Written and photographed by Justin Ramsay
With winter well and truly upon us and the temperatures plummeting by the day, those of us from more tropical climes are finding it harder to muster up the will to drag ourselves away from the heated floors, blankets, and general warmth of home and into the sub-zero, icy terrain that awaits us outside. Thankfully this month’s stop for the Where to Eat feature is just a short hop, skip, and a jump away from my home in the hip little slice of town that is Dongmyeong-dong.
My wife and I set out to our destination in several layers of our warmest threads in the minus-7-degree weather, thankful for the lack of wind that made the trip down the road somewhat bearable and even refreshing. We were barely 20 meters down the road when the snow began to fall, and within minutes, the streets were blanketed in a soft dusting of the white stuff. Being from South Africa, I never experienced snow when I was younger, so whenever the first substantial snowfall of the season hits like this, it brings me a child-like feeling of joy that cuts right through the cold and instantly puts me in a great mood. Ten minutes of slowly walking and admiring the snowfall later, we arrived at Barn Toom in high spirits with hopes of procuring a warm meal and a tasty beverage.
The road on which Barn Toom is located is directly across from the main entrance of Daein Market but was much more peaceful on a Saturday night than the bustling night market we had just walked through. We had walked down this road many times in the past but hadn’t paid much attention as it appeared to just be littered with a few standard coffee shops and small bars en route to the part of Dongmyeong-dong where the majority of eateries and dessert cafes are found. The storefront of Barn Toom blends in with the other coffee shops and bars on the street, but only at first glance, as it is in fact a café-bar-restaurant and performance venue rolled into one. The dining area of the interior is quite small and has a little bar cum barista station with a kitchen in the back.
The aesthetic of Barn Toom is one of bits of wood, industrial elements, and the odd plant scattered about, which give it a certain rustic, hipster-esque charm. Its aged-effect painted walls with guitars and other instruments leaned against them with the odd poster and plants balancing on stepladders would not look out of place in any modern, hip area of Cape Town, Berlin, Portland, or the like. The owner of Barn Toom is an indie musician, and so the space is transformed into an intimate performance venue once or twice a month for his band and others to showcase their skills and then goes back to being a cozy café-bar-hangout spot for the majority of the time.
Once we were seated, we were given a one-page handwritten menu on a clipboard, on paper with a purposefully aged effect that made it look like an old document or set list, a nice touch that fitted the rustic look of the venue quite well. We had a quick look through the menu and ordered an IPA and a selection of three dishes from the small food menu that consisted of six options. A selection of cocktails and liquor is also available, along with a coﬀee-and-tea selection including a mint chocolate chip latte.
The first item to arrive was our brunch plate, which can be ordered at any time of day (or indeed, night) and is very reasonably priced at just 7,000 won. On the plate, there was an English muffin, a frankfurter, fried egg, bacon, and a veggie salad. The egg was nicely done, sunny-side up, and the yolk was hot but nice and runny. The English muffin was served separate from the other ingredients so you could choose to either assemble it to your liking or eat everything separately and use the English muffin to soak up the egg and sauce from the plate. We went with the former and cleared our plate quite quickly. Our second dish arrived very shortly thereafter. The cazuela, which is essentially gambas al ajillo, arrived piping hot with a generous portion of garlic bread on the side and smelled great. The dish consisted of a hot frying pan containing a good portion of shrimp cooked in olive oil with various seasoning including bay leaves, pepper, garlic, and parsley. We had eaten gambas al ajilo at quite a few other restaurants, but this one definitely had more flavor and a bit of a kick to it, with a little bit of spiciness, which added to the dish and made it more enjoyable.
While we were chatting and enjoying the last of our shrimp, our final dish of shakshouka arrived. Shakshouka is a dish popular in the Middle East and North Africa in countries such as Libya and Tunisia, and consists of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions, and spiced with cumin. I had never eaten shakshouka before, but once I smelled it, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Like the cazuela, it came with bread on the side to dip into it, and it was different from other shakshouka I had seen online as it had additional ingredients such as cheese and spicy sausage. Our first experience with shakshouka was a good one, and although we were already very full by this point, we cleaned our plates. I think the sausage and molten cheese definitely added to the dish, and it was very tasty in a homely, comfort food sort of way.
If you fancy a simple brunch but it’s not Sunday, or you want a nice homely, hot meal to stave off the icy grip of winter and warm your heart, then definitely stop by Barn Toom and give the cazuela or shakshouka a try.
Justin is an English teacher from South Africa who has lived in Gwangju since 2013. He is a big fan of food and the arts, and generally goes where something good can be eaten, seen, or heard. He is often involved in GPP performances and writes monthly food articles for the Gwangju News. In his free time, he’s usually playing boardgames, videogames, or just enjoying a nice stroll around Gwangju.