Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wonjo Ddeokbokki - a.k.a. "Ddeoknimmun" (Seoul)

Yeongcheon Market (영천시장) is a classic alley roof Seoul market starting on Euijuro, halfway between Seodaemun Station and Dongnimmun, and leading to the small garden at the crossroads, under the overpass, just opposite the gate.

These days, Dongnimmun his half hidden by a fence : Seoul city is making the area more suitable for pedestrians and visitors to the adjacent Seodaemun Prison park. Unfortunately, the overpass shall remain, casting its massive shadow over the monument.

Some day, Yeongcheon Market will disappear. Unlike many old indoor markets, slowly dying across Seoul, this one looks very much alive and boasts all types of food, including excellent quality vegetables, and even an old cryptic bookstore. Furthermore, Gyonam New Town shall bring scores of new customers from the other side of Euijuro.

But if the long and thin triangle forming the Eastern side of Yeongcheon Shijang doesn't seem to be rushing towards redevelopment, change is clearly coming from the Western side. Since former inhabitants disagreed on modalities, only the Northern half has already decided what to do : this derelict area is to give place to a couple of towers combining shops with appartments.

Theoretically, the ddeokbokki house at that Northernmost entrance of the market may survive this major change... but it will never be the same for them.

"House" may be too grand a word to qualify this shanty tent where an old adjuma serves the usual street snacks (ddeokbokki, odeng, nakji, kimbap, mandu...) while her husband sits on a couch, talking to visiting merchants.

Besides losing the other half of the entrance to the market, this old couple will lose the small alley which cuts right in front of them. I don't know the name of that path but I call it "Ddeokdaero" because it hosts a dozen of tteok manufacturers and that's probably where they get their exceptional ingredients. You can walk up the alley (towards Dongnimmun Samho Apt) and get your fix for a song (even if you're not in a cooking mood, "raw" ddeok is an excellent snack - of course, there's a lot of varieties to choose from). But keep that for later.

What makes "Wonjo Tteokbokki" ("Original Tteokbokki") special is of course the ddeokbokki : seasoning is just perfect (strong but not too hot, tasty and not too sweet...), and the texture exactly the kind you expect from the snack (chewy but not "plastic", keeps its sauce as well as its resistance...). They also make white ddeokbokki, but you don't want to miss the red pepper version. One portion comes for KRW 2,000.

"Original" is not an original name for a restaurant or a street food place in Korea, but this one deserves the label. They've been selling this miracle for over 35 years and I hope their receipe will survive them and Yeongcheon Market (whichever lasts longer, hopefully as long as possible for both).

I'm quite a tteokbokki fan, but it's hard to find a really good one. I've been highly disappointed by "Shindang-dong Tteokbokki" and anyway, this is street food, not something to enjoy in a restaurant. Every market has its tteokbokki and this one is easy to spot : at its gate, and at THE gate. That's why I knicknamed it "Ddeoknimmun".

SM 2008

Wonjo DDeokbokki / 원조 떡볶이 (Snack)
Yeongcheon Market, Yeongcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel: +82.2.312.5436

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