Our next stop was a quick visit to Chinatown. It’s a beautiful neighborhood to visit and a great place to shop and get souvenirs. I bought stamps for my postcard to my parents, a reusable bag that fits in another tiny carrying bag (that my friends since returning to Korea have commented that they plan to steal), and some Tiger Balm (my go-to when I get sick or bit by a bug). I also bought some mini cashew cookies for coworkers.
Walking around was a lot of fun, but once again we mostly snacked as we wandered around. Starting first with some traditional snacks near the station. Our first stop was Buy Way Kitchen which served Kueh Tutu, a childhood favorite of my friend’s.
Kueh Tutu (or coconut cake) is made of steamed rice flour and traditionally filled with peanuts or palm sugar mixed with coconut. It’s served on banana leaf or pandan leaves and has expanded to include other flavors like chocolate. The stand we bought ours from were $2.50 for 5. You can watch how the woman made them below.
The other thing we split was my other friend’s favorite called muah chee. (麻糍) Muah chee is a peanut powder covered rice cake that came in a mass with tooth picks for us to pick out a piece. They were warm when we got them and sticky and chewy. It reminded me a lot of injeolmi (인절미) which is a type of sweet Korean rice cake (tteok/떡) usually dusted with bean powder of some kind. There is also similar versions found in Japan. The difference is that usually I don’t reheat the injeolmi and it’s usually cold when I get a chance to eat it. I think I much prefer it warmer like the muah chee we had. Though it is sticky, chewy and messy so make sure to chew it carefully so you don’t choke on it.
We walked around for a bit with our snacks. There was plenty to see.
We even stopped momentarily at the Buddha tooth relic temple and museum. Which is free to visit. It is said that when Buddha died, his body was cremated and his left canine tooth was retrieved from the pyre. This relic was fought over for many years and a couple different temples claim to house it. I however did not see it or any of the other relics or things within the temple which is about six floors including a basement with vegetarian food available for a donation.
You’re probably thinking but you were there! It’s free! Why didn’t you go see it? One: because I didn’t realize that’s what the temple was at the time. And two I hadn’t dressed accordingly. There is a dress code for the temple and usually when I go to a temple I make sure to dress accordingly, usually light weight long pants and a t-shirt with a long sleeved light weight sweater/jacket so I don’t have to put on additional layers. After walking in we got stopped by a staff member. At first it was a stupid mistake of having not taken off my hat, but then he motioned us over and started handing us things to cover up with and I was wearing shorts that went to my knees and a plain scoop t-shirt. Shorts apparently are not allowed and I guess, according to their website my shirt fell under “ect”. Covering up one part I could’ve understood, but when I was handed two heavy covers in the heat when I already felt sweaty and gross I handed them back, bowed and darted out the door. (This is apparently my “I’m uncomfortable and want out of this situation” response since I did this once on the street in Korea when a couple of men wouldn’t leave me alone.) My male friends who were also wearing shorts and t-shirts had also been handed cloths to wrap up in, so it wasn’t a gender thing, except maybe with my shirt. I don’t do well with heat and I’m sure I would’ve fainted in that many thick layers.
So instead we wandered a little bit further towards the park which is a popular spot for the elderly to games of chess or mahjong. On our way I spotted a stand selling chendol, which I had seen everywhere as a flavor, including McDonald’s. I’d asked my friends what the flavor was and they’d been unable to explain it. So I grabbed a chair at the stall and ordered one. The worker asked me if I’d ever had it before and when I said no, he went through each of the ingredients and explained to me what it was, with such genuine love for the treat and care.
Chendol is a shaved ice dessert. I’ve come to realize that no matter where you go in the world, or at least Asia, they have their own unique take on shaved ice that is a thousand times better than snow cones found in the States. Chendol includes green worm looking jellies which are made from rice flour and pandan, sweet red beans, palm sugar syrup and coconut milk. Some additions can included different fruits from jack fruit to durian (a very pungent fruit) and different types of jellies. Another thing to keep in mind is that while I had Chendol in Singapore that its a popular dessert that can also be found throughout Southeast Asia in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and several other countries. (If you look up Chendol/Cendol online you can find several arguments on where it’s originally from and who holds claim to this sweet shaved ice dessert.) It was delicious, and a wonderful treat to cool off with. I was very happy to stop and have some and share it with my friends, one of whom had never had a chance to try it before.