If one walks in at the right moment, one will be greeted by the mouthwatering scent of chicken grilling over smoldering charcoal at “Mamalee Market,” a Korean deli that opened in Samseong-dong, Seoul, two months ago.
That barbecued chicken, which is basted with doenjang (fermented soybean paste) and grilled to smoky succulence, is one of the most popular eats at this new takeaway spot.
Mamalee Market in Samseong-dong offers an array of dishes, from Korean "namul" (vegetable dishes) to salads and charcoal-grilled chicken (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
“We use hardwood charcoal sourced from Gangwon Province,” said owner Song Ha-seul-ram.
Despite the late afternoon hours, Song and team are grilling up a second batch of chicken because the first batch has already sold out.
Crisp on the outside and juicy down the center, the barbecued meat is sliced, laid over a bed of kale and paired with tender stalks of asparagus.
Mamalee’s barbecued chicken thighs are just a precursor to an eclectic array of tasty eats at this gem of a shop situated near Gangnam-gu Office Station.
There is a changing line-up of seasonal “namul” (vegetable dishes), judiciously seasoned, like fragrant perilla leaves and tender “bireum namul” (edible amaranth).
There is more chicken, like Song’s take on a popular Chinese fried chicken dish, which he spices up with fish sauce and plenty of cilantro, for a cool salad-like affair that could easily incite chopstick wars amongst those eager to snatch up each precious morsel of crisp meat.
Pasta salad is a jumble of al dente fusilli, liberally coated in pesto sauce, layered with thin slices of hard-boiled egg, poached shrimp and chicken breast. Fresh greens add a slight sharpness to the dish, while a fragrant olive oil-based herb dressing adds a vibrant tang.
There are also snacks, like Mamalee’s “kimbugak,” which Song and his team make over the course of three days.
The resulting shards of fried dried laver embedded with tapioca are crunchy and light with an addictive umami richness that lingers on the tongue.
There is also coconut milk-infused chicken curry and a ragu made from beef, duck and lamb as well, testimony to the incredibly varied offerings at Mamalee.
Plenty of cilantro and a dressing crafted with fish sauce give owner Song's take on his popular Chinese fried chicken dish a fragrant umami kick. (Park Hyun--koo/The Korea Herald)
Song explained that this is all in accordance with his master plan.
After spending years in the realm of fine dining before opening Mamalee, Song wanted a space where he could do what he wanted and he liked the idea of doing a deli because it afforded him a certain kind of flexibility.
Also by opening in a location that is close to both a residential area and plenty of offices, Song added, he can “prepare a diverse repertoire” that caters to a wide variety of customers.
“There are no boundaries,” said Song, 28.
Truly there aren’t.
Pasta sauce rubs shoulders with traditional Korean “banchan” next to salads and curry sauces at Mamalee.
The one element that seems to unite this delicious mishmash of eats is Song, himself, who can draw from his long career as a chef to infuse dishes with the flavors, ingredients and techniques that he has become familiar with over the years.
Song knew early on in his life that he wanted to cook and enrolled into a culinary arts high school as a teenager.
After mandatory military duty, Song then boarded a plane for Spain where he stayed for nearly four years, racking up experience at several restaurants, including a Michelin-starred establishment, before returning to Korea.
After coming back, he worked at a Korean restaurant as a chef before striking off on his own with Mamalee Market.
Now he is putting all those years of experience into his deli, where anyone can drop by, pick up a hamper and pile it high with carefully thought-out, toothsome eats.
Mamalee Market (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
1-3 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed Sundays
Dishes-to-go cost 2,000 won to 15,000 won
By Jean Oh (firstname.lastname@example.org