Armed with a camera and a giant water bottle, I go on 4-5 hour walks every Sunday with no plan other than to investigate every alley, side street, and shop that I happen to come across that looks mysterious or appealing. I spent this Sunday in the vibrant Hongdae area and explored the neighborhood top to bottom until my legs were sore. I made a lot of wonderful discoveries: hidden sculptures, a giant disembodied teddy bear head, a mural of two middle-aged businessmen kissing, and the location of my favorite Korean drama, The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince.
Of course, buying food is always an important part of my neighborhood explorations. Here, I made my first food purchase at Cloud 9 Cupcake.
I've been trying a lot of cupcakes over the past several months. A lot. I've been to all the recommended spots in Itaewon, but I also stop in at almost every little shop I see during my weekly strolls. I have yet to write about any of my experiences because they've ranged from forgettable to downright awful. The worst, a couple of weeks ago at a shop near the Gangnamgu Office Station, was a gorgeous looking gingerbread cupcake with a gingerbread man perched jauntily on top. I anticipated biting into this cupcake for the rest of my walk and on the entire train ride home, but the cake turned out to be so dry, and the frosting so sticky and odd tasting, that I had to throw most of it away. The best cupcake, from a place in Itaewon that's received a fair amount of attention from food bloggers, was also somewhat dry, though not nearly as bad, and tasted like it came from a box. Cupcakes from this place will suffice when the craving strikes, but I'm still looking for that place that inspires saliva-inducing daydreams like Sprinkles in Los Angeles or Magnolia in New York.
Despite all this, somehow I am optimistic every time I bite into a new cupcake. "This'll be the one," I think. Cloud 9 gave me reason for additional optimism. Most of its cupcakes were labelled "saeng cream," the light whipping cream that Koreans favor but that doesn't satisfy my sweet tooth; however, several were labelled "butter cream." Bingo. I picked out a very humble looking maple butter cream cupcake and ate it on the steps of a closed cafe some time later. It was good! The frosting was rich and sweet and the cake was slightly more dense than I expected but not at all dry. This was definitely my most successful cupcake experience so far. The maple flavor was unique and I am definitely a maple fan, but I do wish Cloud 9 carried a traditional chocolate butter cream cupcake--I'm guessing the flavors alternate and I will be back to see what else they offer in the future. This place is at the top of the heap so far, but I'm still searching for my personal version of
Sorry the picture quality is so poor.I was distracted by the thought of eating my cupcake.
Early on in my stroll, I had my first taco truck sighting in Seoul (I hear there's another one in Itaewon) and I had to try it out. When I came back for dinner, the owner informed me that he had lived in Irvine until last year. He has a couple of interesting offerings, like the "salsa bibimbap," but I decided to play it safe with a quesadilla. I was surprised when he pulled out a blow torch and began crisping up the tortilla and onions--I'm not sure whether the grill was broken or that's his signature technique. He loaded the quesadilla with his homemade hot sauce and cilantro, a rarity in Korea that set me atwitter with anticipation.
The hot sauce, which left my lips stinging for an hour afterward, was definitely the highlight of the meal. I wished the meat were marinated and the cheese were of higher quality, but this is Korea and I'll take what I can get, which in this case was pretty damn good.