Yes folks, this happened to today. What you see in the picture above is not a left over picture from eating in a Latin American restaurant in Chicago. Nor did I copy and paste it from the internet. This was my second dinner for today; arroz con gandules, chuleta y tostones, or rice with pigeon peas, a pork chop, and fried plantains for you non-Spanish speakers. I thought I would NEVER get the opportunity to eat this while here in Korea. Let me tell you, it was pretty darn good – no, no, no, that is too underwhelming; it was freaking outstanding, considering that it is very difficult to find Latin American ingredients in Korea.
The restaurant is called El Rincon. It is actually a Peruvian owned place but they offer dishes catering to a few different countries, as you can see from the picture below.
They have a little something for everyone, even people who suffer from a bland palette (you know who you are), as you can see from the noodles with white sauce displayed there on the bottom.
El Rincon is one of two Latin American (not including Mexican) restaurants in the Dongducheon area. Both are very close to each other just off of Bosan station, which is the area where Camp Casey military base is located. This area of Dongducheon is the older area when compared to my area, which is Jiheang. And you can tell that it is older by the types of buildings in the area. There aren’t many of the high rise apartment complexes here. Most buildings are in the two to six story range and the apartments are villa style and older. You can actually smell the “older” as you walk by the buildings. It isn’t that it smells bad per se, it just smells old; similar to an old book or going into an old antique store. This area has more buildings that need work but despite that, it has some charm and character. There is a specific area that I walked through that is catered for foreigners. In fact, it is called the Donducheon Special Tourism Zone for Foreigners.
The Native American face you see in the picture is a Harley Davidson biker bar, however, where people would park their bikes is beyond me.
This is the area that El Rincon is located. I noticed that most of the people I came across in here spoke a fair amount of English and would smile and engage in exchanging short pleasantries. When I walked past a store or restaurant glancing through the door to see what they were selling, an older ajusshi or ajumma would invite me, in English, to come in and look around or eat.
This area is not unlike areas in the US that have military bases. There are a large number of bars close to the base, some welcoming Americans and some emphatically not. What surprised me was the amount of diversity I saw here, and not just as a result of the military population. There were Africans, Middle Easterners, Hispanics, and people from other Asian countries (mostly Southeast Asia). All of this was reflected in the restaurants I saw around. Some of these included Turkish, Philipino, American Chinese (I got a kick out of that) restaurants. There was also Indian and Nepalese, Mexican, and for us Americans who love our breakfast foods, they had couple places where you can get your bacon, egg, and sausage breakfast or a large stack of pancakes. I spent a nice evening strolling through the streets checking out my surroundings.
As you may have noticed earlier, I said I had my second dinner at El Rincon : / My first dinner was at a place in the Jihaeng area called Cooks Special. I had eaten there before with my friend Jin Hee, but we only got a salad that time. She had mentioned that they have a really good pasta so that is what I got. I have to say I was pretty impressed. The sauce might have been a little sweeter than I am used too but the pasta was cooked perfectly and the flavor was really good. I give it four stars mostly because you got a lot of bang for your buck – it was less than 5$.
The great thing about this place is that it has a large menu covering about three different cuisines; Japanese, Korean, and Italian (Korean style). The best thing about it though is that it is super cheap and they definitely do not sacrifice on quality
The earlier part of my day I hung out at a swanky cafe close to where I teach. It is called Cafe At. The big thing in Korea is cold brew coffee and this place supposedly specializes in it (that is what all the coffee shops say though). What I like about it is that it has a great window with a decent view and an assortment of seating for lounging studying. Which is what I was doing, studying Korean.
Saturday I went to Gangnam, the affluent area of Seoul, for a Language lesson and exchange which was hosted by a group called Global Seoul Mates. It was my first time in both Gangnam and experiencing a large group language exchange. It was a great time. The program started with a 1:1 lesson with a native Korean speaker where they went through a short lesson depending on the students level of Korean. After the lesson was over they had a three-hour “language exchange” mixer and then later on a pub party. During the language exchange portion, they set the venue up with a handful of different tables and gave everyone a card with a letter on it. You found your table, sat down and began making small talk with those sharing your table, after an hour they gave everyone new cards with new letters and we switched. Normally I hate large crowds. I find small talk a bit difficult and tiring, I think it is from so many years of working a night shift. But that being said, this set up was really well done, so I never felt overwhelmed and enjoyed each and every person I conversed with. I met some really interesting people from different places, all of whom had their own interesting story to tell. Those of us who were there teaching English shared our “Why did you decide on Korea?” answer with each other and also with the many Koreans who asked us. I now see why foreigners congregate to Seoul. For those of us who live outside of the city, and who do not have a way to meet other foreigners, or who just haven’t plugged into their area yet, this is a great way to do so. The downside though is that it can be easy to depend on Seoul as your only source of entertainment. The high point was that there was a feeling of solidarity and acceptance; we were a bunch of different people from all over the world who wanted to spend time connecting and getting to know each other. If only leaders/rulers of nations were as cool as this group was. If you are living in Korea and are Korean or American or from anywhere else. I highly recommend attending a function by GSM. You can easily find them on Facebook or Meetup.com
I’m sorry, I did not get any pictures of Gangnam. I got lost and was late as usual. The only picture I got was from the train and it’s not so great, but here it is. I promise I will go again and spend some time taking pictures of the area.
This is all for today. I hope everyone has a wonderful day or night, depending on which part of the world you are reading from.
I leave you with my picture of the day while over by Bosan station.