Café Onions seem to embody the space in which they’re located, and there is no better example than the Seongsu location.
Here, the drab gray of unfinished walls reflects the light streaming in from large windows, and the floor features the yellow paint of another time. At once there is mini faded blue tile, and again the unfinished plaster. Where a window or a door once was, bricks have been shoved in to seal the space, unenterable entrances, impassable passages.
There is a long table with plastic separators, hand sanitizer, and outlets for people who come here to study. Come here to snuggle? Worry not–there’s a few tucked away couches for that. If the weather is nice, you can head up to the rooftop but be careful of the stairs, as they’re all a bit uneven and I almost ate it going to the rooftop to take photos.
Located on a plaque near the door:
Artist: Fabrikr Medium: Mixed media Dimension: 759m² Date: 2016
“The space was first built in the 1970s. And it transformed into supermarkets, restaurants, homes, maintenance shops, and factories for nearly 60 years. Each time, the useless parts was broken as needed, and the part that needed to be added were added in a rule of thumb. Since it is a space that has changed based on usability rather than aesthetics, the original appearance of the space gradually disappeared with time.
While exploring space, we discovered the value that new things could not give in the structure of the past. The paint marks on the floor, each of the added bricks, were a great material to remember the time. We focused on recreating the space of the past, keeping all these traces alive. It was necessary to reinterpret it as a space of the past and a space of the same time.
ONION is made of materials that seems to be separated but respect organically connected structures and are carefully added in consideration of users’ functions. Furniture was also made by adding architectural elements to become part of the space. Plants that coexist together are also familiar as they have always been here.
This space will be a place where there are rest and services that purify the mind and a haven to calm the noise in the head of those who seek space. We hope that this place will be remembered as a place that gives someone new inspiration for life and complete rest for someone.”
Back in April, I was one of twelve lucky people chosen to partake in a special event held by the Royal Asiatic Society Korea and Gastro Tour Seoul, and located in the Korean Food Grand Master Center in the Bukchon area of Seoul. It was entitled “Korean Traditional Alcohol Brewing Culture Experiences” which is just a long-winded way of saying that we were going to be tasting various types of Korean alcohol (called “sool” 술, originating from the words “water” and “fire”) and learning how to make makgeolli, a rice wine.
If you really want to nerd out about alcohol and the various brewing processes, check out this link.
Makgeolli (막걸리) is a rice wine made with three things: water, rice, and a fermentation starter, called nuruk. The resulting brew is milky-white and can be carbonated or uncarbonated, and will continue to ferment if unpasteurized. According to Wikipedia, it was given the name “drunken rice” which I actually adore, although that title would be more appropriate for soju, which is higher in alcohol content.
But first, we had to taste some alcohol. Starting on the low end of alcohol content at 7% is Baeglyeon Misty Makgeolli, a sweet white drink that barely tasted like anything at all (official notes: “rice, white lotus”). Next up was 13% Wangju, a clear orange beverage with more of a kick (“glutinous rice, wild chrysanthemum, matrimony wine, pine needles, plum”). 13% Solsongju, roughly the same kind of kick as the Wangju but with more distinguished fermentation (“rice, pine needles, wheat nuruk”). At 25% is Leegangju, which was like drinking cinnamon-flavored mouthwash (“pine needle, honey, turmeric, cinnamon”). Last was Andong soju at 45%, which was what I expect from a soju: a clean, crisp burn. Apparently Andong soju is so unique it has its own artisans who keep the tradition alive.
Let’s get started! First, we need rice. And not just any rice, but godubap (고두밥), also known as “hard-boiled rice” or steamed rice. We were allowed to taste this rice and it was not very pleasant–chewy and more akin to rice if it were cooked al dente.
Once the rice was cooked, we got to spread it out so it would cool evenly.
While we let the rice cool down, it was time for us to try, first-hand, what would hopefully be the fruits of our efforts. Gloving up, two lucky people got to squish and smash the makgeolli mash through a mesh bag and sample it out.
It was delicious! It didn’t taste alcoholic at all, which makes me think it hadn’t been fermenting for too long. The longer it ferments, the more sour and more alcoholic it will become. For the time being, we just kept slyly passing our cups back to the table to be refilled.
Now the time has come for us to make our own makgeolli! First, we measured out 600 grams of the godubap. Then our helper scooped out 60 grams of nuruk for the mash. We added 300 ml of a base makgeolli, and 500 ml of water.
With gloves on, we squished and squashed and mixed everything as thoroughly as possible, without breaking the rice grains. Then it was ladled into our special disinfected containers, ready for us to take home and continue fermenting.
I left my makgeolli a little too long (because I struggled finding an appropriate filter for the mash) and it was very sour, which means it had a very high alcohol content in the not-pleasant way. I think I fermented all of the sweetness out of it, and need to try making it again.
The venue was really cute and I adored their “photo zone” which was facing a wall of ceramics that was meant to “fill… and spread… the Value of Hansik [traditional Korean food].” They also had traditional cushions and tables along the stairs there so you could sit and chill.
I really enjoyed the experience and the best part was that it was not only free, but also intimate. There were two people who signed up for the event but didn’t come, and to their luck, two people showed up for the event that hadn’t RSVP’ed and were able to secure those spots.
I definitely want to try my hand at making makgeolli again. In the meantime, I wrote this post enjoying a bottle of sparkling red wine makgeolli that I picked up in Busan Station while on vacation there (post forthcoming). Check out this article if you want to see how traditional makgeolli is served. You still get the tin bowls to drink it from even when you buy a plastic bottle of makgeolli at a restaurant.
Have you tried makgeolli? Do you know of any other traditional drinks made from rice?
After not getting a Youngjae photocard from my purchase of Got7’s latest mini album, I decided to go back and buy Youngjae’s mini album. I bought both versions, with the only difference being the photobook and random photocards.
Café Onion in Anguk is probably my favorite café in all of Korea. Located steps from Anguk Station and constructed inside a traditional wooden Korean house called a hanok, it serves up great coffee and pastries baked in-house with an amazing atmosphere. Come early or expect to wait for a seat, or grab your drink and pastry to-go.
I’ve gone to the café in several seasons, so these photos will feature snow and rain.
My order: iced Oatly latte with an extra shot, strawberry pastry, iced americano or espresso for round two.
Located on a plaque near the door, translated via Papago:
Artist: Fabrikr Medium: Mixed media Dimension: 661m² Date: 2019
“I remember the day when this house was first built.
Even then, someone would have sat on the floor of the main house and looked at the yard. The gaze would have filled the space from the floor to the sky, and from left to right…
Over a hundred years, numerous footprints remained, numerous horses piled up, and countless eyes overlapped. We groped through all the stories from the past to the present, keeping the air in line with the current use.
Place this space on white paper and extend the past gaze to today. Even then, someone would have looked at the yard from the Daecheongmaru. Today, someone sits on the floor of the Daecheong and looks at the yard. I pray quietly that our present may rest for a while, and that the inspiration for a new life may be here.”
I’m unsure how many of my readers are from the US, but if you are, you may have seen a clip or two from American Song Contest. Based on Eurovision, it pits all 50 states (and territories!) against one another in a song competition. It was hosted by Snoop Dogg and Kelly Clarkson.
Its contestants seem to run the gamut from being well-established artists in their own right to up-and-comers. The winner, hailing from Oklahoma, was probably someone that you’ve never heard of, but if you’re into Kpop, you should definitely know who she is.
Her name is AleXa, and her music brand is cyber-punk pop (not punk-pop, that’s another thing). Her videos feature lots of shiny lights, robotic doohickeys, lasers… It’s much more sci-fi than we’ve seen in Kpop.
AleXa is notable because she was born and raised in Oklahoma, the daughter of a Russian-American and a Korean adoptee, making her half Korean. There are a handful of half-Korean and not fully Korean Kpop idols, but none that have made it this far on an American singing show.
AleXa has great stage performance and is an incredible dancer and I hope to see what else she has in store for us!
There are several kinds of Kpop fans (also known as “stans”). There’s the “I only like This Group” stans. The “I Only Like This Member in This Group” stans. The Only-Boy-Groups stan. The Only-Girl-Groups stan. The Music-Only stan. The I-Collect-Everything stan. The I-Spend-Thousands-of-Dollars-on-Albums-to-Get-Photocards-Which-I-Then-Trade-or-Sell-For-a-Profit stans. The same kind of stan, but their reason for buying so many albums is to get tickets for meet-and-greets, which usually work in a lottery system. There’s the Broke stan, and there’s the kind of stan that I am: mostly Broke, but still supportive when I can be.
The first Kpop album I bought, after years of listening to the genre, was Kim Jonghyun’s posthumous album “Poet | Artist.” All proceeds went to Jonghyun’s mother, which she used to create the Shiny Foundation.
The second album I bought was Got7’s “Present: You,” bought on ebay so I could get Youngjae’s version. Multiple versions of Kpop albums are released, each with different photocards or different photo booklets, meaning that a group with 7 members could have 7 (or 8!) different versions for the purchasing.
Like I mentioned before, some Koreans and Korean expats make money by purchasing Kpop albums in bulk and selling the photocards. Or they buy in bulk to hopefully score meet-and-greet tickets and the photocard re-sale is just a perk.
The unfortunate thing is that once the photocards have been taken out of the album, the value has decreased, so then the person needs to get rid of hundreds of open albums. There have been several posts on various expat groups of people trying to get rid of hundreds of albums for free because they have nowhere to store them and can’t sell them.
From a capitalistic view, it’s the perfect shakedown of a predominantly young demographic–buy ten random albums, get ten random photocards and a chance to meet your idols! I mean, if the Backstreet Boys had photocards and different photobooks for the members, you can believe I would have begged my mom to buy me all five versions. Without knowing on the package what version you’d get, you’d have to buy more than five, and probably have to trade versions with your friends in order to get the complete set. That is a lot of money for the record label.
I decided to buy Got7’s latest mini album to support the boys on their new venture and see what my luck would give me.