Bloody Mary at Wolfhound Irish Pub and Restaurant in Itaewon, Seoul
By Ines Min
Brunch is not for sissies.
Forget flower decorations on the table, groups of well-manicured women conversing, fluffy pancakes drizzled in artistically placed syrups and jams. Push it all aside and bring out a rich-red Bloody Mary or a tangy mimosa, platters of fried starches and butter-heavy sauces.
Though the brunch trend has taken off in Korea, aspects of the midday meal seemed to have been lost in translation. Having entered through television screens less than five years ago, the idea of brunch has permeated weekend culture through the best way possible: the hearts of young women around the country.
Influenced by such glamorous leading ladies as the quartet in “Sex and the City,” it was inevitable the followers of the dark side of brunch would be overlooked. Namely, the hangover crowd.
‘Hair of the Dog’
Though the exact origins of brunch and its cocktails are uncertain, it is widely believed that drinking a small amount when hung over helps with drinking-withdrawal pains. Though it is almost universally frowned upon to consume alcohol at breakfast, brunch succeeds in opening up a new realm of opportunity by cleverly finding a loophole.
General manager Sylvia Trevino, of the independent Texas restaurant chain Opal Divine’s, attributes the popularity of the cocktails - which is an “absolutely” vital part of brunch - to its ingredients.
Two of the most common drinks include Bloody Marys and mimosas. The former is a mixture of vodka, tomato juice, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, and is often garnished with a range of vegetables, from celery stalks to lemon slices, shrimp to pickled green beans. Mimosas are comprised of equal parts of champagne or sparkling wine and chilled orange juice.
“They’re kind of good for you and they’re something you’d drink in the morning,” Trevino said in a phone interview with The Korea Times. “You can get up and drink orange juice or V8, and this is just the weekend version of that.”
Although the idea of daytime drinking might still sound scandalous to some, Trevino, who has been working in the restaurant industry for more than 15 years, said her restaurant attracts a diverse crowd. “It’s another way to go out with your family and kids, and it’s acceptable to have a cocktail in front of them.”
Bringing It In
The breakfast-lunch medley has, for the most part, been adopted here by those catering to both foreigners and locals. Itaewon, Seoul, is spotted with “bruncheries” such as Suji’s Restaurant, My Chelsea and Flying Pan Blue. Since these places almost always have expatriates managing, the addition of cocktails seemed somewhat of a necessity.
Darrell Mahoney, co-owner of the Berlin Cafe & Lounge, said it was a natural step to include the alcoholic beverages on their menu.
“It was just kind of a consensus between myself, partners and friends who asked why we didn’t have Bloody Marys,” he said.
“It’s something that people, especially foreign clients, look for.” Mahoney said mimosas were also offered, but were taken off the menu due to a lack of sales.
“I think cocktails at brunch are still not very popular, but we try to promote the culture of drinks with monthly events,” he said.
Over at Wolfhound Irish Pub and Restaurant, co-owner Wayne Gold has also placed cocktails on the menu.
“There’s nothing like having a few drinks with your friends, whether it’s in the daytime or not,” he said, reminiscing on memories of his time back home. The Canadianexpat explained that afternoon barbecues and weekend holidays were often accompanied with a few drinks, which helped tie into the inevitability of including the brunch cocktails.
The culture seems to be growing, however. Gold said that the Sunday day crowd has surpassed the Friday night partiers over the past year and a half, though cocktails have not been entirely welcomed yet.
On a recent early afternoon over the weekend at Wolfhound, there were many groups and couples spotted washing down their plates of brunch with Coca- Cola’s and coffees (minus the shots of liquor).
Offering a variety of waffles, omelettes, salads and other dishes, brunch restaurants here are predominantly equipped with welldesigned interiors and dishes that are given names like “Chocolate Ecstasy.” Chung Yeon-hwan, an office-worker at Hanhwa, said she enjoyed having brunch with her friends on occasion.
“I first learned about brunch from Western films,” Chung said. “I was in high school at the time.” Years later, in college, she had the opportunity to experience the still-foreign concept directly at the Flying Pan Blue, which she enjoyed.
A brunch plate at Wolfhound Irish Pub and Restaurant in Itaewon, Seoul
/Korea Times Photos by Ines Min
In terms of overall association, the 28- year-old said brunches seem relatively light.
“Although it should be twice as much food, because the meal is right in between breakfast and lunch, you just eat one (regular) meal.” Chung also said she finds brunches to be mostly relaxed affairs that serve as an ideal setting for conversation. She typically orders a coffee or tea as her beverage.
“I didn’t even know brunch places had cocktails,” Chung said. “I’ve never seen anyone drinking them.” She is not alone, however, as others also view the meal as more of a substitute than a staple.
“I think the kind of people who eat brunch are probably more students or people who are busy,” said 25-year-old Kim Yong-ha, a student at Korea University. “People who don’t really have time to make breakfast.”
At the same time, Kim feels that brunch is associated with a more high-class image that women often find appealing - more so than many males, at least. “I think girls might go out more, as guys don’t really ask each other to go eat brunch.”
However, he added, “If I had a girlfriend, I think I’d probably go a lot.”
A Meal of Heft
Trevino believes that the perception of brunches being for the prim and ladylike alone is inaccurate within the Western world. “I’ve been working in this industry for 15 years,” she said. “And brunch has been extremely popular way before ‘Sex and the City’ even came out.
”Besides, the meal that the general manager associates with brunch is not one to be eaten or taken lightly. With typical dishes ranging from Eggs Benedict to sausages, brunch is “actually very rich.” The buttery, hollandaise sauces and heavy potatoes are no joking matter, either.
“I wouldn’t say it’s good for you,” she said.
Wolfhound Pub and Restaurant is one of the few places in town that does a brunch that isn’t afraid to let it all hang out. Taking care to avoid the waffle territory entirely, the restaurant sticks with the basics, and the best of them. Beans, eggs to order, bacon strips, sausage, toast and jam crowd a hefty plate that bares no artistic drizzle of syrup.
Each patron consumes their meal in their own distinct way: some spoon juicy beans onto a half-slice of toast, while others spread softened margarine before piling the bread high with eggs and bites of sausage.
Though the methods are many, the end result is the same: a clean plate, a full belly and the urgent need to nap. Dainty figures do not necessarily belong at the brunch table, as everyone needs to hold their own in battling a mountain of food.
Eyeing a Change
Chung said the idea of a brunch focused on cocktails isn’t the kind that the majority of Koreans know about.
“I’m curious though, because it’s something new,” she said, adding that she would be interested in trying some of the drinks in the future.
The brunch culture made its way quickly into the Korean world, but perhaps it can also evolve just as fast. Though for now, the meal might carry the label of being a light meal for the gossipy types, it could soon be a time for everyone to gather around a table, raise a glass and gorge.