Sunday, November 25, 2012

鼎泰豐 - Din Tai Fung! (& the GRE)

I traveled up to Seoul again this weekend (so that's 100,000₩ spent on buses in the past two weeks, ugh) in order to take the GRE. But I also took advantage of being in the capital again in order to meet up with friends and eat delicious food!
Din Tai Fung / 鼎泰豐 / 딘타이펑
Did you know that Seoul boasts two branches of the Taiwanese dumpling heaven also known as Din Tai Fung? I didn't either, until I wandered around the Gangnam neighborhood looking for a cafe to work in and saw one of them out of the corner of my eye. Seriously, you cannot imagine how excited I got. I quickly texted Jung Hyun, saying, "Forget that American restaurant you mentioned. Want dumplings?!" Or something along those lines.

Chocolate Kaya toast! (Click to enlarge)
While I waited for my friend to arrive, I studied for a bit at a cute cafe called Ya Kun, part of a Singapore-based chain that specializes in sweet and savory toasts. Strawberry cream tea (?) for 3,300₩ and chocolate kaya toast for 3,800₩. It was good, but maybe a bit pricey. The study atmosphere would have been nicer if folks at the table next to me hadn't been chatting very, very loudly.

Jung Hyun at Din Tai Fung
Anyway, the real culinary goodness started at Din Tai Fung. I've loved this place ever since I went to original restaurant in Taipei. It was small, busy, chaotic, and absolutely delicious. The restaurant wasn't delicious, I mean, but the dumplings were. The chain is supposed to have this fiercely-kept secret recipe for how they make their dumplings so juicy, but I don't know, that might just be good advertising.

Another aspect of the chain is that every restaurant has an "open" kitchen; in the photo at the right, you can see one of the dumpling chefs at work in the background!

Anyway, Jung Hyun and I got two combination platters of dumplings that were 11,000₩ each and some 볶음밥 (bokkeum bap/fried rice); our total bill came to 16,000₩ per person if I remember correctly.

I can only describe the dumplings as being 맛있어요 (delicious)! I tried the shrimp shao mai first, which were good, with really hot juice bursting from the thin shell. The pork dumplings were juicier, though. We also had some 油飯 (glutinous rice) dumplings, which weren't as memorable as the others... kind of dry, actually, in comparison. But overall, it was great; my stomach was full and happy before long.
Dumplings at Din Tai Fung. I'm so happy we found this place!
Jung Hyun and I chatted for a long time about our lives as busy adults with real jobs... what a concept! And after dinner, we went to Starbucks, got sugary not-really-coffees, and walked around the ritzy Gangnam area just to look at the lights and pretty things. All around Seoul, people are getting ready for Christmas!
It's Christmastime at the flower shop in the metro station!
Seeing all the decorations everywhere is really great, but also kind of strange, because Korea doesn't have quite the same connection with Christianity that western nations and cultures do, so Christmas seems, at least to me, to be more overtly commercialized. It's really about getting into the spirit of shopping and buying cute, pretty things that have no basis in anything remotely close to Korean culture. In the United States, of course, every Christmas spawns another round of the "Put the 'Christ' back in Christmas!!!" chorus -- American Christmas is indeed the epitome of the Commerical Christmas -- but there's also the strong religious cohort that tries to keep the roots of the holiday as visible as possible. Here, well, maybe not so much? I have yet to see any nativity scenes, but time will tell.

Okay, tangent aside... after dinner, I went back to the place where I was staying and crammed for a bit, slept, woke up at 8am, spent the morning nervously eating breakfast and cramming more, and then took the GRE. It was not easy. Four hours makes for a long exam and an exhausted Andrew. Then I Skyped with my parents, got lunch with Jake, Fulbright's current Executive Assistant, and hopped on a bus back to Changwon.

All in all, a productive weekend, I suppose. But although it was fun, I think I need to budget myself better. I spend so much money when I go to Seoul, it's alarming. I think I started out on Saturday with over a hundred bucks in my wallet, and I have only one 5,000₩ note left. Also, I'm pooped. I think the upcoming week is going to be tough... while my first-years are still doing their speaking tests, my second-years are turning in their first drafts for their speeches, which means several long nights of correcting papers are in store for me. Sigh... 화이팅!

P.S. Happy birthday, Mom!

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