Buried in the bosom of Seoul’s business district is a small self-service café. High-rise buildings of chrome and glass and the steady stream of traffic and business suits outside fade into chaos and color when you step into Mamas. Rickety tables, mismatched chairs, bustling servers and random quotes on the walls create a motley collection of European styles reminiscent of an Italian café.
But beyond décor, Mamas is all about the brunch. Whether you’re meeting up with friends or on a casual date, this little slice of goodness is easy on the wallet and heavy on the cheese — ricotta, to be precise, if you’re going for their famed salad. Which you should do: The ricotta, cranberry and walnut salad is topped with cherry tomatoes, slices of baguette, drizzles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and is by far the most popular item in the place.
The menu, scrawled on a board behind the counter, consists mainly of light meals — an array of salads, gorgonzola and honey paninis, Philly cheese steak rolls, ham and cheese sandwiches and as much baguette as you can fill your stomach with. Also wildly popular are the black squid-ink paninis, and the freshly squeezed green and red grape juices are absolute must haves.
At Mamas, you order and collect your meal at the counter. Expect to be put on a waiting list if you arrive after 6 p.m. any night of the week or during Seoul’s lunch crush. If you really want to enjoy Mamas, then go on the weekend. Mamas branches are set up to take advantage of Seoul’s busy businesspeople, meaning they are busiest during the work-week and vacant on the weekend.
“The ricotta, cranberry and walnut salad is topped with cherry tomatoes, slices of baguette, drizzles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and is by far the most popular item in the place.”
Be warned, the café is popular with Koreans — Naver is alive with the buzz of Mamas and queues are long. Table turnover is quick and is well worth the wait.
Entrees range between 8,000 won and 12,000 won.
This isn’t the type of café to set up your laptop, kick up your feet, listen to music and get some writing done, unless you’re the kind of person who can block out the chaos of dozens of hungry people and changing tables.
Mamas was such a hit when the first café opened not long ago that it has expanded and is now a thriving franchise. But don’t let the “F” word put you off, this place offers great food in a unique atmosphere.
Walk out Gwanghwamun Station, exit 5. Walk along the right side of Cheonggyechon Stream and turn right at Mr. Pizza. Café Mamas is located on the left, behind the Seoul Finance Center building. It actually took over the vacancy after Quiznos shut its doors. Café Mamas also has branches in Yuhadong, Sunhwadong, Yeouido, Mugyodong and Seochodong.