Good local sandwich found; snow expected in HellThere are rarer things in Seoul ―?moderate politicians, careful bus drivers, citizens who don’t care about Tokto ―but one of the most precious finds here is a decent sandwich.
Consider the typical Seoul sarnie. Sweet, doughy bread. Flavor-free iceberg lettuce. Processed plastic ― sorry, that is cheese, you say? Anemic ham masquerading as bacon.? Dubious “Thousand Island dressing.”? It is not a pretty picture.
Now admittedly, things have gotten better over the years. Wood & Brick does a decent job, and the Schlotzsky’s chain fills a slot. But still, ninety-five out of a hundred Seoul sandwiches are dire.
Why? For God’s sake, why?
They are not native to Korea, granted, but we are the 10th largest economy in the world, and this is the 21st century, an era of international travel and crosscultural fertilization. And it’s not difficult; when the earl invented the thing in the midst of a gambling bout, he was hardly creating a sophisticated culinary product.
Am I being too Western-centric, too arrogant here? Could Koreans actually enjoy the (alleged) sandwiches they are offered? I think not ― and I certainly don’t see gimbap sellers investing in sandwich-bar stock. I think Koreans would be delighted to get their laughing gear wrapped around quality sandwiches, and the fact that Jenny’s Cafeteria in Hongdae is doing a roaring trade confirms my opinion.
We have found that endangered beast: an independent, Korean-run sandwich bar that does the business. Set a few minutes from the front gate of Hongik University, Jenny’s is on the ground floor of an art academy. Outside are paintings on easels; next to the door is a blackboard with the daily special, and behind the glass front can be seen a wine rack. Inside, yellow walls, framed European posters and hanging brass lamps impart a very different atmosphere from that pertaining in most Hongik-area eateries. Compared to those modish trend-pits, Jenny’s has a cosy, unforced European ambience.
And it is packed. Even at 1:30 p.m. ― late for lunch in Korea ― the nine elbow-to-elbow tables are jammed with 20-something student types. One thing about 20-something student types: They are not spending big bucks on lunch. And sure enough, menu offers good value. There are a few salads and appetizers, then eight sandwiches going for 7,000 won ($7) to 8,200 won ― and that price includes a soup and a beverage.
The soup merits a mention. Told today’s special is mushroom soup, you might expect something straight out of a tin, but what you get is a savory brown concoction, well herbed and tasty, with two cubes of light, foccacio-type bread floating in it.
Then come the sandwiches. Prosciutto offers rucola, Italian ham, brie cheese and grilled tomato for 7,600 won; in the pollo, for 7,700 won, you get spinach, grilled chicken with BBQ sauce, tomato and onions.
First, let me say the bread is excellent: Thick slices of white, airy and very lightly salted foccacio-style bread, dusted with flour. Second, the ingredients taste authentic and fresh, and are generously portioned.? Each sandwich comes with a side order of thick-cut fries, and a garnish of European-style pickled onions. My preference was for the prosciutto, but the pollo was fine ― and knocks 95 percent (hell, 99 percent) of Seoul sarnies into a cocked hat.
Dessert comes down to tiramisu or chocolate cake. The latter is a delight: thick, moist and fudgy, served with cream and drizzled with chocolate, this is a bargain at 4,800 won. I have only one dissenting note: The house wine (4,000 won per glass) is a fruity but sugary-sweet effort, like a young shiraz that has been open far too long. There is, however, a list of 16 Italian wines, priced from 31,000 won to 102,000 won.? There is also Moretti (5,000 won), an above-average, nicely-hopped Italian lager.
There is a choice of nine coffees; the house espresso is a good, muscular effort. Service speaks a bit of English, and is all smiles.
Verdict: A sandwich bar is not usually something you would travel to, but given the dearth of passable sarnies in Seoul, Jenny’s may be an exception to that rule.
English: Spoken; on menu.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., seven days.
Subway: Hongik University station, line No. 2, exit 6. Walk up to the university front gate and turn left; it’s about 150 meters further, on the main road (on the right).
Credit cards: Accepted.
by Andrew Salmon