For clothing shoppers, Chinese haunt satisfiesWhen shopping in or around Dongdaemun Market, be sure to try Donghwa Banjeom (02-2265-9224), one of the best ― and probably cheapest ― Chinese restaurants in town. With its loud exterior decor and large Chinese characters, it’s hard to miss even in this perennially noisy area (it’s located next to the Doosan Tower shopping mall). Before modern shopping malls came along, the restaurant was frequented by ethnic Chinese, and a few Korean epicures who hired its chefs for private parties.
For years, the restaurant has not changed ownership, appearance or food ― only its operating hours, which are now 11:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. The place reminds us of a rather run-down eatery in the buzzing streets of some Chinatown. The owner and floor crew speak Korean quite well, but speak only Chinese amongst themselves. If you ask a waitress “What’s good?” she’ll tersely retort, “All’s good!” and recommend the costliest dish.
Although there are a few elaborate dishes made with Chinese herbs that promise to extend your life to eternity, most customers just want a quick fix during a shopping spree, and order a la carte from the menu board (in Korean; there’s no English). The most popular dishes are udong (mild noodles in soup) for 4,000 won ($3), jjajangmyeon (noodles in black-bean sauce) for 3,500 won, samseon ganjjajang (seafood black-bean sauce noodles), 5,500 won, samseon jjambbong (spicy seafood noodles in soup), 5,500 won, and japtangbap (seafood over steamed rice) for 11,000 won.
Visit a few times and try all five ― it’s worth it. Samseon ganjjajang, in which a lot of shrimp, chunks of sea cucumber, zucchini and onion can be spotted, is simple but tasty. Samseon jjambbong brims with all kinds of vegetables, along with shellfish, squid, shrimp, sea cucumber and oysters; it’s so delicious that the “no red spice” version is recommended. When you start thinking how much more a soup like this would cost someplace else, it only tastes better.
by Ines Cho