I am not a food purist, I am all for hybrid food, as long as it is delicious. After all, I had no reservation ordering a bulgogi sandwich–a hybrid of Korean and Western delicacy. However, I am severely opposed to bad food at an exorbitant price, and nowhere is this calamity demonstrated more glaringly than in the numerous Vietnamese restaurants in Seoul. I just cannot understand why a bowl of Pho, whose broth is chemically sweet and deficient of its traditional aroma, can cost up 10000 KRW a bowl. Though I am aware that limes are a rarity in Korea and they have to substitute them with lemons, I still don’t get the idea of putting a pile of sliced onions on top of Pho here–it resembles nothing from Vietnam, and doesn’t enhance the taste at all.
My point is, sometimes it is impossible to replicate the original foreign food, but at least try to make them taste good. However, at many a Vietnamese restaurant in Seoul, their fare lack both authenticity and taste. I have been to Good Morning Hanoi http://www.goodmorninghanoi.com and Cowkee http://cowkee.tistory.com recently. While the first generated within me a deep resentment, the latter, however, offered a much less grim experience.
Above is the picture of Good Morning Hanoi’s special dish: Bun Cha Gio (Noodles with spring rolls; 15400 KRW). The spring rolls were really bad. Wrapping: galore; filling: skimpy. There was a hefty amount of smashed peanuts on top of the noodles–which was just weird. The side salad was a strange mixture of lettuces, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and pineapples. There was no harmony among these 3 ingredients, and combined with a severe lack of good seasoning, the dish was a chore to eat.
Pho for Vegans (13750 KRW) was a fiasco. Pho is NOT a vegan food, after all. The broth has that distinctive flavor thanks to simmering beef bones, oxtails, onions, ginger, and lots of spices. If you happen to order Vegan Pho, don’t complain if your broth tastes like chemicals, for it gets the flavor from the instant Pho seasoning packets. Here comes the sad truth: all Pho in Seoul–that Pho whose price is around 10000 KRW and up–can be found on any supermarket rack in Vietnam for ~4000 VND (~200 KRW). These packets are available at Itaewon’s Foreign Market too.
Anyway this is the Vegan Pho:
The Bun Cha (28600 KRW) was a big disappointment. Bun Cha is my absolute Vietnamese food and the little stall next to my house back in Vietnam has the best Bun Cha ever. I knew they would fuck it up here, but I was curious to see how they would execute this ridiculously priced dish.
Curiosity killed the cat. The most important thing when it comes to Bun Cha is the dipping sauce: it must be a harmony of sweet-sour-salty-spicy savors; if one flavor is more domineering, it would kill the whole experience. The dipping sauce here was a major failure: it was just vinegar + fish sauce with the ratio of 3:1. And did I mention the ice cubes inside the sauce? Ice cubes? Where did they get that idea from?
The grilled pork was your below average Korean galbi, bland, gamey, greasy.
Banh Xeo (22000 KRW), again, was such a misery. It resembled nothing like its counterpart in Vietnam. It was surprisingly bland and non-descript. And what made they think that VINEGAR would boost the taste to any degree?
And dear owners, if you want to charge 22000 KRW for a pancake, at least use fresh prawns.
Here is a tip for those who happen to find themselves in a Vietnamese restaurant without their consent: try to stick with Thai food options. They are not crazily good and/or authentic, but at least they are better than their Vietnamese counterparts. Good Morning Hanoi’s Pho Tom Yam (13750 KRW)–despite being a hybrid food–was decent thanks to the sour-and-spicy kick unique to Thai Tom yum soup.
The rice dishes, though overpriced, at least were edible. Com Xao Bo (17600 KRW):
Com Xao Do Bien (16500 KRW):
Good Morning Hanoi is a chain and it has branches all around Seoul. You can refer to their website or type 하노이의아침 on http://naver.com for maps. But don’t bother looking for it, it is just simply bad, and the prices are ridiculous.
Cowkee, however, was a better experience. I tried their Bun Bo Xao (9000 KRW) and was quite pleased. Despite the extra grease from the beef, my dish was a pleasant combination of noodles, a generous amount of stir fried beef and pineapples, fresh greens, and tasty sauce. At least Cowkee people were smart enough to use the Thai chili sauce instead of vinegar -.- I am a fan of that simple but oh-so-tasty sauce, and the good news is that it is sold in Itaewon as well.
The two rice dishes were not bad at all, but not without problems. The Crab Fried Rice (10000 KRW) had frozen shrimps instead of fresh prawns. Given the price, this was unforgivable.
The Beef Slice Rice (10000 KRW), again, was too greasy to my taste:
My major concern was the small bowl of Pho broth they gave me. It was just… deadly bad. It was chemically sweet to the point of giving me cavities. Needless to say, another catastrophe thanks to using too much of that magical instant Pho seasoning package.
The big bowl of Pho was not any better:
I still wasn’t made wholly satisfied, and thinking about the whole Vietnamese food scene in Seoul distresses me (please head to Ansan if you want real Southeast Asian food–speaking of which, I still need to write about all the food in Ansan I had last month >.>). But if somebody asks me for a good enough place in Seoul, I’d direct them to Cowkee, for the Bun Bo Xao. As for Pho, sadly, I am still an Odysseus on the epic journey to look for that one true bowl.
Cowkee, Sinchon station exit 2: