Sinpo Market for chimek

The South Koreans really love their fried chicken and beer. There are little hole-in-the-walls that specialise in nothing but fried chicken, and a very efficient delivery service has been established around this diet.

According to my guide, anyone with a late-night craving for chimek – a nickname for such a diet, formed by combining chicken and mekju (local word for beer) – needs only to make a phone call to the fried chicken shop and a delivery boy will send the feast right over in under 30 minutes.

FYI, the fun-loving people of Daegu is celebrating chimek with a first-ever festival dedicated to this diet later this month. How fun! Pity I wouldn’t be around by then.

In Incheon, I was told that the city’s best fried chicken could be found in Sinpo Market, a network of alleys that are lined with little shops that sell almost everything that locals and tourists would want to buy, from fresh produce to tasty seasoned seaweed sheets and colourful traditional cakes required for weddings and ceremonial prayers, and to all sorts of addictive street eats.

Sinpo Market has come a long way. In the late 1800s, Chinese, Japanese and Western people who lived and traded in Incheon flocked to Sinpo Market to buy fresh vegetables. A greater variety of things were sold over time, and when South Korea started to pursue tourists, Sinpo Market began to attract foreign shopaholics who desired something local to buy for friends and family back home.

According to my guide, this particular fried chicken shop commands such a following that an incredible snaking queue would form in front of it on weekends.

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Since I was there on a weekday morning, the market was gloriously deserted and the brutal time-consuming queue was nowhere to be seen. So I took the opportunity to find out for myself what’s so magical about the fried chicken here.

A three-person serving of fried chicken costs 16,000 won (S$18) – not cheap, I thought, for street food. But what the heck. I must know if it indeed lives up to its reputation. To play it like the locals, I also threw in an order of a beer.

Then my companions and I took a seat in a small eating hall behind the busy shopfront.

Within minutes, the star of the show was brought right to us.

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The proof of the pudding is in its eating, and after taking our first bite we all fell silent as we eagerly devoured our chunk of fried chicken.

I guess that silence is enough proof of its quality. :)

Korean fried chicken typically comes drenched in a sweet, spicy sauce. The version sold here has a strong and fragrant honey flavour and its spice hits the back of your tongue after a few seconds of chewing, while bits of crunchy peanut add texture to the meat.

If I’m ever back in Incheon, you know where to find me. :)

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Shellfish heaven on Eurwangni beach

I love shellfish. I love them even more when they are freshly hauled from the sea, such that their flesh is still sweet without the aid of seasoning.

So imagine my delight when I discovered Haenam Jogaeguee, a two-storey restaurant that sits along Eurwangni Beach in Incheon, a two-minute walk from Golden Sky Resort.

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Actually, there is a strip of two-storey restaurants along that beach, and most specialises in seafood caught from the sea. Take your pick, although be warned that all these dining establishments get really crowded on weekend nights. And that was why we chose to come here in the day for lunch.

In Haenam Jogaeguee, all tables come with a gas stove in the middle and it is on this stove that diners can barbeque a dazzling variety of shellfish, most of which I cannot name.

Diners can choose what they would like to eat from several tanks on the ground floor. I left the selection to my local host, as I was just too overwhelmed by the options. :)

While he ‘shopped’ downstairs, I made my way to the upper deck and settled into a good seat with a clear view of the sea. That, plus the cool, salty breeze, provided the perfect setting for a casual seafood feast.

My ambitious host chose a great variety of shellfish to barbeque (I could only recognise scallops and mussels!), as well as a pot of hand-cut noodles cooked in a seafood broth and with plenty more shellfish and plump squid. As with all Korean meals, the restaurant served a selection of complimentary appetisers such as kimchi and mashed pumpkin. It was obvious right from the start that there was no way we could finish every item!

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Along with the seafood, we ordered several bottles of Cass, a local beer; makgeolli, a traditional rice and wheat liquor that is just so good with all sorts of Korean cuisine; and soju. Well, you know, it is never too early to start drinking!

Fresh seafood hardly ever disappoints and this meal was the best I had eaten on my trip to South Korea this time. The fancy meals at five-star international hotels in Seoul and Jeju came nowhere close.

Haenam Jogaeguee is not a fancy restaurant and much of the weekend crowd are locals who are escaping busy Seoul city for a relaxing day by the sea. Diners barbeque their food on their own, eat however fast or slow they like, and toss the empty shells into a plastic bucket under their table.

And perhaps because it is not yet a huge draw with the international tourist crowd, a seafood feast at Haenam Jogaeguee is still incredibly kind on the wallet. Our bill came up to about US$60 for four people. Imagine that! I’m very sure that the bill would be much lesser for diners who don’t go madly overboard with the selection of shellfish and order far more than their tummies could accommodate.