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Fire Rice of the Heungheung Mall
Apr 26, 2018

It is a beautiful thing to be lost and it’s even more beautiful to be lost in a city like Cheonan. The reason is simple, it gives you the opportunity to discover something new.

Have you been to the Heung Heung Shopping Mall? It is a place like none other. Its beauty is unique and its location reminds me of the quote ‘right before your very eyes and you couldn’t see’. Yes. It has been there all this while but I could not see it.

In the heart of Cheonan, I discovered Heungheung Mall. Yes. It is a mall but it’s a mall like none you have ever seen before, however, that is a story for another day, for right now all I can think of is the exquisite restaurant that I stumbled upon on the ground floor of the “mall”.

Five minutes’ walk from the Cheonan station, in full glare of the CGV building, right behind GS24, in a quiet street in Cheonan is situated this four-in-one restaurant that I wish I could keep my very own secret. Yes, four in one, it’s like four secrets, four unique designs, four masters and specialties and four floors. The four-story building stands like a giant mirror, with an iconic brightly colored yellow batch over the main entrance, giving it the look of royalty.

Walking through the glass doors, one steps into a spacious dining area, with a variety of contemporary styled furniture remarkably simple wooden tables neatly arranged around the restaurant. Straight ahead you are faced with three distinct stands. To the far left is “Eager Burger” for lovers of home-made burgers, in the center is “Dear Salad” for everything salad and to the right is “Rice Pick” and so goes the name, and then there is the bar, “ALOR STAR”

The friendly attendant with the neat haircut and a good ear for the English language will be ever ready to show you to your seats and take time out to explain the different sections of the restaurant and the variety of menus to you.

With a vast array of delicacies to pick from, and an empty stomach I could not resist making a pick at the Rice Pick stand. Little did I know that Chef Hwang Tae Kyung had a pleasant surprise for me, ‘the Rice on Fire’.

Eating good food is divine, but watching it being majestically prepared adds an entirely different sensation to it. Chef Hwang combines the dexterity and calm of a real master of the culinary arts. In his black apron, he took my command with glee as I took up the seat next to counter where I could watch him at work.

My instinct took the better part of me just seeing him place the big bowlike pot on the fire. I just had to take out my phone and turn on the camera. First went the oil in the bowl and soon after the rice. The spices followed shortly, and as it simmers over the low heat more spices went in. In the blink of an eye, the pot was engulfed in flame and I pulled back expecting Chef Hwang to reach for the fire extinguisher in the corner, but no, the master Chef boldly moved to the pot and holding on to the extended handle, in a gentle manner rocked the pot and threw its content into the air. A ball of rice and fire rose in the air and dropped back into the pot. Then I realized I was in such awe that instead of taking pictures I was only holding my camera.

I raised my camera and focused, patiently waiting as the fire kept lingering over the pot of rice. Then in a flash, Chef Hwang rocked the pot again and threw its content into the air, the rice flamed up as the kitchen area lit up. He trapped the content back into the pot and with almost a simultaneous gesture poured in another ingredient from a bottle that stood by the stove. The yellow flames of the fired rice turned blue and slowly died down. This time around my camera had been clicking away.

I was salivating before the nicely arranged bowl of rice reached me. Without a moment to waste, I scooped up a spoon full and shoved it into my mouth. 맛있어요 – delicious; palate of my mouth savoured the tastes, hidden in the flavors of the fried rice, the taste of the fire lingering. It felt like eating a ball of delicious fire, and before you grasp the full taste of it, it melts somewhere deep into your salivary glands.

I forgot that I was eating, I was struggling to catch tastes and aromas and the flavours of the fired rice of the Heungheungmall, and as my bowl emptied away, I came back to reality. It was a meal that felt like it had been served in a dream. It felt good to know that it was real.

The wonders of Heungheungmall do not end with the restaurant. It’s a mall unique to itself and my visit to the other floors led to discoveries which I will store in my treasure chest. As the night fell and the lights came on and as I walked away from the Heungheungmall to catch my train, a voice kept whispering in my ear, NOW YOU KNOW THE TASTE OF THE FIRE RICE OF THE HEUNGHEUNG MALL!

BAMBO Samuel.

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