It’s shocking how quickly two weeks can go by when you’re having fun. Before we could say “haemeul pajeon”, we had reached our last full day in the Motherland.
For convenience and ease of travel, we stayed at the Hyatt Hotel right by Incheon Airport. It was, unofficially, our honeymoon, so we sprung for a really nice room and got the Honeymoon Package for a little bit of indulgence, which included a $50 voucher to use for hotel dining and a small gift package of L’Occitane products.
Our plan was to venture out to Chinatown in Incheon, which happens to be the only official Chinatown in Korea, for a taste of authentic jjajangmyun (짜장면), Korea’s famous black bean sauce noodles that we have the Chinese migrants from Shandong to thank for introducing. My parents told us that the jjajangmyun from Incheon is like nothing you can get anywhere else. Well, that must mean that this jjajangmyun has got to be magnificent. Like “unicorns bursting forth from marshmallow clouds” magnificent.
Little did we know that actually getting to Incheon Chinatown from the hotel would be quite the hike. We had two options – by subway train, which meant having to make at least 5 connections with the one-way trip taking over an hour, or the bus that would take us right to Incheon Station (located across the street from the Chinatown gate), in about an hour. We felt more comfortable with the subway system, but the 5-connection business was too much thinking for that day, so we opted for the bus.
Chinatown itself isn’t too large, but it’s quaint with a lot of restaurants and shops. Since we didn’t do any research on jjajangmyun restaurants, we basically picked one at random.
We started with a small order of tangsooyook (탕수육), Korea’s version of sweet & sour pork. The beautifully crispy and tender pieces of fried pork were covered generously with a sweet and sour sauce that was actually quite unfamiliar to our palates. Not that it was bad; it was just different, but in a good way, like the Incheon tangsooyook is also unlike the tangsooyook found elsewhere. It just had a more robust taste, if I can call it that, and it wasn’t as sweet as I normally find tangsooyook. Whatever they did with it, we both really enjoyed it.
And the verdict on the jjajangmyun? Truly like no other jjajangmyun we’ve had so far. Tender, thick noodles were covered in a rich black bean sauce that wasn’t overly greasy (as some black bean sauces can be) and seasoned to perfection. So this is what Incheon jjajangmyun is all about! It’s hard to describe – you really do have to taste it for yourself to understand. This was an amazingly tasty, satisfying bowl of noodles.
Here’s a quick history lesson as per the Visit Korea tourism website: Jayu Park, or park of Freedom, has held its name ever since October 3, 1957 when a statue of General McArthur, who led the Incheon Amphibious Landing Operation during the Korean War, was erected at the summit of Mt. Eungbongsan. I think that’s pretty cool.
We strolled around the park for a while, admiring the view and taking in the relative quiet and calm. Around us, groups of older folk were gathered together, exercising and enjoying each other’s company. It was a nice way to walk off our meal and enjoy this beautiful park.
On our way back, this particular mandu stand caught our eye. Apparently it’s a popular mandu that’s cooked in a tandoori-style oven. Mark even remarked that he remembered seeing a Korean variety show featuring these particular mandu. The different fillings available were sweet potato, pork, pumpkin, and sweet red bean paste.
So of course we had to take a few back with us, for research purposes. We got the sweet potato, pork, and sweet red bean paste. I found them to be really dense and heavy, but it might’ve been because they had cooled significantly after our return trip to the hotel. The fillings were nice, however.
We wanted to return early the next day before our flight to eat more jjajangmyun, but it was raining and the wind was awful. Alas, we did not make it out to Incheon again to savour one last bowl of jjajangmyun, but we will always have these memories of spending one fine afternoon in Incheon.