her was pressed because of her busy schedule, but she was very nice to sit down with Jo and I and answer a dozen or so questions. For those wanting to know some key details about Suji’s, check this out!

  1. Suji Park dropped everything to attend FCI a while back. That had a huge impact on the restaurant, but most importantly, allowed her to develop a method of curing her own meats. Now all Suji’s sandwiches are made with fresh and homemade meats.
  2. 5% of the take from the Celebrity Sandwiches are donated to charity.
  3. La Colombe is an amazing coffee out of the Eastern United States and Suji’s is the first to have it in Korea.

Once our interview was completed, Suji ordered our lunch and we got to sample some very tasty dishes.

A Trifecta of Greatness!

We started things off with the Soup of the Day. It was a creamy cheddar dish that went down so smooth, you’d think you were drinking butter. Everything about the soup was perfect.

Then it was time to satisfy my hunger. The 300g Sky-High Pastrami sat before me. My mouth watered and salivary glands burned with anticipation. When I first bit into the sandwich, I was instantly transported to heaven. It was perfect. This is what a pastrami sandwich should taste like. The pepper and sauce blended together and everything danced in unison.

Turkey!!!!!!!!!!!

Next I tried the Turkey Lettuce Tomato Sandwich. This also was a delight. Not only since it had been 2009 since I had a turkey sandwich, but because this one was ideal. Take your ultimate BLT, add some homemade cured turkey and then you’ll start to get an idea of how delicious this sandwich tasted.

The Reuben!

The final sandwich we had was the Reuben. This was a tall order, especially since we had already eaten more than we normally do in a day in one sitting. But again, we were not disappointed. The sour kraut on the sandwich was perfect and added the right amount of tang to the meat. It was great!

Suji’s has a number of restaurants open in the Seoul Metro area, but also in Tokyo, Japan. If you’d like a taste of the US, you won’t be disappointed. But be prepared to spend for this luxury. Sandwiches at the Itaewon location were in the W12-15000.


A complete set of photos from the day:

Vaycay…

Another weekend has ended here in Korea, and the two best things about it???? 1) I got to spend it with Jo and 2) it was the first weekend of my vacation. That’s right, I’m on vacation and can’t wait to have all sorts of fun in Seoul with Jo.

Saturday, we left for Seoul, since Jo was finally feeling better to do some shopping. Jo’s been dying to see a real street market, and I thought what better place to show her than Namdaemun. We walked about 25% of the market and picked up a few things for the apartment (and I managed to shoot a little video too).

It was a lot of fun, and a place we’ll probably head back to, since we found a few cheap import stores. I picked up some extra power plugs, while Jo was focused on getting things for the kitchen. In fact, with this last outing, we’ll be able to round out the kitchen and take some new photos/video of the apartment so I can show you her mad organizational skills.

Sunday, we met up with another couple and visited the War Memorial. It really is one of the best museums in Korea. We got there at 1.30 and stayed until 5pm. There were even some exhibits we couldn’t get to, since at that time we needed to head into Bundang for another function. I want to take Jo back to the Museum again, since we really didn’t have an opportunity to see the outdoor exhibits, and she needs to see that!

This week will have us running around to a few places, getting things taken care of for our wedding. Today is also the day that I must say good-bye to the laptop for a few days, since it is the best time to have it repaired. We’ll be departing this morning for Gangnam and I’ll drop it off at UBase before we make our way into Itaewon for some shopping and exploration. If all goes well, I should have it back by the end of the week- something that I am really looking forward to seeing.

Just in case I don’t get the laptop back before the end of the week, I want to extend our warmest holiday greetings to you and yours. May the Christmas season bring you joy and peace.

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