Do You Know Franktown?
Have you heard of Franktown? You’ve likely heard of Kyungnidan. Here’s the thing: sometimes delightful, undiscovered places aren’t far off the beaten track. Say, “Itaewon,” and most everyone in Seoul will imagine the foreigner district. Mention Kyungnidan, and images of watering holes serving craft beers, overpriced restaurants, hip dives and confusingly long lines for churros come to mind.
Now, what about Franktown? Franktown is a compound above the mini-neighborhood that exists on Jang Jin Woo Road– a sequestered street just off the constantly buzzing Kyungnidan street. It’s home to a pair of transcendent Korean establishments operated by young Koreans with a focus on quality that’s unseen in most parts of the city. These two places exist inside the compound known as Franktown, a modern looking building overlooking Jang Jin Woo Road; it has spaces for young Koreans to run small businesses. Jangkkoma and Serengetea have found a home in Franktown and are setting the bar for the freshest homestyle Korean food followed by decadent cake, exclusive tea and damn fine coffee.
Let’s start with Jangkkoma. It was founded by Sung-ah Lee and Su-bin Choi, two young Koreans who studied food while at university. They met a few years ago and realized that very few places were selling high quality locally sourced Korean food in Seoul at affordable prices. They set out to change this by opening Jangkkoma. They figured out a theme for the restaurant: a focus on jang, the Korean pastes: doenjang, gochujang, and kanjang. The restaurant’s name is a play on that theme. In fact, jangkkoma were a set of Korean guards long ago in the Joseon Dynasty. Their duty was to protect jang from thieves, because during that time jang’s value was similar to precious metals due to the time, effort, and spices needed to make them.
There is a popular myth in expat communities that Korean food will disappear when all the ajummas are gone. Who’ll make the kimchi when all those bustling ladies are dead? The conversations are made in joking tones, but at times it seems to be a legitimate worry, especially when seemingly every restaurant opened by young Koreans is a take on western food they enjoyed while traveling, studying or working abroad. Luckily, there are places like Jangkkoma popping up in the city.
Sung-ah Lee and Subin Choi are something of modern day jangkkomas in their pursuit of making sure quality Korean food keeps going. Jangkkoma’s popularity draws in customers from neighboring embassies along with neighborhood locals, and the occasional famous person drops by. Their advertising is done mostly through word of mouth and social media. However, their reputation keeps growing and it’s probably because of the quality of the food they’re serving. Their most popular dishes are hanwoo yukhwae bibimbap (한우 육회 비빔밥) aka Korean raw beef bibimbap, myeongran beoteoraiseu (명란 버터라이스) which is rice topped with various kinds of fish eggs, and jangttokttogi deopbap (장똑똑이 덮밥) a tender pork in a kanjang or soy marinade-based over white rice with a fried egg and steamed cabbage. Each are made with precision and full of umami.
What makes the food special at Jangkkoma is the time put into it. Each dish is handcrafted with fresh ingredients. The raw beef bibimbap is savory with just the right amount of spice, the rice topped with Mentaiko fish eggs is seasoned in such a way to make every bite a tasty morsel. The tender pork rice bowl draws its flavors from Korea, but the texture of the pork rivals that of the best pulled pork found along the Mason-Dixon line. Every dish includes miso soup and banchan that is newly made every morning.
Downstairs, Jangkkoma has a small bar reminiscent of Japanese ramen shops and a massive table upstairs that is shared amongst their customers just like Korean meals in the past were to be shared. Jangkkoma is a special place to eat Korean food and with their reasonable prices, it’s a place you can and should easily visit every week.
If you’re not stuffed, head to Serengetea for dessert. It’s the cafe adjacent to Jangkkoma welcoming patrons with a pink neon sign surrounded by tropical plants.
The neon sign is a map to their restaurant, and the cafe’s name is a play on words, a mix of serenity, get, and tea, as in have a peaceful cup of tea here at Serengetea. Don’t worry coffee drinkers, they also serve the hard stuff. Serengetea belongs to Dongwon Ryu, a former art student with interests in branding, sculpture, metalworking, and ceramics. Her work is reflected in all of the cups and plates as well as the sculptures on the wall, lamps, neon lights–all by Dongwon. She has an eye for design so the look and feel of her cafe is as important to her as the quality of her coffee, teas and cakes, and trust the writer, they’re good.
Serengetea’s menu is made up of standard cafe fare with anything but standard creativity and presentation. The coffee is expertly made and looks like art when it comes to your table especially when in mocha form. The tea is freshly imported and properly steeped. The various fruit ades are a delight during these hot summer months, Serengetea’s are not too sweet. The green grape ade is as refreshing and crisp as any drink can be. And the cakes come in four rotating flavors: red velvet, carrot, lemon meringue, and apple. The cake is moist and succulent and the icing is a sight to behold. The cream cheese icing literally swirls with fabulously blended colors. In case you’re wondering, Serengetea is willing to sell cakes to order for birthdays and other special occasions.
Here’s the catch: it’s hard to get to Franktown, there isn’t a direct bus and it’s not near a subway stop. Trust your maps application to get you there just before you’re too hungry to think.
Address: Sowal-ro 40 gil (소월로40길)
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