What is a Korean without kimchi, an Italian without pasta, the English without tea, what, I say again, what is a Kiwi without a mince pie? The answer… nothing!
After living in Korea for six months, I felt it was time to put some decent effort into finding that ever comfort of all comfort foods, the famous mince pie!
I’d heard rumours from some kiwi contacts in Seoul that there was a Jesters store in Itaewon (I know it’s Australian, but this is a Kiwi in desperate need!!). It was time to investigate if the rumours were true, especially now that the Korean winter has finally set it. I’d had enough of spicy noodles. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a nice hot steamy bowl of ramen just as much as the Korean living next door to me. But my Kiwi yearnings for that glorious mince and cheese pie were becoming too great to ignore any longer.
So that was it, I put on my black duck down jacket that makes me look like a puffy marshmallow, grabbed my favourite beanie with the cute little bobble thingie on the top, and messaged my friend. Let’s go to Seoul!!
The trip into Seoul, Itaewon, took just under an hour, a small price to pay (about $2 to go such a long distance) for the grand prize that awaited us. It was unfortunate that while traveling on the subway, during one of the many jolts the train made every now and then, that I managed to bite my tongue whilst chewing on some gum. As blood slowly started to fill my mouth, I begin to worry that this might prevent me from enjoying the fullness of my first mince pie in Korea. Not to mention that it tasted rather weird mixed in with the peppermint taste of the gum that I was chewing. But lucky for me, it was only 10 minutes into the journey that this took place. By the time we reached Itaewon the bleeding had stopped.
After two subway line transfers, one slightly swollen tongue, and that bursting feeling of badly needing to go to the bathroom, my friend and I emerged from the underground subway into Itaewon. The place I like to call “Waygook Town” (Waygook is the Korean word for foreigner).
Itaewon, the place where waygooks barter with Korean merchants, looking for a bargain, and probably getting a little ripped off if you don’t know what you’re doing. The classic imitation items of famous brands, “I ‘heart’ Korea” t-shirts, the cool little souvenirs including tomahawks and knuckle busters, and the biggest strawberries I have ever seen in my life!!
My friend Alisa and I began our walk past the Itaewon markets. Trying not to walk into other people is like trying to avoid hitting a swarm of flies. After all the sidestepping and a few minor collisions we came across a shoe sale…. Well that was it, Alisa was very keen on having a look inside, and I must admit I was a little curious myself. After browsing a few more shops and stalls, where I found Buzzard’s t-shirt (hope you like it Buzzard!), we were on the hunt for coffee. Alisa took out her Galaxy TAB to look for the nearest Starbucks. After waiting for a couple of minutes, I told her that it was easier if we just “followed our noses”. A look of confusion was spread across her face – “follow our noses” what does that mean? Every now and then I forget that some expression must seem extremely strange to my Korean friends. I then had to explain to her that it meant we should just pick a direction, walk and see what we find. That I had a feeling that we would find one if we just headed down the street a little further. It seems as though that this is a foreign concept to her as well. Koreans don’t “just follow their noses, or walk in a direction and see what you find,” it’s something I’ve noticed. In a culture that is continually connected to the internet anywhere, anytime, for almost nothing (especially if you can hook into some free wireless), they seem to have little sense of adventure, and a huge lack of direction (not mentioning anyone by name… Gloria!)
Ok, I digress… so we walked down the street a little further and we stumbled upon a Starbucks. It had been a while since I’d had the pleasure of indulging in one of Starbucks delicious caramel macchiato’s. It was worth the nearly $6 that I paid for it. It was the best caramel macchiato I’ve had since I’d arrived in Korea. Mmmmmmm delicious!
Mmmmmm caramel macchiato!!
After fuelling up on coffee, it was off to the English book store “What The Book?” one of Korea’s biggest English book stores. Apart from filling my need for a mince pie, I had recently finished “The Hunger Games” trilogy, and needed to get something new to read. And for Alisa, this was an afternoon/evening of firsts for her. Itaewon is perceived by Koreans as almost another country because of all the waygooks, and is seen as a slightly dangerous place because of this. She said she had always wanted to go to Itaewon, but wasn’t much of the adventurous type. I told her that’s why she has friends like me. To which she replied in a joking manner, “But you’re not a foreigner, you are Korean hahaha.” A nice complement I thought. She’d always wanted to go to an English book store, and was rather excited about going to “What The Book”.
Well, I could spend all day in a book store, and I managed to limit myself to three books. Alisa picked up a couple of kids books she planned on reading to her friend’s son.
Soooo, after a little window shopping, delicious coffee, and book shopping, it was finally time to complete our ultimate mission. Finding Jesters and downing a couple of pies!
It’s at this point in which I shall hang my head in shame, as I confess to using my iPhone to locate Jesters. I know, I know…. But these were desperate times, and I did end up using my nose, once I figured out the general location of Jesters.
It was nearing 7:30pm, and the rumbling in my stomach was becoming greater as the anticipation of eating my first mince pie in Korea mounted to near explosion! I’d located Jesters on Google maps, thanks to the wonders of technology all we needed to do was cross the street, turn a corner, and there it was, in all its glory, JESTERS!!!! It’s as if the heaven’s opened and a choir of angels appeared singing Handel’s famous “Hallelujah Chorus”.
I could hardly contain myself; I’d been hi-fiving Alisa at Starbucks in preparation for this very moment, where if I had entered a state of awe, and was unable to muster up a hi-five, I would have covered that base earlier on in the afternoon. Lucky!!
What to choose, what to choose…. How would I make my decision??? I decided to go with a good old favourite of mine, the “mince and cheese pie” aptly named the “Billy T” (after a famous NZ comedian). Alisa, a little unsure of these things called mince pies decide that it was best to go with the waygook on this one. She wanted to know what were the most popular pies in NZ? I gave her a list of five pies to choose from, but told her that the ‘mince and cheese’ was probably the most favourite of all.
So that was us, two “Billy T” pies, some hot chips, some tomato sauce, and a couple of Pepsi’s.
When we sat down to enjoy our meal I was so excited that I had to take a photo and do a live update on Facebook. As I was relishing the moment of success, I noticed that Alisa was staring at her pie, wondering what to do with it. It was at this point that it occurred to me that she probably has no idea how to hold it, let alone eat it. Something that I’ve taken for granted. A cultural reverse had occurred right before my eyes. The first time in Korea where I’ve had to show a Korean how to eat something they had never seen or heard of before. I was slightly stunned for a moment as this dawned on me. While I was emerging from this realisation like a stunned possum that had just seen a set of head lights, Alisa was tentatively attempting her first bite. I snapped back into reality and said, “You just bite into it”. She continued in her tentative/slightly sceptical/slightly nervous first bite. A little bite at first, then after figuring out that it wasn’t toxic, she took a larger bite. I took that as a sign of “this is ok, not too bad”.
Alisa. "My first pie!"
Mmmm, not bad...
After uploading my photo, it was time for me to enjoy the long awaited first bite of my mince and cheese pie in Korea. Ahhhhh I swear I heard that “Hallelujah Chorus” ring out as I took my first bite. Ahhhhhh, that satisfying taste of home, melted cheese mixed in with mince, and wrapped in pastry goodness! I even did the classic, get a hot chip and use it to scoop out the contents of your pie and eat it before it all falls off the chip. And much to my delight I saw that Alisa had caught on to this little act of kiwiness without me even having to coach her on how to do it.
MINCE & CHEESE PIIIIEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!
Mmmm chip n dip!! Yea baby, yea!!!
I have to admit that I indulged in a second pie that evening, a “potato deluxe”, a little naughty, but I might not get another pie eating opportunity for a while, so I had to make the best of this trip to Jesters.
Well, mission completed! A satisfied kiwi I was indeed! Alisa, was happy to have had a cultural experience kiwi styles, but wasn’t sure if she would make it a regular habit. But she assured me that she would indulge maybe one more time in the future. And to Jesters Korea, thank you! You have made this waygook feel a little closer to home!