Sign In


The SmSh Guide to Eating in Shanghai's Koreatown

Screen golf to street market to banchan shops and Korean-Chinese comfort food! Make a day of it in K-Town.
2020-06-16 08:13:10
Photos: Brandon McGhee
"Offbeat" is a column about stuff to look at or do in Shanghai that's interesting or weird (relatively, of course), that doesn't fit anywhere else.

Shanghai's Korean community in Hongqiao dates back to the early years of Deng Xiaoping's reforms, when the city established the Hongqiao Economic Development zone. Since then, the area has been home to dense pockets of Korean culture and commerce where the storefront signage and even government bulletins are posted in Hangul.

Today, the community is tens of thousands strong (21,000+ according to these figures) and thriving on the stretch of Hongquan Lu between Hongjing and Hongxin Lu.

I just like to go there to eat, and then buy more stuff to bring back home and eat. I didn't include a detailed guide to the beef BBQ places because there are a million, and, frankly, there's more interesting stuff out there that I wanted to highlight. These are a few of my faves in 2020.


Soy-marinated crab @ Gammiok

Gammiok (감미옥 or 甘味屋) has a reputation in the Korean community for its exacting standards, quality ingredients, and home-made kimchi. You can't go wrong with anything on the menu here, but if you order only one thing it should be their ganjang gejang (간장게장 or 酱蟹). Whole fresh raw crabs are marinated for several days in seasoned soy sauce, resulting in sweet, creamy, custardy flesh. Put a few spoonfuls of rice into the carapace, and let soak up the mixture of sauce and roe.

Be sure to order the soondae (순대 or 米肠), or Korean blood sausage, too. Gammiok has given it the unfortunate literal translation "Meatpie in Pork Intestine." Don't be deterred. It's delicious when dipped in a touch of seasoned salt. Also, don't miss their seollongtang (설렁탕 or 雪浓汤). Beef bones are simmered for hours, making a rich, milky white soup. They add noodles, fresh scallions, and succulent hunks of brisket.

For dessert, try their empanada-like deep-fried red bean cakes.

Gammiok also has a great little delivery service that's popular with the Korean community. They sell frozen ready-made dishes like samgyetang (삼계탕 or 参鸡汤) (chicken and ginseng soup) and bulgogi (불고기 or 腌制烤牛肉) (soy-marinated beef) as well as all kinds of kimchi and banchan (ubiquitous Korean side dishes), and even frozen steaks. A smartphone app is currently in the works. In the meantime, check them out at the WeChat ID: soulfoodcom.

Chinese Food with Korean Characteristics
@ Joonghwa Yori

Like any resilient being, Chinese cuisine adapts to its surroundings (eg, American egg rolls or Peruvian chifa). Joonghwa Yori (중화요리 or 中华料理) offers a taste of what happens to Chinese food when it goes to Korea.

It's definitely different. For starters, it should come as no surprise that Korean Chinese restaurants serve banchan. Here, you get pickled radishes, sliced raw onions for dipping in vinegar and black bean sauce, and, of course, kimchi.

Some dishes are glossier, gloopier versions of their former selves, like jjajangmyeon (짜장면 or 炸酱面) (that's Korean for zhajiang mian). Al dente noodles are smothered in a sweet lacquer-like black bean sauce that's been sautéed with onions and chunks of pork. This is what Koreans eat when they crave Chinese food from back home.

Other dishes, like jjambong (짬봉 or 三鲜辣汤面), bear little resemblance to anything you'd find in China. This assortment of shellfish and noodles is simmered in a very standard Korean soup made from seaweed and anchovies, and spiced up with gochugaru (Korean chili flakes).

I'd also be remiss if I didn't take a moment to discuss an enduring clash between two warring ideologies on the Korean Peninsula. I'm talking, of course, about sweet and sour pork and whether to dip or pour your sauce. It's a major culinary controversy that has ended friendships and destroyed marriages.

That's why Joonghwa Yori serves the sauce on the side. They've got no dog in this fight. The dish itself is different from what you would find in a Cantonese restaurant. The pork is cut into strips rather than chunks, and they toss it with onions, peppers, carrots, and, of all things, pickles.

Order all three of the above — they're the holy trinity of Korean Chinese cuisine. Be sure to get a side of pan-fried dumplings (군만두 or 手工煎饺), too.

Street Snacks and K-Pizza
@ Two Guys Toppoki

Two Guys Toppoki's (두남자 떡볶이 or 韩式年糕火锅) menu is an assortment of street snacks. These are inexpensive and fatally caloric foods that match perfectly with a frosty beer or a bottle of soju. The name of the place should already clue you into one thing you should order: toppoki (or ddeokbokki) (떡볶이 or 辣炒年糕). It's a classic Korean street snack of tubular sticky rice cakes stir-fried in a sweet and spicy chili sauce. Their kimbap (김밥 or 紫菜包饭), or seaweed rice rolls are also worth a look. They fill them with crab, tuna, pork, bulgogi, even cheese.

I still maintain that Bulloman just downstairs is the gold standard for fried chicken (치킨 or 炸鸡) in this neighborhood, but Two Guys is certainly giving them a run for their money. Ready the wet-wipes and order some.

Finally, brick oven pizza? It's actually pretty good here. They give it Korean toppings, like bulgogi or sweet potatoes.

North Korean Cold Noodles
@ Pojeong

Ice-cold beef broth is not the first thing that comes to mind when you want to cool down in the summer, but Pojeong (포정 or 庖沃丁) may change that. The signature dish here is mul naengmyeon (물냉면 or 水冷面), or cold soup noodles, from the North Korean city of Hamhung. The broth is a point of pride in restaurants like this. It's a rich, beefy consommé. They first bring it to the table in a thermal carafe. You drink it hot to better appreciate the extraction of flavors. It's a dramatic contrast to how it's served with the noodles, chilled to a partial slush.

Hamhung-style noodles are as thin as angel hair and made with buckwheat flour and potato starch, making them pleasantly chewy. They're topped with a few slices of chilled brisket and half a hard-boiled egg along with julienned cucumber, and radish for added texture. Typical condiments are vinegar and a spicy mustard that will clear out the sinuses. Use sparingly if at all. This dish stands out on its own.

If you're not in the mood for soup, you can order bibim naengmyeon ( 비빔냉면 or 拌冷面). Instead of soup, it's served with a spicy vinegar-based sauce that you mix in with your chopsticks.

Shaved Milk Ice
@ widcoffee

Ajummas (Korean taitais) in the know go to this hidden café in Seoul Plaza to gossip over a cup of trendy specialty coffee and a popular Korean dessert called bingsoo (빙수 or 雪花冰沙). It's made from frozen milk that's shaved into a fine, snowy powder and served with a choice of toppings. Try it with injeolmi (인절미 or 黄豆), a traditional Korean treat of ddeokk (sticky rice cakes) dusted with roasted soybean powder. It has a sweet, nutty, toasty flavor. When paired with shaved milk ice and a scoop of ice cream, it's almost like eating a frozen breakfast cereal. You can also get it topped with matcha ice cream and sweet red bean paste as well as crushed Oreos, mango, peaches and more.

In addition to sweets and coffee, they serve a selection of uniquely Korean snacks, like chili Spam kimbap, kimchi fried rice, and instant noodles. They'll even fix you a bowl of ram-don from that movie Parasite. They also serve some savory fusion dishes, like ddeokkbokki carbonara. I haven't tried that yet, but carbs coated in cheese, cream, egg, and bacon have yet to fail me. It's probably excellent.

To find widcoffee, take the escalator to the second floor, turn left, left again, then turn right, and look for a colorful sign that says "Food Café" on your left.

Al Fresco Dining at the Night Market

Come evening time, the area behind the west tower of Jingting Tiandi (井亭天地) comes to life with an open-air night market. A row of tents harks back to the pojangmachas (포장마차 or 大排档) that you find in Korean cities. Pojangmachas are makeshift outdoor restaurants that spring up on street corners or in empty lots. Since the 1950s, they've been a place where overworked office drones can fill up on affordable eats and a shot (or 10) of soju after work.

Options here aren't as diverse as what you might find in Seoul. The vast majority only serve variations on barbecue. But Hemul Pocha (해물포차 or 柳丁鱼市大排档), the easternmost tent, does some excellent seafood. Check out their seafood with ddeokkbokki, their sea bream and flounder hoe (Korean for sashimi — 참돔, 광어 or 左口,真鲷), and their searingly spicy clam soup (조개탕 or 蛤蜊汤). It's all fresh, the fish swimming in tanks before you order.

Assorted Barbecue Joints

There are Korean barbecue joints all over town, so you don't need to trek all the way out here for it. But if you must, why not think outside the box with Tongyeong Ajimae (통영아지매 or 统营阿姨)? This place does grilled seafood specialties from the southeastern coastal city of Tongyeong. The signature dish here is grilled eel. It's fresh out of the tank and needs little more than some time to brown over the coals. Also, be sure to check out their guljeon (굴전 or 生蚝煎饼), fresh oysters battered and pan-fried.

If you still insist on red meat, stay on this floor. In the corridor at the other end of the building is a line of barbecue joints packed tighter than a Texas feedlot. Just look for all window displays stacked with meat. Further afield in this neighborhood are Ben Jia and Qing He Gu. Both are reliably excellent, but prepare for long waits.

Shopping (For Food)

Banchan Shops

Banchan is mandatory for any Korean meal. You have no right of refusal. The only say you have in the matter is whether or not you want more. This is just as true in the home as it is in restaurants. Both Han Chan (한찬 or 韩餐) and Mama Kitchen (妈妈的厨房) offer a wide variety of home-made banchan and other condiments for your home kitchen. You don't see a lot of this stuff in restaurants, because they can't justify giving it away for free. Shop here for unique delicacies like marinated bracken fern, soy-braised burdock root, fried baby shrimp in gochujang, and more varieties of kimchi than you probably ever knew existed.

Supermarket Sweep

Should you need to stock up on provisions, there is an alphabet soup of Korean supermarkets here. Kmart, GMart, and W Mart have got you covered for most of your import needs. Instant noodles are an art form in Korea, and you'll find aisles and aisles of them in these shops. You can also find fresh and frozen seafood, typical Korean cuts of meat, kimchi, banchan, snacks, beer, soju, Spam gift packs (no joke) and more.

Ball Whacking

Screen Golf

Screen golf combines the time suck of video games and the futility of hitting a small white ball into a hole in the ground without any of that icky fresh air and sunlight. You stand before a digital mock-up of your favorite course and whack away at a real ball with a real club. Sensors calculate speed and trajectory in real-time to determine where on the course your ball lands. There are different surfaces that simulate bunkers and rough patches of grass and a hydraulic platform that adjusts to the pitch of the ground if your ball "lands" on an incline.

South Korea is a pioneer in this technology. In fact, it's the only country in the world where more people play golf on screen than on real courses.

GOLFZON is the biggest brand in screen golf with branches in Korea outnumbering Starbucks five to one. They have yet to reach that level of density in K-Town, but there are at least three places in this neighborhood where you can whack balls against screens. There is GOLFZON on Yinting Lu and Tiger Screen Golf and SG Golf on Hongquan Lu. Prices range anywhere between 50 and 120rmb depending on the number of holes and the time of day you want to play. Memberships are available too but feelings of elitism and exclusivity not included.