Hongdae’s play-place for the nocturnal eaterIt all started when a group of friends who worked and partied in Apgujeong-dong, southern Seoul, opened a tent bar in 2002 and called it Nori People ― simply because everyone who goes there loves “nori,” or partying.
So, after jumping from party to party, the young, hip and tireless usually end up slumped over outdoor tables, drinking their last round of soju or sobering up over a boiling pot of red-hot haemul ramyeon (seafood noodle soup) in the wee hours at Nori People. Hungry customers fill their stomachs on the kitchen’s notable dishes, such as kimchi-and-samgyeopsal (bacon) stew and Chinese-style scorched rice with seafood.
Nori People was a place where a hip young scenester could show up, chat up the clientele and find the next big party for that night. But Seoul is a big city, and even if the parties aren’t few, they can be far between. If the next place to go was as far away as, oh, Hongdae, it could be inconvenient to learn about it in Apgujeong, on the other side of town.
Which is why Nori People has now opened a second tent, in Hongdae, northwest Seoul.
Owned by acquaintances of the original owners, the Hongdae Nori People is frequented by both the Apgujeong-dong clientele and by young university students who come to Hongdae to get rowdy.
When the second Nori People opened in a back alley, many were curious to know if it would be just like the first watering hole. For one thing, both places are arranged for the sleepless. It opens at sundown and closes at 6 in the morning.
The new Nori People is larger, with a spacious outdoor terrace and two-story indoor halls.
The original Nori People was styled after a pojangmacha, an old Korean-style tent bar covered in orange plastic, but the new Nori People has a more tropical, Jamaican feel. Deliciously fruity colors like orange, banana yellow and papaya green, and now the cool afternoon air flowing under the trees outside, turn the Hongdae tent into an exotic island amid a sea of concrete.
While there are the same popular dishes, such as spicy seafood ramyeon (4,000 won, or $4), seafood sizzling rice (15,000 won) and kimchi-and-samgyeopsal (15,000 won) are served, a few great dishes have been added to the new Nori People menu.
The new specialities that seem to have impressed most customers include the “Power-up” bulgogi (18,000 won), which is cooked on a portable gas range on the table. This steaming hot, seriously health-conscious stew is good for two to three persons and can instantly energize a drained body and mind. Crowded into the large dish are some unbelievably high-quality ingredients you won’t find in the casual (and affordable) restaurants around universities: a few stalks of fresh ginseng, sliced beef, dried dates, chestnut, ddeok (rice cake), button and shiitake mushrooms, onions, bock choy and glass noodles in a rich and amazingly delicious soup. Once you’re very full, warm and adequately revitalized, try buying a bowl of steamed rice for an additional 1,000 won and frying it in the remaining stew. Most customers by now no longer care how they look, and are madly scraping at the bottom of the pot.
A plate of spicy chicken (15,000 won) is a refreshingly delicious combination of Szechuan-style fried chicken and iceberg lettuce leaves topped with a mountain of green and red chili peppers and a shower of tangy lemon dressing. The hot peppers are best chased with cold draft beer (2,500 won for 500 cc’s), but that adds to the spicy tender chicken, wrapped in extra-crispy batter.
Fans of Nori People know the next step is to order a bowl of iced nectar slices, called “Peach Preserve,” for 10,000 won. This is nothing but a can of nectar fruit served in syrup, but it tickles and soothes the stomach after having blasting it with the spicy chicken. If you’re lucky, the staff might hand it out for free. One more reason to befriend the owners!
There’s more to try, especially the seafood salad (15,000 won), which is scrumptiously fresh and impressively wholesome ― complete with giant pink prawns, clams, octopus rings, shrimp on a bed of iceberg lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and lemon slices.
On second thought, don’t bother to network for party invitations. Just go on a weekend, shop at the flea market, and spend the night playing in a place, and with people, who live up to their title.
English: On the menu; a little spoken.
Location: Near Hongdae Park in northwestern Seoul.
Subway: Hongik station, line no. 2, exit no. 6.
Tel.: (02) 337-9555.
Hours: 6 p.m.-6 a.m. daily.
Parking: Parking nearby.
Dress: Come as you are.
by Ines Cho