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food in grand rapids and beyond.

Seoul Market Cafe

Hey. Hey! Korean food in GR! Korean food in GR!

I visited Seoul Market Cafe about two months ago, within their first week of opening. Located inside one of my favorite stores, Seoul Market, they put up some walls and made a tiny space into a dining area that offers a large selection of traditional Korean jjigaes (stews), soups, Korean BBQ, and stir fried foods.

So don’t hate me. Actually, if you do, I legitimately couldn’t care less. I did have a couple minor complaints about my meal.

First of all, the banchan (side dishes) were good and most importantly, fresh. The complimentary mackerel that comes with jjigaes was fantastic. It made my mind and feelings hurtle back through a portal of time to my childhood. It’s amazing when our senses do that to us, isn’t it? For my meal, I ordered the Kimchi Jjigae. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was good. But, the meat was marinated and sweet, which I didn’t like. And there was much more kimchi than anything else in the stew , so it was actually a bit too sour for me.

Do I still love this place? Yes I sure do. Overall everything was great, and  in my opinion, Grand Rapids needs more cuisine that is culturally diverse and authentic. Not to mention the fact that my opinion is based on only one visit, within their first week of them being open! I’ve only heard great things from others about the place, and the excitement of a legit little Korean restaurant opening here in town cannot be denied.

While you’re there, take the time to look around and see what the rest of the market has to offer. I highly recommend the Cuttle Fish Snacks. Trust me.

 

Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop

I’ve been on a big soup and bread kick lately, which is pretty new to me. I don’t know if it’s the weather or what, albeit this winter has been pretty tame so far! This new found craving brought me to Uncle Cheetah’s. The same people as Electric Cheetah and The Old Goat, the soup shop focuses on high quality ingredients with a variety of options, including those that cater to vegetarians and vegans. Their menu consists of sandwiches, salads, and soup that change on a daily basis.

I enjoyed the Sammut Code, which was made with organic spinach, roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and balsamic reduction. You get a couple choices of bread so I picked garlic toast, or something like that. The Curry Corn Soup was very good and not sparse with ingredients. (Some places like to be stingy with their fillings!) The pretzel bread was boring. Yes, there is such a thing as boring bread. There’s an idiom about it somewhere out there, right? I’m really bad at those.

I’m glad I finally stopped by this cozy shop. The food was good and they consistently have new and more unique soup choices that sound enticing. The service was good too, and even though the space is quite small, it was still comfortable to dine there. As long as you can manage to snag a table!

 

Wolfgang’s.

I have mentioned before that I’m a very rare breakfast eater. I’m never awake during the time reserved for the early bird meal, and if I am, it entails me rolling out of bed and heading straight to work.

Grand Rapids is crazy about their breakfast spots! All the ones that I see on a regular basis always seem to be packed out. The long line for typically bland or oddly sweet food has never appealed to me. However, Wolfgang’s  is an exception. This incredibly popular breakfast and lunch joint has been a part of East Town since 1977!

You’re probably thinking that my choices look a little boring, especially in comparison to the large menu boasting more exciting (and some creative) choices such as skillets, omelettes, burritos, pancakes, and loads more. But what I really like about Wolfgang’s is that here, even the simple is flavorful. The redskin potatoes are fantastic and the homemade granola was so tasty too! Mo’s sandwich really hit the spot.

Usual long line in the morning? Yes. Worth it? Surprisingly, yes! The food is great, and I’ve always had good service as well. You can always dine in after the busy hours too. The last visit I went around one in the afternoon on a Saturday and there was plenty of seating available!

Seoul Part Two: Food Market, Street Food, And A Bit Of Etc.

Gwangjang Market

Visiting Gwangjang Market located in Jongno-gu was awesome. It is one of the oldest and largest traditional markets in Korea, and it was so much fun to experience. Crafts, souvenirs, clothing, traditional medicine, textiles, and food food food! We went during a public holiday, and I don’t know how it usually is on a regular day but it was packed. When I go to Korea again, this will be the first place I’d like to re-visit.

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GWANGJANG MARKET

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There was jeon (Korean pancakes) everywhere! So many different varieties, with cute old ladies manned at every station. Many of these food stations have seating available so you can plop right down and feast. So cool. And be prepared to leave with the smell of grease on your clothes!

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JEON AND ASSORTED FRIED FOOD
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FRESH SEAFOOD AND A BUNCH OF MEATS
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I ALWAYS FEEL BAD FOR THE CRABS BUT GODDAMN, DOESN’T THIS LOOK AMAZING?
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FRESH SEAFOOD
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WHAT A GORGEOUS SIGHT

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HUGE ASSORTMENT OF DIFFERENT NOODLE, SOUP, AND RICE DISHES. AMAZING!
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DDEOKBOKKI

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Myeongdong 

Myeongdong is an area in Seoul that is very famous for its shopping, which includes Korea’s booming skincare and cosmetics economy. Endless streets and corridors filled with stores with  street food that is very fusion, very creative, and sometimes weird! From roasted chestnuts to cooked corn on a stick, to little egg bread and french fry covered corndogs. There’s a lot of unique things to try!

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CREPE FILLED WITH NUTELLA, BANANA, CRISPY WHEAT CEREAL THEN ROLLED UP

I’m not a big sweets person but this was pretty delicious.

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TWIST POTATO

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As I mentioned earlier, I’m not much of a dessert fan but ice cream is the major exception.

Insadong

Insadong is popular for its representation of traditional Korean culture. Here you can find a plethora of crafts and goods unique to Korea and not easy to find elsewhere. It’s also a hot spot for artists and art lovers!

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SIDEWALK BAR

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You can order booze, right outside on the sidewalk. They make your cocktail, put it in a sealed plastic bag with a straw poking through, and you’re on your merry way. Aaand, why don’t I live here?

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This guy puts on shows with the ice cream, and those are all cones you see stacked around the stall. After a minute of him hiding my scoop and making me look at other things to distract me, I told him I just wanted my ice cream. Please.

And Etc.

I was very curious how Seoul does food from other countries. I wanted to experience some of my favorite foods, pho and sushi, in Korea and see how much it differed, if at all.

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VIETNAMESE APPETIZERS
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PHO ADD ONS

The pho sides were quite different from what I’m used to. They still use chilies and sprouts, but you also see tangy and sweet marinated onions and pickled radish. I definitely missed my holy basil and lime.

PHO
PHO

The broth was very beefy, and not complex and delicious as what I’m used to. The meat was lean, and if I’m remembering correctly, they didn’t add tendon or tripe. However, I only went to one pho place so of course, I’m not speaking for the whole city.

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COLD SOBA, SUSHI AND TEMPURA MORI

I love cold soba but I have only known one place here in GR that served it, and it was temporary. The tako sushi (octopus) really stood out to me. It was incredibly tender and so tasty.

That’s the conclusion of my vacation in Seoul! If you’re obsessed with food, travel, and rich culture, do yourself a huge favor and book yourself a flight to this vibrant, energetic, cuisine filled city. Keep in mind that while the scene is vast, it’s not the most diverse. You may not be able to indulge in wonderful Ethiopian or Middle Eastern food, for instance. (Maybe in Itaewon, the foreigner’s district?) However, there is so much deliciousness entailed with traditional and fusion fares in Korean culture and all of it is a must try! You won’t be disappointed. This trip certainly reignited my passion for it.

Village Inn Pizza & Sports Grille.

VILLAGE INN

Located in the Kentwood area,  I was really surprised when I first walked into Village Inn. Because of other restaurants and bars with the same name, I didn’t expect the new looking decor. There are plenty of highly hung flat screen tvs with a clear and loud sound system for all the sport fanatics out there. The food is similar to all the other pizza and sports bars in GR; their large menu also consists of sub sandwiches, appetizers, soups and salads, Mexican dishes and pasta entrees.

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MARGHERITA PIZZA

Their Margherita pizza is what I usually order, and it’s on a very thin crust. It’s not the most authentic version of the classic pizza, but I still like it. I especially appreciate the chunks of garlic they top it with. This pie is on their Specials, so I don’t know if it will become a permanent fixture. The pizzas are the only items I’ve tried here, and I’ve enjoyed them all. For the area, this sports bar is a better choice than others.

The service in this casual dining restaurant has always been good, and I bet this place fills up and gets rowdy during important sporting events! I, luckily, have been able to avoid those times.

You Love Food? You’ll Become Obsessed With Seoul!

I’m back from South Korea! Actually, what I truly mean is, I’m back from South Korea.😦

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GWANGHWAMUN

Nathan and I stayed in Gangnam, and we spent time in Myeongdong, Insadong, Gwanghwamun, Soondae, and Jamshil.  We were outside of the city as well in Yongin, Gyunggido.

Seoul is a food city. Cuisine steeped deep in tradition, Koreans love their fresh, pickled, and fermented veggies, meat, seafood, noodles, rice, and spice. You can’t go anywhere without a plethora of delicious options  right at your feet. Local little eateries line up and are smushed side by side down tons of vibrant side streets and alleyways. The main streets have more variety of food from foreign cuisines. Street food is everywhere and cheap (although not Penang cheap). Oh, and coffee shops? Do you like coffee? Because in Seoul, there is no escape. They are everywhere, and they will haunt you.

I don’t even know where to start. I’m getting overwhelmed as we speak, trying to figure out how to go at this without incessant excited rambling and bombardment of 200 photos!

Let’s start off with food from the restaurant Donwoori, located in Soondae! It is one of my favorite Korean barbecue places to eat at. (It’s not just because my cousin runs it with the owner, who is also his best friend.) This restaurant is all about pork and delicious food! The service is great here too.

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KOREAN BARBECUE
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FRESH LETTUCE AND SESAME LEAVES
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BANCHAN
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BANCHAN

Korean barbecue is a staple in the culture here. In nearly every restaurant there are grills installed right onto the table top, or stove ranges for simmering food in shallow woks or cooking meat on metal domes. You order various choices and cuts of meat, usually pork or beef. Served with a bunch of banchan, which are various side dishes, you grill your meat, pile it up in fresh healthy greens, and choose how to top it off before you wrap it all up and shove it in your mouth. That’s sangchu ssam. Of course you also have your savory stews, water spinach, palette cleansing and heat calming soups, egg omelet cooked in pots, fish cake, tofu, salads, kimchi kimchi and more kimchi. And that’s maybe just half of them!

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SANGCHU SSAM

I like to assemble mine with fresh lettuce, steamed rice, fatty meat, fresh hot peppers, raw garlic, and gochujang (red chili sauce that Koreans put in everything).

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FISH CAKE & POTATOES

Fish cake up top and sweet potato at the bottom. Have you ever had Asian varieties of sweet potato before? Oh man, you’re missing out if you haven’t. I grew up with my mother just steaming them whole, peeling them like a banana and eating them plain.

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DOENJANG JJIGAE – SOYBEAN PASTE STEW

Another one of my favorites! I love jjigae and this may come as a shock to you, but I just have to eat this with rice.

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GAERAN JJIM – STEAMED EGG CASSEROLE

I was very surprised at how good this was. I was expecting it to be like Japan’s Chawanmushi, but I liked this much more. Light, fluffy, and more flavorful than I expected.

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BOKKEUMBAP – SPICY FRIED RICE

My cousin made this dish, and I just want to note that it was a big hit!

Now onto other places and foods.

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GAMJATANG – POTATO PORK BONE SOUP

This is one of my favorite Korean dishes, if not my favorite. Eat it with rice, and it’s one of the best things in the world.

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MOOL NAENGMYUN – WATER COLD NOODLE SOUP

I love mool naengmyun. I could eat it all year round, even though this is a dish that is popular in the summer time. I don’t care, I want it right now. I like adding hot mustard and more vinegar to mine, but it’s delicious as it comes as well!

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MANDOO – DUMPLINGS
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MOOL NAENGMYUN 
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SOON DAE – STUFFED INTESTINES BLOOD SAUSAGE
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MAKGEOLI

What are we looking at here? The creamy looking white substance in those bowls is Makgeoli! Soju isn’t the only alcoholic beverage from Korea. Made from rice or wheat, this lightly sweet and slightly carbonated beverage was my favorite to imbibe with. It is usually drank from bowls.

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MODEUM JEON- VARIETY OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF KOREAN PANCAKE

There are so many different types of jeon, which are Korean pancakes. These dishes were so fun and delicious! I grew up loving these, and I believe jeon might quite possibly be Nathan’s favorite food from our trip. For Koreans, jeon and makgeoli go hand in hand!

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KIMBAP WITH SPICY MUSTARD
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GOLBAENGI MUCHIM – SPICY SEA SNAIL SALAD

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JEYUK BOKKEUM – SPICY PORK
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JEON
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PYONGYANGSHIK MANDUCHUNGOL – PYONGYANG STYLE DUMPLING STEW
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PYONGYANG BULGOGI

Yes, Pyongyang. We went to a restaurant that served North Korean dishes, and I was really happy to be able to experience that.

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JOKBAL – PORK FEET
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BANCHAN
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BOSSAM – STEAMED PORK BELLY
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SANGCHU SSAM
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MYEONGDONG KALGUKSU
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MANDU
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BAEKSEJU

Baekseju, not to be confused with soju, will help you live to a hundred years!

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SIDE STREETS AND ALLEYWAYS WERE THE BEST PART OF THE CITY

Holy cow that was a stupidly long post, wasn’t it? And I’m not even finished yet! My part two will entail Korean street food, a famous food market, and foreign cuisine. Until then.

Pho Challenge #3.

ASIAN PALACE PHO 99

So you must be thinking, “It’s about freakin time!”

Or, you may feel more like, “Huh? Challenge what?”

Back in 2013, I gave myself the task to try out all the reputable pho spots in town to seek out the best of the best. It’s an understatement to say that I’ve been slacking on my mission.

Sowwie.

So, here we go!

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VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLLS

These were flavorful and crisp, and the sauce they serve was heavy with fish sauce, which I love. Delicious!

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PHO ACCOMPANIMENTS

None of the sides were old or stale, and they give you a lot more jalapenos than other places. I was incredibly happy with that, and you could tell how fresh they were because they were very potent! I loved it!

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SPECIAL COMBINATION PHO

Before adding any of the fixings to my bowl, I always taste the broth first. It’s noticeably sweeter here than average, which I’m not a fan of. However, after adding all the jalapenos, basil leaves, and sprouts, it’s not as obvious. The quality of ingredients were good but the portions scarce. Sadly there was only one piece of tendon and just a few of tripe. The beef was good, and it’s great they actually serve rare pieces, but they were all pretty lean, no fatty bits and such. Healthier? Yes? More tasty? Nope.

Pho 99 is a good spot for pho but it does not rank as the best for me. Some fantastic pros here  but not without some disappointing cons. I know it’s a popular spot, and many locals prefer their noodles here to anywhere else. It just goes to show how different everyone’s tastes are. The atmosphere is spacious and casual and the service was good. Prices are about the same as the other pho spots in town.

Three down, two more places to go!

Slow’s BBQ In Grand Rapids Has Opened!

SLOW’S BBQ

Slow’s is a very popular BBQ restaurant located in Corktown in Detroit. They recently opened up their second location here in Grand Rapids, right in the Downtown Market. As BBQ and Southern Cuisine have been gaining immense popularity over the past several years, it was only a matter of time before GR would have a spattering of Southern influenced dining spots opening up.

One of the best, if not the best thing about this place? They use humanely treated animals from family owned farms, where they are fed a vegetarian diet and are never pumped with hormones or antibiotics. Awesome.

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STEWED BEANS, MAC N CHEESE, SWEET POTATO MASH, ZINGERMAN’S CORNBREAD
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THE LONGHORN

A pile of incredibly tender and fatty beef brisket topped with onion marmalade, spicy sauce and smoked gouda. You have your choice of a Poppy Seed Roll or Zingerman’s Toast.

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THE LONGHORN

Admittedly, I have never been a fan of BBQ. I enjoy learning about the processes and the different varieties of culture and tradition that BBQ actually entails, but it’s just not something I ever craved or sought out. However, Slow’s is a restaurant I actually want to go back to. The quality of food is great, and all the sides and the sandwiches were delicious. Next time, I’ll go with a side or two that is lighter, as all my choices for this trip were heavy and rich.

They have a full bar as well, and an interesting set up of ordering. When you walk in, stand in line to make your choices, and then you give them your name, and you pay. When your food is ready they have servers walk around and call your name until they find you. They have separate servers to take your drink order, and you cash out with them for your cocktails. The atmosphere is spacious and nice, and they have outdoor seating and open walls for warmer weather. I had an enjoyable first visit, and I’m looking forward to my next one.

Do You Like Banh Mi?

LY’S SANDWICHES

Banh mi is a Vietnamese and French fusion sandwich, a tasty result of the time period when the French had colonized Vietnam . From the western end, you have your baguette and pate. From the east, you have your pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, fresh jalapeno, cucumber. The two sides do it, and then they make a delicious sandwich baby.

BANH MI SPECIAL COMBINATION
BANH MI SPECIAL COMBINATION

Located in what I think is called the Golden Plaza on Division, more people know it as the place where Chinese restaurant Wei Wei Palace is located. Ly’s is pretty much just a hole in the wall, with a vibrant and vast collection of various Vietnamese food wrapped in plastic. There is also a large array of packaged snacks and drinks. Limited seating can be found right outside the store.

I always order the Special Combination, which consists of the aforementioned ingredients but also sliced pork and pork belly. I may be incorrect on this but I don’t think she uses mayo, as many do, which is fantastic. Not a fan of mayo. Now, there have been a few inconsistencies with the freshness of ingredients. But my last visit, the photo above, everything was very fresh with plentiful portions and the pork belly was just, so great.

As far as I know, Ly’s is the only place in town to find banh mi. I love this little shop.  I’ve also had their banh cuon (rice paper crepes) which was delicious as well (I had them made fresh, not one of the plastic wrapped ones.) Oh, and did I mention that the sandwich costs 3 bucks? However, bring cash. As of now, they don’t take credit cards!

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