Korea Town @ Shin-Ōkubo

In Tokyo, there is a line called Yamanote Line (山手線) which runs on the loop, like the Circle Line of the London Underground, connecting city’s major stations. The train which runs clockwise is called Soto-mawari (外回り) and the one goes counterclockwise is Uchi-mawari (内回り)…

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After Ueno, mum and I headed to our next destination, Shin-Ōkubo which was 11 stops away from Ueno via Uchi-mawari Yamanote Line…

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Shin-Ōkubo had been known for its extensive Korean community. However, what made Shin-Ōkubo famous nationwide was a Korean boom (韓流ブーム) which was ignited by a series of daily soap opera, “Futu No Sonata” – Sonnet of Winter, affectionately known as “Fuyusona”. The craze for the drama spread like wildfire through Japanese middle-age female viewers when it was aired by the Japanese national TV, NHK, in 2003. Even my mum, who was normally sceptical towards any hype, was swept up by the fever and became an ardent fan. She even offered to lend me a stack of VHS tapes to watch – the offer I politely declined by pointing out that I had no VHS player.

We didn’t know what to expect, however, we did notice there were a lot more women than men around the station…

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A signboard with an arrow by the station indicated that we should walk along Ōkubo-dōri (大久保通り)…

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This shop was a full of posters, CD, DVD, charms & straps for mobile phones of Korean pop stars. I didn’t know any of them but they were all very good-looking…

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Also a large flat-screen TV across the street, was showing a Korean boyband performing an impeccably syncronized dance routine…

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And another shop with Korean show-biz merchandise…

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Apart from the shops dedicated for the Korean show-biz scene, both sides of the street accommodated numerous beauty shops exclusively stocking Korean cosmetic products…

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Allegedly, snail-slime is the next best thing if you are not into Botox…

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Mum and I wanted to try some BB creams but didn’t know what to choose. After wandering and peeping through shop windows for a while, we decided to pay a visit to this shop…

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Shelves were laden with all sorts of serums, lotions and creams. I had no idea what they were & what they were for…

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A smiley Korean staff with a baby-smooth skin helped us to navigate through a sea of samples and eventually, I bought 2 boxes of vitamin C serum and a compact with BB cream & SPF50 sunscreen.

After finishing shopping, we sauntered along Ōkubo-dōri westwards.
There were Korean restaurants with large menu boards displayed outside, trying to entice hungry passers-by…

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I wished if we visited the street around dinner time! We were still full with Omuraisu at Ueno.
What a shame it was…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Yoshi Sushi @ King St, Hammersmith

The winter is really here, isn’t it?!
Last Thursday, I couldn’t stop shivering while I waited for my friend Fei at Hammersmith tube station. We hadn’t seen each other since the last pop-up event, Wild Kingdom. She managed to navigate her cab driver around the murderously busy Hammersmith roundabout and we rendezvoused safely. What shall we eat? It would have to be something soupy and spicy, we agreed. I was not at all familiar around Hammersmith, therefore, she suggested that we could eat at a Japanese / Korean restaurant on King Street.

Yoshi Sushi was situated near Hammersmith Town Hall.
The place was quiet when we scurried inside, rubbing our frosty fingers together.

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Customary appetizers were brought to our table. Small plates of Kimchee – pickled spicy Chinese cabbage and soy sauce marinated bean sprouts…

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For starters, we ordered Tori Karaage – fried chicken…

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And Haemul Pajeon – Korean pancake made with seafood and spring onion…

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Their karaage was probably the least we liked amongst the counterparts we had tried in all over London so far. It was not crispy enough and the meats underneath the coating were too fatty and tasteless. On the contrary, their pancake was the best we had ever tasted. It was sumptuous and the amount of the seafood inside was generous.

For the main course, we ordered a bowl of Jjigae each. I ordered Kimchi Jjigae – Kimchi stew with pork dumpling and tofu while Fei opted for Sundobu Jjigae – spicy soft tofu soup with seafood, spring onion and egg…

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The stews were accompanied by small bowls of steamed rice which lessened the spiciness of chilli. My stew was infused with the segments of green chilli which gave out an intense burst of heat every now and then which made me gulp water and dab my nose with a napkin! In the end, our chilled bodies were sufficiently warmed up from the inside by our spicy dinner…

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After leaving the restaurant, we travelled to Gloucester Road by tube in order to attend her friend’s pop-up event at the restaurant, L’Etranger. At the venue, we ogled a gorgeous fur collection by Rachel. I was especially taken by a knitted mink snood in cobalt blue…

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The. Snoods could be worn like this! Don’t we resemble two happy & funky Eskimos?

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We had one cocktail each at the bar and decided to call the day.
But oh my, how cold the walk from the station to my doorstep was! It was freezing. Then, my sneezing started. At home, I wrapped my neck with a cotton scarf and hugged a hot water bottle in bed. However, I woke up with a proper cold in the morning. Let’s hope that Hubbie won’t bring home any American cold from NYC. Because I have had already enough cold for this winter…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Korean BBQ @ Tohbang, Clerkenwell

Gee…, I don’t think I can eat or drink in public until this sudden bout of cough is resolved. I’ve just had one and it was UGLY.
Listen everyone, if you don’t want to repeat my experience yourself, wash your hands and gargle often & diligently…

Since I won’t be dining out anytime soon, I shall recount about the dinner Hubbie & I had at Tohbang on Clerkenwell Road a few weeks ago. That Friday, Hubbie didn’t drive to work because he was to give a lecture in the early evening. It was raining and I offered him a chauffeur service, provided we could eat out on our way home. Hmm.. What do we fancy? Japanese? No, not tonight. Italian? Meh. Chinese? Don’t fancy it. How about Korean? Oh yeah, it’s been a while since we had one last time! So we settled on Korean BBQ.

The restaurant, Tohbang, was a small but lively eatery on Clerkenwell Road…

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Because of super chill-sensitive Hubbie, we picked our order very carefully from the menu…

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For starters, a plate of Modum Namul – three different vegetables seasoned Korean style…

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And Hubbie’s must have, Pa Joen – spring onion pancake with mixed seafood and vegetables…

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Followed by Goon Mandoo – pan-fried pork & vegetable dumplings…

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Comparing with the counterpart at Sedap, this dumpling was closer to the Japanese version. The skin was thinner and the filling was a mixture of pork mince and finely chopped chives. It was tasty all the same though.

Then, les plats de résistance, Korean barbecues!
Bulgogi – beef marinated with soy sauce, pear juice & sesame oil…

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Samgyupsal – sliced pork belly…

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Galbi – beef rib marinated with soy sauce, pear juice & sesame oil…

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When those three sizzling dishes were brought to our table, the first thought flashed in my mind was not “Yipee!” but “Can we manage them all?!” I honestly thought we might end up having to ask for a doggie bag.

We also ordered Sangchu – a basket of lettuce to wrap barbecue with soybean paste…

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Mmm… It tasted so good.
We also favoured the way they served their barbecues – cooking it in their kitchen instead of grilling it in front of us. It produced much less fume in the dining area, therefore, our hair and clothing were free from the smoky odour.
Another thing I liked about my BBQ not being cooked on the spot was it allowed me to dine in a more leisurely manner. At some other Korean restaurants, a staff, armed with a pair of tongs, mans a piping hot grill on each table and turns the meat systematically. As each piece becomes ready to eat, the staff hands it out to waiting guests in turn, but I find the way they do it tends to be too efficient and hasty. I just can’t help but feel obliged about keeping up with the pace the meat is served. And I don’t find it relaxing, unfortunately.

With the barbecue, we also shared a bowl of Dolsot Bibimbab – beef, egg & vegetables on rice in a hot stone bowl…

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We really thought we could never finish all the dishes, but we did it!
However, I could feel my stomach was truly stretched to its maximum capacity, and the sketch from Monty Python movie – “Mr.Cresote Blows Up” did cross my mind. Oops…

As we walked out of the restaurant, bidding goodnight to the staff, we encountered an extraordinarily spectacle…

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A police officer was arresting a man right by our car!
To be more precise, a guy with a beanie was pressed against the rear of our car while an officer was trying to handcuff him. As the guy swore and struggled, he dropped two small sachets and kicked them into the underside of the car. So Hubbie walked up to them and told the officer what we just saw. The guy swore at Hubbie in retaliation but Hubbie stood his ground, staring back at him really hard. Even though he wouldn’t even kill a fly, being 6’4″, he could tower over most guys and be rather intimidating. Once the guy was handcuffed and subdued, another officer pulled on a pair of purple rubber gloves and got ready to crawl under the car to retrieve the sachets.
“Do you want us to move the car?”, I asked the officer. “Oh yes, that will be great!” He was very happy for not having to crawl on the wet tarmac. Didn’t they realise the car was ours? Until we identified ourselves, they probably thought we were overly nosy bystanders! Hubbie climbed behind the wheel and reversed the car and the officer collected the evidence safely. Shortly afterward, a police van arrived and the man was bundled in and driven away. So that was that. I had never seen anyone arrested right in front of me. And it was rather exciting!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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