Bukchon and Samcheon-dong: A Fusion of Old and New

hanok-roof

Wandering around Bukchon, a village with over 600 years of history in the midst of metropolitan Seoul was a stroll into the past and the present.

residential-It was home to aristocrats back in those days when the village was downtown Seoul hence the many traditional houses dating back to the Joseon Dynasty.

cultural-center

Called hanok, more than a few of these traditional houses remained remarkably well and are still actual homes to the Seoulites if not operating as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants or tea houses.

view-of-the-metro

The walk around Buckchon will immerse you in an atmosphere of ancient Joseon Dynasty with old hanoks in small alleyways that lead to great panoramic views of modern Seoul.

samcheongdong

Next to Bukchon is Samcheongdong-gil. One of Seoul’s most stylish neighborhoods harmoniously juxtaposing the old Korea and the modern artsy galleries and cafes as numerous art galleries, shops and restaurants set up shop in renovated hanoks.

mountain-viewMt. Bukak is partly responsible for the charm and mystic of Samcheong-dong.

This charming enclave begins where Insadong ends. Not the typical tourist area, and the rows of boutiques, galleries, and cute coffee shops make for a delightful afternoon wander.

charming

Captivated once again by Seoul’s unique charm, delectable bites and warm-hearted people, it is beyond any doubt that I will be back, and hopefully much sooner this time.

tea-house

Annyeong Seoul… till we meet again.

Korean Street Food: A Food Tour

Food has always been a big part of my travels.   It is, after all, the best way to connect with a place and its people. Food is Culture.

And in Korea, street food is part of its culture. The food scene in Seoul is deliciously varied and steeped in tradition. And its streets will fill you in on its true flavors. Ubiquitous food stalls and kiosks are the best places to eat on the go in a city that needs fuel to get going. Food is quick, hot and cheap in a Po Jang Macha, as locals call them.

demo

Our adventure started with a dish of Haemul Pajeon (Seafood Pancake) demonstrated first to us by a chef at O’ngo Food Communication’s kitchen in Jongno-gu. A food tour we joined to experience Seoul through our belly. I tried many times to replicate this Korean pancake in my kitchen but could never get the crunch. Now I know. A pinch or two of baking soda will do the trick.

Pajeon

On hindsight, hard as it may be, I shouldn’t have gorged on that favorite dish of mine because the rest of the tour had us weaving through good eats after good eats around Insadong.

First stop was the Nakwon Market. Definitely not a Gwangjang (the market of all Seoul markets) but it caters to the neighbourhood and it doesn’t get as local as this.

nakwon-market

It is here where I had my first taste of baechu geotjeori, which translates to Napa cabbage lightly salted.

kimchi-variety

It doesn’t have the oomph of the classic kimchi, but it is mildly salty and sweet making it more rounded. Its crispy texture is refreshingly addicting that leaves me craving for it to this day.

fresh-kimchi-and-gimbap

A kimchi made to be eaten fresh without fermentation,

making-gimbap

it is made daily by this lady who also makes an outstanding Gimbap, a dish that I was never compelled to try (because I thought it is an inferior version of the Japanese sushi, quite the contrary) but have since become a convert.

gimbap

Gimbap: Rice rolls stuff with cucumber, crab sticks, turnip and wrapped in seaweed then brushed with a bit of roasted sesame oil.

Her stall is packed with locals, and you can guess why.

A few street foods later,

bungeoppang

Bungeoppang: It’s a waffle with either a red bean paste (azuki) or a cream filling (similar to a Bavarian) shaped and sealed in a bungeo (carp) like cast iron mold. Crispy edges with a soft sweet middle.

egg-bread

Gyenranppang: On the same stall you’ll most likely find this chicken egg bread or simply egg bread. A version of the bungeoppang. The dough is topped with an egg and cooked in a mini oven.
rice-cakesVarious rice cakes

silkworm

Beondegi: Seasoned silkworm pupae steamed or boiled and eaten as a snack. Chewy in texture, taste is ok, but the smell is a bit off. Overall, ok to try once.

we found ourselves in Bukchon Son Mandu.

Bukchon-Mandoo

Oh the deep-fried pork dumpling is to die for.

pork-mandu

A combination of pork, scallions and glass noodles on a dumpling that is fried to a perfect crisp. We were back the following day for a full meal.

bukchon-mandoo-full-meal

That good.

We then capped the tour with more food. A sumptuous BBQ lunch.

bbq-lunch

Left to wander on our own, we found more street food that fancied our eyes more that our stomachs but still gave in to the lure.

making-dragon-beard-candy

Ggultarae or Dragon Beard Candy: These guys do a great show, attracting many audiences. They start with a block of fermented honey and a bowl of cornstarch (chanting as they work) that is stretched until it turns into fine soft strings. It is then stuffed with hazelnuts, walnuts or peanuts. Yummy!
mochiFruit filled mochi — preserved persimmons on the left and fresh strawberry on the right.

sweet-potato

Spotted, not in Insadong but in Bukchon (on my next post), is this heavenly sweet potato that Korea is so known for.

Seoul is a haven for foodies and a wonderful city to be on a food trip.  Check out my past posts here and here.

Bukchon Son Mandu
42-5, Insadong-gil, Jongno-guSeoul, South Korea (Insadong)

Rainy Days in Seoul: Taxi rides, Museums and Bibimbap

rainy-days-in-SeoulCredits:  Template from the You are Awesome bloghop

As luck would have it, we woke up to a rainy Seoul on our first full day in South Korea’s capital.

rainy-dayBreakfast at the guesthouse.

What to do? We deferred our plan to walk around Bukchon Hanok Village and instead, per the suggestion of the guesthouse staff, we headed to the National Folk Museum in Samcheong-ro in Jongno-gu.

The hassle-free way to get around on a wet day is by taxi. So driver dropped us off in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The museum is located inside the palace grounds, but we didn’t know that. So imagine us bewildered when he stopped the car and tried to tell us (in Korean and sign language) where to go. And so we got off but couldn’t figure out why. While studying the map (in the rain) to get our bearings, he came back and gestured for us to get back in. He decided to drive us all the way to the gate. A quick left and a U and there we were at the side entrance of the Palace, closest to the museum. He was actually trying to tell us to cross the street, walk a little further, turn left, and we will find it. But he didn’t speak English, and we didn’t understand Korean hence the confusion. He didn’t charge extra.

National-Folk-MuseumThe museum shows the lifestyle and traditions of everyday Koreans at different periods that stretches from prehistoric to the end of the Joseon Dynasty.

traditional-villageThere is also an open-air exhibit that takes you back in time through a replica of a street in a traditional village in late 19th century when a new modern culture was rising in Korea.

grinding-millThere you’ll see a grinding mill, a street car; hanok-style buildings and stores.hanok-style-stores

For lunch, we took a very short taxi ride (the driver scratching his head but couldn’t explain that it is just across the street, practically!) to Insadong. But because it was also drizzling, he obliged. I am amazed at how kind and gracious these people are. Thank you!

Lunch was an entirely satisfying meal of bibimbap and bulgogi at Gogung. I forgot how I adored these well-known dishes, which I first came across about 3 decades ago, when Seoul and I weren’t quite as hip. GogungThis beautiful mixed rice with vegetables, chili paste and eggs called bibimbap kept us full without breaking our pockets. Gogung, known for its Jeonju style bibimbap, is in the basement of Ssamzie-gil, a colorful shopping and cultural complex in Insadong-gil.

insadong-gilThe main street, Insadong-gil

An iconic Korean street, Insadong is a vibrant neighbourhood with streets and narrow alleys lined with antique shops, art galleries, and all kinds of shops, from beauty to crafts.

alleys-insadong

insadong-stores It is also home to many traditional restaurants and teahouses. Tomorrow a food tour we signed up for will bring us back here. So stay tuned for more of Insadong and its street foods on my next post.

Rainy Days in Seoul: Staying at the Hongdae District

main-road-mapo-gu

Blame it on K-drama and a thwarted meeting last June, we found ourselves walking the streets of Mapo-Gu, backpacks in tow, looking for our guesthouse on a cold and rainy day in November. We don’t want to waste that visa and ticket, yes?

We got off the subway, followed the instructions provided by the guesthouse complete with photos. Easy to find, on a quiet street not far from the main road sits a charming brick building housing a photography studio and an office on the ground floor.

Lee-Kang-Ga

Lee Kang Ga will be our home for a few days while we explore Seoul (some of it, that is). The cozy guesthouse is on the top floor with residential units in between.

wall-artI chose to stay in the Hongdae district for its urban street arts and indie music culture. Brimming with mostly young people wandering about, the vibrant streets (especially at night) are alive with music and a lot of cheering. You’ll see dance performances, musicians singing or playing their instruments in all sorts of genre.

shopping-at-hongdae

Filled with independent stores and boutiques, it is also a fantastic place to shop if edgy fashion is your thing. It is clearly a place for the young and the young at heart.

As it is a university belt, restaurants and coffee shops abound. Although a phenomenon in all of Korea, the area boasts of exciting themed cafes.

hongdae

Every night was a different discovery of the local taste. One night we devoured on (fried) chicken and beer.

chicken-and-beerIf you don’t know this combination, then you are not watching enough K-dramas.

“Have you tried makgeolli?” Andy, from our guesthouse and (must add) the kindest staff I’ve encountered so far, asked. Apparently also superb with chicken, he ran down to the nearest convenience store, bought us a few bottles of Korean rice wine. He ordered a box of fried chicken to go with it.

Mageolli

Pronounced Mak-a-lee, this milky alcoholic beverage is fizzy and refreshing, slightly sweet and tangy and easy to drink.

Every night, we gather at the rooftop kitchen and dining area to exchange stories and share a few bottles of beer, soju, makgeolli or wine with other guests and staff.

hanging-out

It was a lovely vibe of different cultures and age groups. And till today, I still fond memories of those nights.

In the heart of Hongdae, Andy pointed us to one of his favorite “grilled beef” restaurants. It didn’t have an English sign so he sent us a photo of the sign in Korean and instructions on how to find it.

Korean-beef

Found on the 3rd floor atop a 7Eleven store, it was packed with students and young professionals. And on a corner table, we indulged in excellent Korean beef. What made it really special outside of its quality and reasonable price is the array of flavoured salt that one dredges on the meat.salt-variety

Equally as important to Koreans are pork bellies. Samgyupsal or pork belly wraps could possibly outshine any beef dish in Korea. Koreans are in love with pork bellies and so are we. On our way to the Nanta Theater in Hongdae, we spotted “The Ginger Pork” and instantly knew where dinner will be after the show.

Ginger-Pork

Thick fatty slices of pork bellies grilled on a grill plate, eaten together with garlic, green onion salad and some ssamjang wrapped in fresh lettuce leaf.  It was a glorious way to cap  a fantastically energetic show.

nanta

And speaking of Nanta, do find time to watch this impressive non-verbal comedy show that is entirely about cooking/food. It’s a lot of fun. In Hongdae, the theatre is housed in the beautiful Yellow Stone Building.

Yellow-Stone-Building

There are more to explore in the Hongdae district and 4 nights is simply not enough. In fact, we only scratched the surface and definitely calls for another visit. More of Seoul in my next posts. Stay tuned.

Maa Shee Saw Yo (Delicious!)

Credits:  Kitschy Digitals – You Are Awesome Kit Plain and Yellow Houndstooth papers; JSprague Awesome Scallop tag

Twenty years ago, Korea to me meant underground shopping where overruns of well-known brands abound.

Itaewon

Today, these so-called underground shops albeit scarce still exists but no longer rule my interest.  More than lovely sceneries (which I only discovered on this trip), it’s the cuisine that got me fired up.  Korean food ranked high on my list of favorites ever since I stepped foot on their soil some twenty years ago.  The proliferation of Korean restos in my neck of the woods nurtured that fondness.  Lucky for us, we had great Korean hosts and night after night, we were treated with authentic Korean cuisine and more. And contrary to some reports, Koreans are very courteous people.   🙂

Some of my favorite dishes came to life and once again, I got to taste it from its source.

Bibimbap

Rice, meat, vegetables, an egg and chili paste.  Mixed together and I’m in heaven.  What I love best about this is the crusty rice at the bottom.  So better make sure that it is served in a hot stone bowl.

Chapchae

Usually served as a side dish in Korea but I can have it as a main dish anytime.  It can truly make my day.

Galbi Gui

The first time I tried this was in a small restaurant in Itaewon and I’ve never looked back.  A must have in every Korean dinners.  It is short ribs marinated in Korean Soy Sauce, garlic and sugar and then grilled, usually at the table.   Typically served with lettuce, which is used to wrap the beef in.  The hot bean paste called ssamjang sealed the deal for me.

Kimchi

Funny how I sometimes crave for this when it wasn’t love at first taste…  nope, not at all!  It actually took a while for me to even like this stuff.  But what is Korean food without kimchi?

A Colorful Platter of 9 ingredients in Thin Crepe

This was interesting and a first encounter.  The platter came with thinly sliced fresh and pickled vegetables and mushrooms.  Gather a few of each and wrap with the crepe.  Maa shee saw yo!

It was a great trip to Korea even if it was actually work (and a bit of play).  The food capped it all, as usual.

The Best View in Seoul

From ancient to modern.  The Namsan Tower of Seoul was built in 1969 as a communications tower.  It is today also an observations tower known as the N Seoul Tower when it opened its doors to the public in 1980.  It has since then become a must-see destination for those visiting the city.  The N Seoul Tower lies atop Mt. Namsan (hence the name) and stands 479m above sea level at its peak.  This art and cultural multiplex commands a spectacular view of the city on a good day.

On a bad day such as the day we were there, the smog did not allow for clear view…   😦

For those residing in Seoul, it has turned into a trendy urban haven offering exciting things to do and see.   Imagine dining at a revolving 360˚ panoramic backdrop… ok it’s nothing new

but has anyone been to a toilet such as this?

On the same level, we admired the view while having our cuppa joe and this awesomely moist camembert muffin.  A two-thumbs up!!

Part of their effort to preserve the environment of Namsan is by banning private vehicles from entering the mountain since 2005.  One would have to walk up the hill, or take the cable car.  We opted to walk, which makes for a good exercise albeit pleasant due to the lush trees that shade the road ascending to the tower.

As you reach the entrance, a floating figure greets and on the side of the tower is a viewing deck or a terrace (as they call it)

with countless locks attached to the railing, conveying eternal love.

Supposedly an idea copied from the Tokyo Tower. Our guide disclosed that a friend of his has six padlocks going on seven attached on the many rails of the deck.

But… but…   😕  But I guess hope springs eternal.   😀

Chang Deok Gung: A Palace in Harmony with Nature

The ancient seat of Korean royalty has 5 major palaces in Seoul and some are definitely worth a visit.  Chang Deok Gung is one.  We visited the palace as recommended if given half a day sightseeing only.  Some chose to go shopping… not me.  Although Geong Bok Gung is the grandest palace and the seat of power for centuries, we didn’t go there because it would need more time to fully explore.

And even if Chang Deok Gung is 2nd only in importance to Gyeong Bok Gung, it was a favorite of many kings of the Joseon Dynasty, perhaps because it was built in harmony with nature.

The walls inside the palace were laid out freely, not imposing but rather blending with nature

and this earned the palace a UNESCO listing as World Heritage Site in 1997.

Both palaces were totally destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion of 1592.  After the war, Gyeong Bok Gung was not rebuilt because its site was no longer considered auspicious.

Instead, Chang Deok Gung was restored in 1610 and served as main palace for the next 258 years, until Gyeong Bok Gung was finally rebuilt in 1868.

Some sites to note:

Seongjeongjeon – where the king handled routine state affairs.

Originally a hall for the king, but it was also used by queens to throw parties to honor elders and encourage customs of respecting one’s elders.

For leisure and relaxation, the royal family had a secret garden built.  The garden presents an unusually exquisite design adapted to the topography.

Buyongji lies in the heart of the Secret Garden.  A relatively open space used for retreats as well as for study.

A number of buildings were built around this rectangular pond.

Jondeojeong – this area is believed to have been the last to be added on to the Secret Garden.

The Palace in more detail: