Down a side street not far from Gukje market, the bustling pace of Saturday Nampodong suddenly slows a little as you hunker down amidst a clutter of metal buckets and plastic stools and let one of the resident ajummas take care of your eating needs for ten minutes or so.
These ladies specialize in one or two dishes maximum, and it requires little more than a point and a smile to get you on your way. In this instance, I was extending my finger toward a bowl of glass noodles, sliced carrot and sliced leek, which the vendor promptly dumped into a small pan on a portable gas burner and cooked along with a ladle of dark brown bubbling stock from a nearby pot.
“Japchae,” as I found out it was called, is a deceptively simple noodle dish I’ve only ever seen for sale in this particular alley in Nampodong. The dark brown stock I saw ladled into the pan soon identified itself as having sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil components, along with a slightly fishy under taste that suggested there may have been a few bones lurking around in the bottom of that pot.
The sliced carrot and leek did more that add colour to the dish, alternately giving a little crunch and bite to mix things up a little, while the thick glass noodles retained all the flavour of the stock and had a nice slurp-happy consistency.
Not bad for an afternoon when my other purchases consisted of a pair of Obama socks, some fake Ralph Lauren shorts that were too big for me and a KFC Zinger Burger!