“Come on everyone! I saw a new pizza restaurant I want to try” says one of the guys after church Sunday evening. “What is the name of the restaurant?” I ask. “Pizza Up” is the reply. A group of people pile into my car, and I tell the guy whose idea is was that he has to give me directions. He says it is by Hongdeh subway station, so we have to use the GPS (Navigation System) on my car because I have no idea where Hongdeh subway station is. Hanul, my Korean friend you have met before in my blogs, sits beside me in the front seat, and I give her instructions on how to set my GPS as we head for the restaurant.
The guy whose idea it was to go explains to everyone that he saw this pizza restaurant, and he is curious. Someone asks Mr. Curious, “Why don’t we just go to Pizza Hut?” His reply is this restaurant looks interesting, and he wants to try.
The GPS says it will only take 20 minutes to get there, so we are there quickly. The curious guy spots the restaurant and tells us that there is a parking garage under the building. As we go down into the parking garage, the tunnel is very, very thin, maybe the thinnest tunnel I have used going into a parking garage, and it goes down in a spiral which makes it very dangerous if I don’t go extremely slow and keep my mind on what I am doing. The others are singing along with my Beatles CD, and I want to too, but I can’t because this tunnel is just hard to get through.
We finally come to the inside of the garage, and the floor only has pink parking places. That is good for me. In Seoul, the city government decided to protect the women and set up parking places just for women. If the parking places are pink, it means women have the priority to park there. We find a parking place easily because all the men have to pass this floor up and go deeper into the garage to park. Next, we head up the elevator to the first floor of the building.
Initially, when we get off the elevator, we can’t figure out what we are doing. Korean buildings are huge, and in one building, there will be several floors, and on each floor, there will be several shops, restaurants, and other businesses. We wonder around for a few minutes trying to figure it out, and the guy whose idea it was to come is puzzled because he thought the restaurant was on the first floor. Come to find out, it is on the first floor, but we have to go outside of the building and come in another entrance.
We enter into the restaurant, and there are funny signs everywhere about everything “up.” We see coin operated video games people can play if they want, and then we are greeted by someone who works in the restaurant. He wants to explain to us how to order.
You have to use a touch screen to order your pizza. In Korea, usually, most people think you don’t get to decide what goes on your pizza or hamburger, but just order whatever is on the menu and put up with whatever they give you. However, I am very particular, and I always change my order, and they usually cooperate with me, but Koreans don’t realize they can do it. One of the things that is supposed to be unique about this restaurant is that they are asked to create their pizza and choose how they want it made, and that makes the Koreans very happy because they think they can’t normally choose.
When you look at the touch screen, you can press a place where you can order either in Korean or English by pressing a Korean flag or an American flag. Since all of us understand Korean, we use the Korean option this time, but if you go, you can use the English option. After that, they give you the option of customizing your pizza or just ordering a pizza and letting them make it the way they want to, and we all choose to customize our pizzas. The first screen asks you what kind of crust you want, but it isn’t talking about things like thick, thin, pan pizza, or cheesy crust. It is asking whether you want a regular white crust or a pizza with a black crust. In our group, we end up with two black crusts, and one white crust. You ask, “Black crust? What do they do, burn it?” No, they don’t burn it. They put squid ink in the pizza crust. I ask the guy who brought us here if there is a difference in the taste, and he says he doesn’t know and has never eaten pizza with squid ink in the crust, but that is one reason he brought us here, to try, so we are going to try.
After that, we have a choice of which kind of sauce, and we choose two different kinds of sauce, one the regular tomato sauce, and the other a kind of white sauce made with tofu. Next, we can choose what kind of cheese. There are several different kinds of cheese offered, even blue cheese, but I am not interested in blue cheese at all. I insist that we must have mozzarella because otherwise, it just won’t seem like pizza, and they all agree. After that, we can choose what kind of vegetables we want. For the one with tomato sauce and a regular white crust, we choose basil. For the one with crust with squid ink and tofu sauce, we choose all kinds of things. Someone pushes mushrooms. Someone else pushes corn. I suggest we try to avocado. I don’t remember what all the vegetables were we put on that pizza, but we were making it very interesting.
Hanul is at another machine making her own pizza, and hers is getting even more interesting. I don’t know what all she put on hers, but it was quite made up!
Finally, we get a choice of meat. There are several different kinds of meats offered like shrimp, Mexican chorizo, bacon, etc., but we decide to be safe and put pepperoni on our pizzas.
After that, we have to pay at the machine with either a credit or debit card. The Korean government has really encouraged its citizens to use plastic money like debit cards, credit cards, and there is even something called a T-Money Card you can buy at convenience stores or in the subway. The T-Money card is a transportation card, and you get a discount if you use it. You use it in the subway and buses and can even use T-Money cards when you ride in a taxi. I am not sure why the Korean government encourage plastic money, but I think it has something to do with the economy.
Next, a worker gives us a little round thing to put on our tables so they can signal us when our order is done, and we go to sit down. In the meantime, we are taking up the atmosphere. There seem to be signs everywhere that say something “up.” Even at the machines we just left, the place to pay has a sign saying “pay up.” The signs say “queue up,” “drink up,” “order up,” etc. Everything about the restaurant is around the English word “up.”
The man working there tells us we will have to wait 40 minutes for our pizza, but it only takes about 15 minutes before our pizza arrives. They are smaller than we expected. I guess we are too used to places like Pizza Hut and Dominoes which are both in Korea. Pizza Hut tastes just like it does in America, but Dominoes adds extra chili spice to their pizzas trying to cater to the Korean taste. Some Koreans think food has no taste if it is not spicy; to them, tasting good is synonymous with spicy, but the group of friends we hang out with now have a little larger palate and enjoy more than just spicy. Most Koreans just love kimchee, the spicy cabbage that all their mothers tell them they must eat to be healthy and has come to be the representative food of Korea, but my son in law doesn’t even bother with it. His mother made him some homemade kimchee, and he put it in the fridge and let it rot, and we finally learned that he really doesn’t like kimchee. Many of the younger people are learning there is more in the world than kimchee, and are beginning to enjoy foods from other countries to their parent’s dismay.
We can’t wait to taste these interesting pizzas. To our surprise, the squid ink doesn’t change the taste of the pizza crust at all. Everyone is guessing that perhaps the squid ink is added to make it healthier, and some think they just want to make the pizza crust more interesting when they add it because it makes the crust black. We are all very happy with our pizzas. They taste great! Some people are bothered by the oil they see floating on their pizzas when they get them from Pizza Hut or somewhere like that, but there is no oil floating on these pizzas. In fact, I think they tasted better than Pizza Hut or Dominoes. Korea also has a place where they sell cheaper pizza in Korea called “Pizza School.” It is a lot cheaper, but I really don’t like it. I call it cardboard pizza, but there are those who like it like my daughter and son in law.
When we are finished eating and happy with our pizza, we head for the car. In the parking garage, we have to go up a very thin spiraled tunnel to get out again, and there are signs warning that it is dangerous. I really have to concentrate and go slow. After we get out, there is a sign saying we can only go one direction. There are lots of bikes parked right outside the parking garage, probably because this is a college area and they belong to students. We try to drive down the road to get away from the building and go home, but there are people walking in the streets instead of on the sidewalk, and it is very difficult not to hit them. Some are even walking down the middle of the road reading something on their cell phones, and I see a boyfriend pull his girlfriend who in on her phone out of the road trying to protect her. I don’t usually honk my horn, but I honked at a couple of them to wake them up and try to get them out of the road.
As we slowly drive through the people, I see lots of outdoor cafes, ice cream shops, coffee shops, sandwich shops, other interesting restaurants like a Thai restaurant and a Vietnamese restaurant, and even karaoke rooms for rent. It is an entertainment area made for college students. I even saw a henna tattoo parlor. Regular tattoos are supposed to be illegal in Korea, but they are still operated and not shut down hidden from the police like many illegal things in Korea, under cover. Henna tattoos are temporary and legal. When I was teaching at a university here, one of the students got up in front of the class and told them that she was thinking about getting a tattoo and wanted the class to tell her what they thought about her idea. The general consensus was that it was a bad idea. No one in the class recommended it at all. Tattoos may have become a fad among American young people, and there are young people in Korea who think about it, hence the henna tattoo parlor, but most of them don’t think it is a good idea. For the most part, tattoos and strange piercings like you see in America among the young people are not here.
The college that is close is called Hong-geek Dehakyo. “Dehakyo” means university in English. Koreans have a tendency to shorten things, and I have learned that the Hongdeh subway station we had to put in our GPS to get here is just a shortened version of Hong-geek Dehakyo. They just left the last half of both words off, smashed the first part of both words together, and made a new word. Koreans are always shortening their words, and then, pushing parts of two words together to make a new word. That is one of the things that makes speaking Korean so difficult, even for the Koreans themselves; I have heard them complaining because they don’t understand some new word someone made up. We finally get through all the students walking on the street instead of on the sidewalk, and then we head on home. We tried Pizza Up, one of the things that is happening among the young people in Korea, and it is really good!