Friday, April 2, 2010
ZipSseng Shovel Pub
The other night, my friend Clara and I arranged to meet for dinner at the Jongno-3-ga subway stop, a halfway point between our apartments. Neither of us were familiar with the area, so we decided to walk down a street lined with restaurants and enter whichever one struck our fancy. With both of us unsure of what we wanted and hesitant to make a decision for the other, one busy street turned into another and then another. Before long, it was almost eight o'clock and I was starting to feel slightly headachy and ravenously hungry.
That was when we walked past the shovel restaurant, officially known as ZipSseng . Above the window of what looked like a standard Korean pub was a bright sign showing three shovels teeming with various meats drenched in red sauce. We stopped to stare and discuss the probability that our dinner would actually be served on a shovel if we entered. The thought piqued our interest and made the place stand out from the hundreds of others we'd already passed. Aspiring restaurateurs, take note: if you serve your mediocre pub food in a wacky vessel, curious patrons will come calling.
And mediocre pub food was what it was. Our dak galbi, a highly spicy Korean barbeque dish, came already cooked. We simply had to heat it on the shovel--and of course, take many silly pictures of ourselves in the process. The fragrant sauce contained an exotic element that we couldn't pinpoint; Clara thought maybe it was cinnamon and I speculated that it was Chinese 5 spice. Regardless, it didn't meld with the other flavors in the dish. On top of that, our stale sweet potato slices (which also typically come with dak galbi) were extremely dry on the inside and were probably over-cooked hours before they were served to us. Overall, the meal was fine, but I wouldn't be writing about it if it had been cooked on a normal grill.
Aside from the novelty of the shovel, the other part of the meal that stood out was the unusually tasty makgeolli we ordered. Makgeolli is a Korean rice wine that is typically strong and cloudy--loved by many, but not my favorite. This stuff, however, was smooth, light, and slightly less opaque than the other brands I've had. Clara instructed me to mix mine with Chilsing Cider, the Korean version of Sprite, for a carbonated, slightly sweet effect that made it taste like a popular soda here called Milkis.
Afterward, Clara took me on a tour of candy stalls in the neighborhood. The highlights were the caramelized sugar sweets molded into shapes including fish, Korean masks, and Hello Kitty, as well as "banned candy," which I have been told a couple of times is illegal because it contains harmful chemicals. However, it's sold in stalls all over Korea, so it's clearly not all that taboo. I've never been able to get specifics from Koreans on exactly how harmful the stuff is(more toxic than Doritos or Twinkies? worse than cigarettes? full of arsenic?). I enjoyed my sour-sweet Apache sticks and hope they didn't take years off of my life or turn my liver purple.
Incidentally, the blue package with the winking fish on it says "World Cup" and is dried fish being sold in the midst of all the sweets.