Dinner time caught me and my Korean friend Seung-Ho in the middle of Namdaemun Market where I was getting some calendars of K-pop idols for friends in Manila.
And what better restaurant to have dinner during winter than a pojang-macha!
According to Seung-Ho, pojang means tent or 'a cover', and ma-cha, if translated figuratively, means 'a moving cart'.
It is indeed a covered, moving cart, which only appears late in the afternoon on the sidewalks, or in the case of the pojang-macha that we visited, in the middle of the Namdaemun alley!
So, we headed to one right in the alley where I got the K-pop poster bound for Manila. The owner, a middle-aged Korean woman, who was busy calling out to passers-by inviting them to her pojang-macha, saw us and called out louder when she realized that these two passers-by looked hungry and badly needed nutrition.
And when we got into her tent, we were welcomed with a table full of some of my favorite Korean dishes! Pajeon, soondae, and barbecue! I ordered them all!
(Pajeon! Sliced and cooked!)
(The Korean barbecue, off from its skewer, seasoned, fried and sprinkled with sesame seeds!)
She immediately had them cooked, while serving us with mussels in a hot broth to immediately warm our tummies.
(A yummy dinner!)
And when she was finally done, she laid on our table the dishes we ordered (with our Coke, of course!); I then realized that I didn't have to go to some fancy Korean restaurants to enjoy these dishes. I can always visit a pojang-macha, in the middle of an alley, or on the sidwalk, and be able to enjoy my favorite Korean dishes, while not being overcharged by those glittery restaurants with fancy-looking interiors like the ones in Gangnam or somewhere else.
After all, this ajumma who runs and pushes her own pojang-macha can always match the cooking skills of those chefs in pricey restaurants, recipe for recipe!
And she engages her customers, too! She talks to her customers, including me, even with my limited hangeul! That's how we learned that she opens before dinner and closes shop at 5AM the next day! That's a 12-hour cycle of preparing her ingredients, cooking and serving! She said that she just lives nearby, at the area near Nam-san.
(Her business number. Look it up when
you're in Namdaemun Market.)
Fine dining doesn't have to mean you have to gobble up your dinner in a concrete restaurant on the 33rd floor. You can just stay on the ground, on the sidewalk and still enjoy the delicious Korean dishes served by your friendly ajumma or ajussi at the nearest pojang-macha with your friends.
(Burp! Not our table though.)
Be it inside a tent or not, fine dining is any place where I always get to enjoy my favorite Korean dishes, served hot, cheap and yummy!
The Hyun Bin calendar I bought at Namdaemun Market for a friend. He watched us enjoy our pojang-macha dinner before he flew to Manila to meet a fan.