Tag Archives: travel

The best Japanese ramen in Seoul at Ittengo

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The Tonkotsu Ramen at Ittengo, a Japanese ramen restaurant in Hapjeong, Seoul. SCREAMfmLondon

For months, my friends and I have been obsessing over Ittengo, a small Japanese ramen shop located in a hip dining neighborhood near Hapjeong station. Day after day, rain or shine, the line of customers waiting to dine at Ittengo never seemed to get shorter. We pressed our faces up against the restaurant’s small windows like stray cats trying to see what made this food so special.

After watching dozens of people brave Seoul’s humid summer nights and, later, the freezing winter ones just to eat some of this ramen… We knew we had to try it. And, finally, we did.

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The minimalist facade of Ittengo in Hapjeong. SCREAMfmLondon

There was, of course, a long wait when we eventually made it to Ittengo. And, of course, it was extremely cold out. But, at this restaurant, you write your name and your full order on the list out front, so you can kill some of that wait time deciding what to eat.

Ittengo is known for its special basil-based broth that comes out a kind of algae green color, but this was unfortunately all sold out when we dined there. There are three types of ramen served at Ittengo, all given animal names in Japanese depending on the broth’s color. Kitsune (wolf) is the lightest, a traditional tonkotsu ramen (7,000 KRW). Next on the list is the Midori Kame (green turtle), which is the aforementioned basil pesto-infused ramen (10,000 KRW). And last is the Kayomasa (red tiger), which is the spicy ramen (8,000 KRW).

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Ittengo’s Kitsune (wolf) ramen, named after its light-colored broth. SCREAMfmLondon

Once your party is taken inside and seated, the ramen is served almost immediately. The restaurant’s intimate set-up is, I’m sure, a main reason for the lengthy wait. The dining room is comprised of just one central table around which all of the customers sit and eat together. The room is dimly lit, and the counter is sprinkled with candles and small knick-knacks.

Another reason for the wait is, obviously, because the ramen is delicious. It’s absolutely the best Japanese ramen I’ve had in Seoul. The pork bone broth is beautifully rich and flavorful. The noodles are thin and mixed with green onions, served with tasty slices of braised pork belly on top. Every bite is excellent, and every element of this dish is done perfectly. Peppers covered in yuzu juice are served on the side to contrast the strong savory flavors of the ramen.

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Amazing thin ramen noodles at Ittengo in Hapjeong. SCREAMfmLondon

Ittengo
11 Poeun-ro, Mapo-gu
Hours: daily from 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Closed on Sundays.

Lunar New Year 2017 in Taipei, Taiwan

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Colorful lanterns and crowds of revelers in front of Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan on New Year’s Eve 2017. SCREAMfmLondon

This weekend, I happened to be in Taipei, Taiwan in time to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which fell on Saturday, Jan. 28 this year.

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Colorful lanterns represent the Year of the Rooster. SCREAMfmLondon

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster.

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Lunar New Year 2017 in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

Around town, many Taiwanese people burned Joss paper (also known as “ghost money”) in metal fire pits as part of a special holiday ceremony. The sheets of paper are burned in honor of the deceased.

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Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

Ciyou Temple is an ornate temple dedicated to Mazu, a Chinese goddess of the sea. The temple was built in 1753 and is an impressive historical landmark in the Songshan District of Taipei.

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Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

The temple has an impressive six floors of detailed decorations to see.

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Lanterns cover the street in honor of Lunar New Year. SCREAMfmLondon

After midnight on the new year, locals shoot off fireworks to celebrate.

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Happy Lunar New Year 2017! SCREAMfmLondon

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Happy Lunar New Year! SCREAMfmLondon

Food: Pho Vietnamese Rice Noodles in Hapjeong

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A large bowl of pho on a cold winter morning. SCREAMfmLondon

In the hipster enclave of Hapjeong, there are many hole-in-the-wall restaurants, cafés and bars that serve interesting dishes and minimalist décor. One such spot is simply identified as “Pho.” This intimate restaurant can only seat a few parties but has nice hardwood tables, clean decorations and tasty Vietnamese food.

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Love the fresh vegetables in these rice paper-wrapped spring rolls. SCREAMfmLondon

We were sitting so close to the couple at the next table that I kept shooting glances at their delicious-looking food and ordering exactly what they had. We started by splitting an order of spring rolls. They’re rice paper stuffed with cabbage, carrots, cucumber and other fresh vegetables, served alongside a peanut dipping sauce.

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Chili shrimp stir-fried rice. SCREAMfmLondon

For my main course, I ordered the chili shrimp stir-fried rice. The stylish bowls make this dish look deceptively small, but it’s actually really filling. The rice is mixed with seafood like shrimp and baby octopus as well as a variety of vegetables. It’s not overpoweringly spicy but does pack a good punch. It also came with a nice, small bowl of soup on the side.

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Pho Vietnamese Rice Noodles. SCREAMfmLondon

But the trip would not have been a complete if we didn’t try the pho. This serving was also very generous, and the dish included a fair amount of meat. Perfect antidote for the freezing cold wind in Seoul these days.

Scenes from Busan: Jagalchi Fish Market and more

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Busan’s famous Gamcheon Culture Village. Houses built on windy roadways on the foothills of a coastal mountain make this spot a must-see for tourists to South Korea’s second-largest city. The alleys are uniquely decorated with murals, sculptures and vibrant colors. SCREAMfmLondon

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Jagalchi is Korea’s largest seafood market. Vendors sell all types of fresh seafood throughout the market’s meandering corridors. SCREAMfmLondon

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Vendors at Jagalchi Market offer everything from live turtles and eels to dried fish and seaweed. SCREAMfmLondon

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Small restaurants found inside Jagalchi Market serve freshly-prepared fish dishes. SCREAMfmLondon

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Busan Gamcheon Culture Village at dusk. SCREAMfmLondon

Food: Tim Ho Wan dim sum in Hong Kong

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Tim Ho Wan’s steamed dumplings with shrimp (shrimp siu mai). SCREAMfmLondon

Where in the world can you sit elbow-to-elbow with strangers speaking dozens of different languages while chowing down on Michelin-starred food for less than $10? That’s Tim Ho Wan — the Hong Kong-based dim sum chain famously called the world’s most affordable Michelin-star restaurant.

Dim sum and yum cha (drinking tea) date back to ancient Chinese traditions, originating with the Cantonese in southern China, when roadside teahouses were set up to give travelers and traders a place to rest and eat snacks along the Silk Road. The bite-sized dim sum dishes are fully cooked and ready to serve from steamer baskets and small plates, providing the utmost convenience.

Tim Ho Wan opened in Hong Kong in 2009, received its first Michelin star in 2010, and has since opened a number of additional locations around Asia. But nothing beats the original.

To get a seat in the packed restaurant, diners have to take a number at the desk out front and wait patiently to be called. I rolled up optimistically hoping there wouldn’t be a crowd, but, well. There was. As I waited for my number to be called, I realized that I maybe should have studied some Cantonese numbers. Luckily, I was dining alone, so the hostess quickly plucked me from the crowd and led me inside to fill an empty chair at one of the bustling tables.

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Tim Ho Wan’s famous baked buns with barbeque pork. SCREAMfmLondon

I sat at a table where five other people were already dining, their delicious-looking plates covering the cramped space as I perused my menu. An elderly woman sat across from me, eyeing me skeptically as I did things incorrectly (man, I think you’re supposed to rinse off your plates and chopsticks with tea before the meal, but nobody told me what to do?!) and tried to help me use the correct utensils.

After using a pencil to check items off the green paper menu, the food begins piling up quickly.

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Tim Ho Wan’s vermicelli rolls stuffed with beef. SCREAMfmLondon

First to arrive was my vermicelli roll stuffed with beef ($21 HKD, or about $2.70 USD). Seasoned soy sauce is poured over the dish as soon as it’s placed on the table. These three rolls were super delicious — especially the two on the bottom that were able to soak more of the soy sauce into their rice noodle wrappings. The perfect tenderness and consistency, but I might have liked a little more beef flavor.

As I was finishing up these rolls, my steamed egg cake ($16 HKD) arrived. Y’all, this was so amazingly good. I was definitely expecting something that more closely resembled egg, but when a tasty, sugary sponge cake appeared, I was not mad about it. It was so light and fluffy with a tantalizing brown sugar kind of flavor. I loved this and could have eaten 20 of them.

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Tim Ho Wan’s fluffy, spongey steamed egg cake. SCREAMfmLondon

The Tim Ho Wan menu items I’d heard the most about were the baked buns with barbeque pork ($20 HKD for three buns), so I obviously had to try them out. These char siu bao did not disappoint! The three buns were served encased in perfectly-cooked, flaky breading. Slightly sweet and crunchy on the outside, but chewy and meaty on the inside. I think I could eat 20 of these as well. The texture is absolute perfection and the flavors blend together so well. These are Tim Ho Wan’s signature dish for good reason.

Finally, I ended the meal with some steamed pork dumplings with shrimp ($27 HKD). I used to eat a lot of microwave shrimp siu mai from Trader Joe’s, but it’s an honor to get to try the real deal. These were great (what else did you expect?), packed with shrimp filling and bursting with flavor. Hot and juicy, and the perfect way to top off a great meal.

After the four small plates, I was feeling pretty stuffed, but so happy that I was able to taste these excellent dishes. It’s worth the wait, it’s worth the trip to Hong Kong — Tim Ho Wan is a fantastic dim sum experience.

Live: WAPOP [Collaboration of K-Drama and K-Pop]

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Dance performance team Blue Whale Brothers performs in the WAPOP concert at Children’s Grand Park. SCREAMfmLondon

When a friend offered me free tickets to a “k-drama k-pop concert thing” called WAPOP, I, of course, just had to go see the live combination of these forms of entertainment.

WAPOP is an ongoing event that takes place at 8 p.m. every single Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The name comes from some strange combination of “Wow Pop” and “World & Asia,” and the event is clearly marketed toward tourists specifically from China. The website is offered in Chinese, Korean and Japanese, but a lot of the pre-show content deals with the relationship between South Korea and China, and a lot of the dialogue is in Mandarin.

The performers change from night to night, but the current players frequently include 24K (my favorite rookie group from last year’s Dream Concert!), A.Cian (my favorite rookie group from this year’s Dream Concert!), Bloomy and Minx.

In addition to the k-pop concert, WAPOP also offers live k-drama performances, b-boy dancing, and wild laser light tricks. The whole thing is virtually hosted by actor Lee Byung-hun, who escorts the audience on a train ride through space and time via incredibly deluxe 260-degree panorama video projection.

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The duo Meivley performs a song from the original soundtrack of the popular drama “Descendants of the Sun.” SCREAMfmLondon

When I imagined “live k-drama,” I basically just figured they’d show an episode of “Boys Over Flowers” on the big screen and be done with it. However, the k-drama bits are, in fact, very cool. The big screen is used to show key scenes from popular shows like “My Love From Another Star” and “Descendants of the Sun” while live musicians and dancers perform dramatic scenes on the stage.

When Lee Byung-hun first drops us off in the Joseon Dynasty for some Korean culture, the historical drama is augmented with hip-hop dancing to the tune of a traditional Korean stringed instrument, the gayaguem. The k-drama scenes make great use of the stage and the theater’s technology.

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Minx performs T-ara’s “Roly Poly” onstage at the WAPOP concert. SCREAMfmLondon

In between each k-drama performance, a different rookie idol group takes the stage to perform a few songs — usually two original songs and one cover.

On the night I attended, girl group Bloomy performed first, introducing original songs “흥칫뿡” and “Because of You,” which are both surprisingly excellent. The group is really new (they debuted in February), but the performance was legit. The second girl group, Minx, was less impressive, but they performed a fun cover of T-ara’s hit song “Roly Poly,” so that was something.

A.Cian, the only boy group that night, closed the event. I remember loving their catchy single “Touch” the last time I saw them live, and they delivered again at the WAPOP concert. Their dancing is over-the-top cute, their outfits are over-the-top stupid, and they are overflowing with fanservice. The perfect combination. They, naturally, closed the show with a cover of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” because that’s what you do when you’re targeting an audience of tourists.

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A.Cian performs their single “Touch” at the WAPOP concert. SCREAMfmLondon

I actually really enjoyed the whole show, and I ended up downloading both A.Cian’s and Bloomy’s albums when I got home. Loved it and would totally do it again.

That being said, I have no idea who the hell would pay $70 for this experience. There are a million opportunities to see huge k-pop stars perform for free. So why would anyone pay this price to see some random rookie acts perform two songs alongside a video projection of Lee Byung-hun? If they sell any tickets at all, that blows my mind.

But WAPOP is a cool experience, really. I would pay, like… five bucks to see it again.

WAPOP
238 Neungdong-ro Gwangjin-gu
8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
Tickets range from 50,000 to 70,000 KRW
For more information, visit www.wapophall.com.

Cherry blossoms at Seoul National Cemetery

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Trees in full bloom at Seoul National Cemetery. SCREAMfmLondon

Every year, people wait for the perfect few days in April to head out to the best parks in Seoul for viewing blooming cherry trees. Yeouido and Jinhae are particularly popular spots for cherry blossom picnics and photoshoots, but Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak-dong offers a less crowded, more peaceful alternative.

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Cherry blossoms signal the coming of spring weather in Seoul. SCREAMfmLondon

Seoul National Cemetery is known for its weeping cherry trees, which have flower-covered branches that hang low and swing in the wind. The elegant weeping cherry tree branches fit the tranquil mood of the cemetery.

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Seoul National Cemetery. SCREAMfmLondon

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Seoul National Cemetery. SCREAMfmLondon

The cemetery is reserved for Korean veterans, including those of the Korean independence movement, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Several former Korean presidents are also buried there. In addition to the cherry trees, there are photo exhibits and memorial monuments to appreciate.

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Cherry blossoms at Seoul National Cemetery. SCREAMfmLondon

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Cherry blossoms at Seoul National Cemetery. SCREAMfmLondon

Although viewing cherry blossoms is so popular in modern-day South Korea, the country’s relationship with the national flower of Japan is actually kind of complicated. Because Yoshino cherry trees were planted on Korean palace grounds during the Japanese occupation of Korea, the continued cherry blossom festivals have been controversial. Some Koreans view the trees as symbols of the occupation, and many trees have been chopped down as a political statement.

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Cherry blossoms at Seoul National Cemetery. SCREAMfmLondon

Regardless of the contentious history of cherry blossoms in Korea, the beautiful and short-lived blossoms still attract huge crowds during the first few weeks of April. This weekend, the weather was warm, but the skies were gray — not with fog but with awful air pollution. Such is spring in 2016.

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Spring! SCREAMfmLondon

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Cherry blossoms at Seoul National Cemetery. SCREAMfmLondon