Food tales of a migrant: Hakoya
Finding a good summer food could be difficult when the city sun swelters down on a person like a pack of hungry hawks. Fortunately for me, the pangs of hunger had reached to look for a place to eat. I was in search of a restaurant with a good view, good vibrations, and most importantly, good food.
For the start of my journey, I found myself yet again wandering the streets of Itaewon in search of the popular “Vatos Urban Tacos.” However, I had forgotten that it was the weekend.
I arrived at the bottom of the hill looking up at the bold white sign where the site was located. Underneath it stood a youthful crowd of people – a whole bunch of them. It turned out that the view from the bottom of the hill looked unpromising.
I decided to forgo the prospect of eating Kimchi Carnitas Fries. “Next week,” I said to myself.
I took a normal detour to the E-Mart, a place where many hidden secrets existed despite them being clear in hindsight. What I found was a restaurant called “Hakoya.”
The restaurant was yet another Japanese eatery existing in a culturally growing Seoul. It was located on the 5th floor at the F section of the shopping mall.
Inside the crowded restaurant, I heard the click and clack of plates, utensils, and frying pans – a testament to the youthful crowd and articulate chefs that gave the restaurant a bit of energy.
Because of the promising atmosphere of beige chairs and tree-like formations that divided the restaurant, I chose Hakoya to fill the void of empty stomach.
A stand outside the restaurant showed the menu with a map of Japan. At first sight, the plastic bound menu showed an impressive diversity of food items.
Hayoka’s menu offered a variety of choices, such as cold soba and ramen as summer specials; hot ramen for those looking for a traditional fix; grilled octopus and dumplings as delectable appetizers; and vegetable dishes garnished for good health.
Most importantly, Hakoya had a great amount of rice bowls. The restaurant boasted fried pork, chicken, shrimp, and even eel rice dishes.
As my family and I went into the restaurant we were seated closest to the kitchen – and consequently near the heat of the action.
Like pieces of a chessboard we sat near the window where we could see City Park and the skyline. The towers stood tall as if they were the king and queen.
After reveling in the perspective that a landscape painter would appreciate the waiter asked us what we wanted. I reflected on the mundane thoughts of hunger, a thought that relied on “what I see first is what I want to eat.”
I decided to eat Hakoya’s popular Spicy Beef bowl, a new hit to the restaurateurs and a traditional hit by all means. It was a staple meal that promised a satisfying pick-me-up.
In addition, my parents and I ordered Seafood Stir-Fried Noodles, Takoyaki [Octopus Dumpling], and an array of fried croquettes. As per usual, the waiter served a couple of bowls of Miso soup.
When the food arrived I decided to try the appetizers to get a little taste of the variation that was offered.
The Takoyaki tasted superb as always, perhaps due to my craving of it. It almost seems essential to try this appetizer once in a person’s life. In retrospect, it was an accurate taste to the dish I had in the past.
Considering that they are sold by street food vendors in areas like Yongsan and Myeongdong, the croquettes were a contemporary appetizer amongst the traditional Takoyaki and Miso soup.
One fried croquette was wasabi based, which provided for some unique flavor.
I imagined this was a hybrid creation due to the cultural use of wasabi by the Japanese – most especially with sushi.
I finally focused my attention to the Spicy Beef Bowl that I ordered. It was presented in a very inviting manner.
In the bowl were pieces of thin beef covering the snow white rice, similar to Bulgogi. Atop the beef were sprinkles of red pepper powder that looked as if they were freshly grained. Green onions and pink ginger topped off the dish like a flower waiting to be picked.
My hunger had seemed to forget about whatever judgment I would have when eating the Spicy Beef Bowl. With the spoon in my hand like a traveler who had not eaten for many miles I let myself devour the bowl in a number of bites.
The initial sensation that I noticed about the beef bowl was the red pepper powder. For some eaters, they may be divided on how its flavor gives the dish merit.
The powder both served a good and bad thing. It gave the dish a great kick, but its flavor overpowered the other parts of the dish such as the flavors that the onion and the shoyu could have provided.
Fortunately, those who are seeking to taste the shoyu and teriyaki based flavor that most Japanese beef bowls are known for, they have the option of ordering the dish without red pepper.
Personally, the flavor did not stop me from continuing to eat. I was very intent on filling my stomach. Keeping in mind the other types of rice bowls that I ate in the past, the dish reminded me very much of Bibimbap – sans vegetables but with Bulgogi beef.
As a pending verdict, I thought that another visit to Hakoya would give better light on how I felt about the dish. The merit in revisiting places is to try more of what the restaurant has to offer.
The beef bowl alone earned its merit as a hot dish due to its flavor staying true to its roots – both to Japanese and Korean food culture. It has convinced me to come back again and to try more of what Hakoya has to offer.
Next time, I hope to try the other rice bowls such as the eel. As for summer food, Hakoya’s Spicy Beef Bowl was a contender – a simple and tasty dish that never fails to satisfy.