Tag Archives: restaurants

Food: Ichiran Ramen in Shibuya

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Fantastic ramen at Ichiran in Shibuya, Tokyo. SCREAMfmLondon

Ichiran is the perfect restaurant for someone like me who likes to travel alone and eat delicious food at all hours without having to interact with mankind. This 24-hour Japanese ramen chain is famous for its tasty dishes and private, one-person booths in the dining area.

You can spot Ichiran’s Shibuya location from down the block because of the long line that winds up the narrow staircase and spills out onto the street. It moves moderately quickly as you inch your way closer to the red cloth signs hanging over the door.

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The ominous entryway to Ichiran. SCREAMfmLondon

Once inside the foyer, you insert money into a vending machine and make your initial ramen selection. The machine dispenses change and prints out a ticket.

While you wait for a seat to open up, you will fill out a worksheet about all the exact specifications of your desired bowl of ramen. The worksheet is super detailed and even offers suggestions, which I mostly took: medium-strength flavor, medium richness (oil content), regular garlic, green onion, sliced pork, half a serving of Ichiran’s original red sauce, and medium firmness for the noodles.

When a seat is available, you’re lead into the dining area. This is the best part. I love this set-up. I feel like every restaurant should be like this.

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The private ramen-eating booth for one at Ichiran in Shibuya, Tokyo. SCREAMfmLondon

Each diner is seated in an individual cubicle with high wooden walls separating you from the diners beside you and a thick bamboo curtain separating you from the kitchen staff. It’s just you and the ramen. When you’re ready to order, you ring a bell and slide your order sheet under the curtain. When the food is ready, they slide it back under. You never even see the chef’s face. It’s wild, and I love it!

There’s a little spout in the cubicle from which you can pour your own ice water, and you can even order extra noodles if you still have broth left after you finish.

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It’s so beautiful. SCREAMfmLondon

Have I mentioned that I love this restaurant? Because I love this. The ramen was delicious. The medium richness was perfectly spot-on, and the noodles and pork were tasty and flavorful. I wish I had gone a little stronger on flavor and definitely on the red sauce, which was not noticeably spicy. I would make some alterations to my ramen requests and add a soft-boiled egg next time, but Ichiran is certainly customizable enough. And all for about 800 JPY.

So private. So atmospheric. And nobody was there to see when I somehow dipped my hair in the broth. It was perfect.

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Food: Angels Heart in Harajuku

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Angels Heart crêpes in Harajuku, Tokyo. SCREAMfmLondon

Crêpes are big in Tokyo, and there are about a million crêperies along Takeshita Street, one of Harajuku’s most popular pedestrian-only shopping streets. The foot traffic on Takeshita is so intense that there’s little room for actual movement, so the small restaurants and side streets are essential for a quick escape from the crowds.

Angels Heart is a crêperie located on the corner of one such side street, which provides a nice reprieve from the chaos of the main drag. There was periodically a line, but it went quite quickly.

Angels Heart serves a variety of freshly-made crêpes (both sweet and savory) with your choice of fillings. The girl in front of me definitely ordered some sort of leafy green crêpe filling, but I went with banana, chocolate and cheesecake for around 500 JPY. It was prepared quickly and served wrapped in a sturdy, pink paper cone. The entire side street is lined with people chillin’, eatin’ crêpes, and I was happy to join them.

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Banana, chocolate and cheesecake in one great crêpe. SCREAMfmLondon

The street is on a slight incline, so it provides a good vantage point from which you can do some great people-watching. While I was hanging out, I heard lots of shouting and clanging coming from the main street as several groups of men dressed in short robes pushed their way through the shoppers carrying some sorts of altars on their shoulders. I assume it had something to do with the Mid-Autumn Festival, Tsukimi, that was going on around the same time as the lunar eclipse during the last week of September.

But who knows.

At any rate, the crêpe was delicious: the slice of cheesecake was solid, the chocolate syrup was plentiful, the whipped cream was cool while the crêpe itself was warm. What more do you need? Angels Heart is a sweet spot to stop by when you become overwhelmed by the crowds in Harajuku.

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The view of Takeshita Street during Tsukimi 2015. SCREAMfmLondon

Food: Bibimbap, gamjatang and more

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This delicious dolsot bibimbap is found in Insa-dong. The stone pot is hot enough to cook a raw egg and make the rice at the bottom brown and crispy. Bibimbap is a force to be reckoned with. SCREAMfmLondon

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Very popular melon bingsu. The melon is hollowed out and filled with ice cream, pieces of cheesecake, shaved ice and condensed milk. It is served with a hefty knife you can use to slice the melon shell and eat it. SCREAMfmLondon

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Gamjatang is a spicy pork bone soup: this one is made with pork spine, vegetables and hot peppers. Very labor-intensive to remove the meat from the bones, but very rewarding. SCREAMfmLondon

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Found a new favorite barbeque restaurant specializing in perfect, thick cuts of pork. Tasty to eat with a sprinkle of salt, a drop of gochujang and some roasted garlic. SCREAMfmLondon

DMZ: Imjingak, Observatory and Unification Village

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Barbed wire fences lining the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone. SCREAMfmLondon

The Korean Demilitarized Zone is, in fact, the most heavily militarized border in the world. At the end of the Korean War, the DMZ was established to create a barrier (2.5 miles wide) between the Republic of Korea on the south side and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north.

Somehow, though, this area has become a kind of dark tourist attraction where you’ll spot carnival rides, fried food and smiling cartoons on the South Korean side, despite the fact that the countries are still — technically — at war. Just this August, there were two notable incidents at the DMZ: two South Korean soldiers were injured after stepping on landmines allegedly laid on the southern side of the DMZ, and at the end of the month, North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire in response to some disputed audio broadcasts that were being made via loudspeakers across the border.

Regardless, the DMZ remains a huge tourist attraction in South Korea. There are a number of places available for visits if you want to learn more about the relationship between the Koreas. Here is my guide to a few of these spots:

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The Korean DMZ. SCREAMfmLondon

Imjingak

Imjingak is a park located in the city of Paju, north of Seoul. It’s sometimes called Imjingak “resort,” and it’s a little disconcerting.

On one side of the village is a sizeable amusement park where people play on bumper cars and there is continuous pop music blasting from overhead. There are gift shops selling Korean souvenirs, and there are a wide variety of vendors selling delicious street food around every corner. There’s even a pretty thorough soybean museum detailing all the uses of the beans and offering samples. The whole feeling is like being at a state fair.

But the other side of the village is a stark contrast. Barbed wire fences surround the area where the Bridge of Freedom juts out into the distance. The bridge was formerly used by South Korean soldiers returning home from the North and is now decorated with brightly-colored ribbons that are memorials for lost family members or messages to those still living in North Korea. In front of the bridge is the Mangbaedan Alter, which was constructed so that people separated from their families or hometowns in the North could gather on traditional Korean holidays such as New Year’s Day and Chuseok.

Imjingak displays a very strange dichotomy: there are war memorials just outside the doors of a Tony Moly cosmetics store. It’s pretty somber until some laughing children run past you to get on the merry-go-round. But it’s also very hopeful. One of the most poignant spots at Imjingak is a wall of bricks, each representing a country that endured a civil war or other division but was eventually united again.

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South Korea on the left. North Korea on the right. SCREAMfmLondon

Mt. Ohdu Unification Observatory

The Unification Observatory is a five-story museum from which you can look out over the Han and Imjin Rivers and see North Korea up close.

From the roof, powerful binoculars allow you to see all the way from Seoul to Mount Kumgang in North Korea. As I was gazing out across the landscape, I watched a tiny figure riding a bike down a dirt road on the North Korean side. According to the employees at the observatory, most of the visible North Korean buildings are for propaganda purposes — meant to make the area just over the border look more prosperous than it is. I watched the little figure riding his bike for a long time, wondering who he was and what he was doing and if he was thinking about all of the eyes peering at him through binoculars from the other side of the river.

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A depiction of a typical North Korean home. SCREAMfmLondon

Inside, the museum offers a variety of information on North Korea and the DMZ. There are a lot of interesting North Korean artifacts and maps to help illustrate important locations such as the military demarcation line. Two grim dioramas depict typical rooms in a North Korean elementary school and a home. In the classroom, you can walk inside and peruse the books taught in North Korean schools. In both rooms, the portraits of North Korea’s former supreme leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, keep watch over the comings and goings.

In one part of the museum, visitors can leave messages urging for the reunification of the Koreas, and a mock-up of the Berlin Wall crumbling down serves as inspiration.

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A soybean feast in Tongilchon. SCREAMfmLondon

Tongilchon Unification Village

Tongilchon is a very small agricultural village near the DMZ. There are few buildings in the area save for the market where you can pick up Korean souvenirs (again), ginseng, liquor and soybean products. The village is centered on farming, and those living within this area are exempt from paying taxes and from Korea’s mandatory military service.

Tongilchon is located so near the Civilian Control Line that entrance to the village is strictly guarded. Military officers boarded our bus and checked everyone’s identification before letting us continue.

In Tongilchon, we stopped into a fantastic little restaurant to feast upon everything soybean. I have never had tofu so delicious, but everything at the Tongilchon feast was perfect.

The town is a very peaceful spot, and it’s a unique place to stop while exploring the infamous DMZ and its surrounding areas.

Food: Sushiro in Yeonsu-gu

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Sushiro at the Square 1 shopping mall in Yeonsu-gu. SCREAMfmLondon

Sushiro is my favorite restaurant in the Yeonsu Square 1 shopping mall. It is a Japanese chain — the first overseas Sushiro was opened in Seoul in 2011. I love conveyer belt sushi mainly for the privacy of the high booths and (surprise!) the lack of human interaction it requires.

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Squid with wasabi. That’ll wake you right up. SCREAMfmLondon

The most popular types of sushi are prepared behind a glass window at the back of the restaurant and then sent on their way past the tables on a rotating shelf. If you see something delicious, you grab it off the shelf as it passes your table.

The different plate colors signify different prices, but it’s all pretty reasonably priced — even if you eat excessively, as I do.

If you’re not seeing anything that appeals to you, you can order specific dishes using a touchscreen menu fastened above the table.

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The gang’s all here. SCREAMfmLondon

Everything I’ve had at Sushiro has been delicious, which differs wildly from my experience with other conveyer belt sushi restaurants. Usually, the fish is poor quality and the freshness is very doubtful when it’s been going around and around the room on the little belt all night. But Sushiro’s dishes are always freshly prepared and tasty.

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Delicious sushi comes down the conveyer belt faster than you can eat it. SCREAMfmLondon

I always have several orders of the butter octopus: two pieces of nigiri that are warm and savory, covered in delectable buttery goodness. I am also a fan of the fried eel and the wide variety of salmon.

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Octopus with butter: the best. SCREAMfmLondon

Sushiro also offers some more unusual dishes: rice topped with egg, beef, corn, something that looks like old meatloaf? But I can’t bring myself to try them even for novelty when the rest of the sushi is so good.

Convenient, scrumptious and private: Sushiro is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in Incheon for obvious reasons.

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Deep-fried scallops. SCREAMfmLondon

Food: Bingsu and other Korean desserts

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Cheese berry bingsu at Caffé Tiamo. It’s a combination of finely-shaved ice, ice cream, condensed milk, frozen berries, macarons and a chocolate-dipped piece of waffle cone. It is served with extra syrup on the side in case it is not sweet enough. SCREAMfmLondon

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Softree has been a pretty trendy ice cream shop in Seoul for the past couple of years. The store is famous for its creamy soft serve made from organic milk and natural honey toppings complete with a chip of real honeycomb. They also sell a squid ink ice cream! SCREAMfmLondon

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Strawberry bingsu from Caffé Tiamo. Pretty similar to the cheese berry bingsu. Also, they recognized me and gave me a frequent-buyers’ punchcard because I kept coming back. SCREAMfmLondon

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Freshly-made Belgian waffle topped with whipped cream, powdered sugar and every type of fruit you can imagine. SCREAMfmLondon

May 4: Korean street food, nachos and more

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Korean-style donkkaseu with rice, vegetables, fried pork cutlet, fried shrimp and egg. As always, served with delicious soup, kimchi and danmuji. As always, served with less delicious macaroni salad. SCREAMfmLondon

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Street food in Myeongdong is plentiful, fantastic and super inexpensive. Sausage and tteokbokki is a winning combination. SCREAMfmLondon

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Awesome do-it-yourself shabu-shabu in Incheon. SCREAMfmLondon

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Korea’s take on nachos at Taco Station in Songdo. SCREAMfmLondon