Our time in Seoul, and Korea, for that matter was coming to an end. The Missus and I discussed the possibilities for a last meal and we decided to give KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) another shot. This time at a place that was more highly recommended. I had a place on my list....which one of my coworkers called a "Hof"??? A Hof? Like "Hofbrau"? Well, she wasn't sure.....the term "hof" is used for various places that serve beer/drinks with food and to my relief had nothing to do with "The Hoff". So it was off to the "hof".
The shop was located in the Gyeongbokgung area, west of the Palace. The Gwanghwamun Gate of Gyeongbokgung looked especially striking on this clear evening.
Finding Mirak Chicken wasn't too difficult; especially with pocket wifi, called an "egg" in Korea, and a photo of the exterior.
Mirak Chicken's popularity is in part due to being shown on a very popular Korean Food Show named Tasty Road, which is how we found out about the place after having two people mention Mirak and the show to me.
The interior has a dark and kind of pub-like feel.
As is typical with these places, there's the all-you-can eat popcorn....which I found a bit odd. You obviously need a beverage of choice; we went with some Hite, which seemed a bit sweeter, but very light, and not as bitter as the versions here in the states. Perhaps it was being on holiday....... After ordering, some shredded cabbage dressed with a somewhat fruity mayo and the standard condiment of KFC, the water kimchi arrived.
Mirak is known for their Garlic Chicken, which of course had to order.
The chicken came with a ton of glazed whole garlic cloves, which of course I loved, but made me socially unpresentable for most of the evening. As with other glazed/sweet/spicy chicken of this type, the glaze was very sticky and way too sweet for me. They really had the batter and the cooking process down as the crust was thin and light, and the chicken very moist. It was just hard to get over the sweetness, for which I was thankful for the radish.
Hedging our bets, we also ordered the regular fried chicken which was quite good.
Crisp, light, and moist. But again, for some reason we both found the seasoning to be on the very mild side. They sure had the cooking process down though.
We were glad to have been able to try a couple of Korean Fried Chicken places.
Mirak Chicken (미락치킨) 17-1 Jahamun-ro Seoul, South Korea
After dinner, we decided to take a walk around the area. We hadn't been around this part of Seoul so this made for an interesting walk. We came across a shopping arcade and decided to do some exploring.
There were quite a few food stalls......
One stall was especially popular.
It made tteokbokki, not my favorite food item in the world, but this looked different. Bright red, stir fried in oil, so I had to try some.....
The was quite good....nice chew, a slight crunch, a good amount of spice, not very greasy.....I really liked it. It changed my opinion of tteokbokki.
After returning home, I tried to find out the name of this place and learned that it is Tongin Market, which was originally set-up by the Japanese in 1941 during the occupation. I also learned that one of the most popular stalls in the market makes Gireum tteokbokki, basically a fried in oil version.......lines rarely lie, right?
Walking back was a pleasure.....we really enjoy Seoul at night.
Before heading back to the apartment, we decided to head on over to the Cheonggyecheon Stream area. A few nights earlier we'd come across the Seoul Lantern Festival. I'm guessing this night must be something special, because folks were really enjoying the sights.
The theme this year was an "Illuminated Tour of Seoul", which was very cool. We saw lanterns of many of the sights we'd seen during the previous days.
Under the bridge folks were gathered, putting together lanterns to be released in the stream.
People were having a great time. It was a nice way to end our stay in Seoul.
As we walked back to the apartment along the alleyway parallel to the main street. Apparently, the huge building we were staying at was built over the Pimatgol, parallel to the main street of Jongno. Because the lower class residents were required to bow down to the nobles everytime they came across them, this parallel alley; the "alley to avoid horses", was created. There's a couple of very nice stories to be found here.
And while there are quite a few anecdotes I haven't told about Seoul; like the Missus complaining about not seeing a branch of Cocohodo, when there was one on the other side of the building. Just like Japan, it seems like there was a story around every corner.
We dozed of easily on this evening. We'd be rising early, then heading off to the airport, via Seoul Station. Next stop; Sapporo!
It was our last day in Seoul. Time had really flown by, but to be honest, the Missus was already looking forward to the next leg of our trip, which was Hokkaido. There were really only two more places the Missus wanted to visit. So we headed off, down Jong-Ro.....walking of course. Past Gwangjang Market ....
The massive multi-building complex is quite overwhelming; covering 10 blocks, comprised of 26 shopping malls. After walking around a bit....I was getting hungry so we decided to head up to the Food Court located on the 5th floor of the "New Wing".
And found a stand that was open and got something simple to eat.
Nothing amazing, but simple and it kept the both of us going. Pretty cheap at 5,000 KRW (about $4.25) too.
We then headed off back in the direction we had come. Jetlagged, we had miscalculated the day of the week when we arrived and found Gyeongbokgung Palace closed. We decided to put off a visit until our last day in Seoul.
We had made our way back here in record time as Gyeongbokgung wasn't open yet! Plus, we were pretty darn hungry....I guess that little breakfast/snack didn't hold up for very long. I had read severalposts about a iconic Kimchi Jigae shop down an alley nearby. So we found the area and I believe we found the alley....
There were no signs in older style Hanja that the Missus could read. Plus, all the businesses looked closed. I came across a kindly looking older gentleman and busted out one of few phrases I knew in Korean, "sillyehabnida" and showed him the name of the place, Gwanghwamun Jip. He smiled and walked us a few doors down......
The place did look closed so I used the other phrase I knew "gomabseubnida" and started walking away. He waved at me telling me to stop, opened the door, and one of the ladies running the place waved us in! Nice folks.
They were still prepping, cutting scallions and napa cabbage. They kindly sat us at one of the tables in this tiny hole-in-the-wall. The place looked like it was run by a group of "Ajumma", a good sign. We actually never even ordered.....what's to order since they basically serve two things here, right? A pot was taken off the blue bookshelf and placed on the gas burner on the table.
One of the women was hard at work at the stove near the window. And in a few minutes, everything else arrived.
You can see the other item that Gwanghwamun Jip specializes in, the tasty gyeran mari - a rolled omelet. Perfect for this morning. I loved the baechu kimchi here. It was nicely fermented the flavor complex and not overly salty as versions in the states. The Missus really enjoyed the simple fermented cabbage which reminds Her of the suan cai we make at home.
Meanwhile the pork kimchi jigae was bubbling away.
This was very hearty; even better as it kept bubbling away, eventually reducing to a thick and rich stew. Not too spicy, nor salty, nice savory flavors, this definitely has that "aaaah" factor. The pork was flavorful, though as expected rather tough.....it's there for the flavor.
It was a filling and satisfying meal. We love soulful, homey places like this. In a nutshell, Gwanghwamun Jip did not disappoint.
Gwanghwamun Jip 12, Saemunan-ro 5-gil Jongno-gu, Seoul
The meal left us warm and ready for our visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace.
As we approached the Gwanghwamun gate we noticed a bit of a commotion.
1. The first drumbeat signal sounds and the relieving guard unit mobilizes towards Gwanghwamun Gate. 2. The second drumbeat signal sounds and the relieving guard unit moves outside of Gwanghwamun Gate, and the chief of the relieving guard unit and the chief of the guard unit on duty perform an identification check. 3. The chief of the relieving guard unit orders his unit to take their positions at the gate and the relieved guard unit mobilizes to the inside of the gate. 4. The third drumbeat signal sounds and the chief of the relieved guard unit orders his unit to exit the vicinity."
It does go kind of long....the Chinese tourists got bored rather quickly and decided to leave.
Meanwhile, we enjoyed the entire ceremony. We've now seen Changing of the Guard ceremony's in Athens, Prague, and Malta.
Once the ceremony was over we could enter via the Gwanghwamun Gate.
Gyeongbokgung Palace was constructed in 1395, the first royal palace built by Joseon Dynasty which lasted over 500 years.
Our favorite spots on the palace grounds was the Geunjeongjeon, the Throne Hall.
Which held the throne of course.
And we also enjoyed the aesthetics of the Gyeonghoeru.
Walking back along Sejong-ro , we noticed this piece of concrete.
It's a piece of the Berlin Wall! I'm sure the symbolism must stir emotions in many people in Korea, a nation divided north and south, and technically still at war.
We headed back to our apartment, just a few blocks away....we'd done a bit of walking and the temperature was dropping, so it was time for a break. While walking back, we made plans for our last night in Seoul......
There was steady drizzle as we headed back to Myeongdong.
We had begun to notice something about the crosswalk signals in Seoul.....they seemed to take an inordinately long time to change. Miss a walk signal and you're stuck cooling your heels. Which is probably why you'll see folks sprinting to make the walk signal....I mean like 80 year old grandma's hauling it to the crosswalk!
So why did we head back to that beast called Lotte Department Store?
Well, the night before I stopped by 7-11 and picked up a bottle of Hite. attached to that bottle was a sample of honey-butter almonds.....which the Missus loved. So of course we had to hunt them down. After looking in a couple of convenience stores we decided just to head to Lotte and check out the market in the basement. And whaddya know? Almonds. So it was mission accomplished.
We headed back to the apartment for a short siesta. During this time of the year, night falls like a hammer in Seoul...it gets dark by 430pm! We were also quite hungry. Seoul is famous for their "Food Alleys". Near the Jong-no 3ga station is an alley that specializes in Gul Bossam; pork and fresh oysters wrapped in lettuce or napa cabbage...... No need to ask me twice, I'm there!
The instructions were, find exit 15 of Jong-no 3ga station and walk 20 meters down the street, take your first left down the alley to your left, then take your first right. One of the shops, Samhae Jip was the one I read about the most. I had a photo of the storefront and the Missus could read the Chinese characters. It really wasn't that hard to find....you just looked for the line!
And all the pork simmering away......
We really lucked out as all the other parties were large and we quickly snagged a small table for two. I was also quite lucky to not have to do endure the floor seating, which, if you've read some of my previous posts is a disaster waiting to happen. The possibility of me falling over and spilling hot soup on folks is not a pretty thought, though folks here were having no problem.
Lot's of folks seemed to be having a good time....and many had what we call the "Asian gene" thing going on! Half the fun was people watching. The three guys to our far left were just plain wasted....they were slapping each other....then feeding each other! On our table to our left, we noticed the girl there only eating panchan and lettuce, while her boyfriend/husband just plowed through the pork, something we had also noticed the night before.
The smells in the place were just intoxicating! All the standard sides and panchan arrived; bean paste, fermented baby shrimp, the raw garlic, a couple of chilies, ssamjang, kkandugi (radish kimchi), Sukju Namul.
The wrapping was done with either lettuce or napa cabbage. The Missus preferred the lettuce; I preferred the sturdy cabbage, which I thought kept everything together better and had MCPB - More Crunch Per Bite.
Soju is required for this type of eating....at least that's what we were told.
The Missus's favorite item was the gamjatang, the pork bone soup. It was fairly chilly and damp, so the Missus who loves Her bone soup had problem plowing through almost the entire pot! It was quite tasty. The Missus has also developed a taste for the perilla seeds.
This was a load of food for 20,000₩, about $18 US! This was for two people! I was kind of leery about the oysters, but while not great in flavor, it had a nice texture, and was fresh. The fresh radish kimchi was really good as well. The pork....well, as you can see.....it was moist, pretty tender, mild in flavor. And those fermented shrimp tasted really good!
The folks here were pretty friendly. And dinner was a bargain at 30,000₩, about $26 for food and drinks.
It might be hard finding this place....well not really if you follow the "exit 15 - take a left - take a right". It's worth the effort to check it out.
Samhae Jip - Gul Bossam Alley
We headed back out to Jong-ro. The rain had subsided and the temperature was going down.
As we watched the businessmen stagger down the side streets.....
It had started raining fairly hard as left Myeongdong. But we really weren't through eating. We went back to the apartment, had some tea, showered, and headed back out. This time the target was Gwangjang Market; established in 1905, I read that there were over 5000 shops in the market.
It is indeed quite a beast as we entered and immediately got lost....surrounded by textile shops.
After wandering around for quite a while....almost in a dazed state we found the area that sold food products and some of the "alleys".
Of course there are a ton of food stands.....
Serving every part of the animal.
And then there are the congregations of shops that specialize in specific dishes that have their own "food alleys"; gimbap alley and jeon (pancake alley), where you can watch mung beans being ground to make Bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes).
There was one alley I really wanted to visit. I love yukhoe, the Korean version of beef tartare, so I really wanted to try it during my visit to Seoul. We'd had Yukhoe Bibimbap at Gogung, but I really wanted to try it straight up. So we hunted down Yukhoe Alley, a small collection of shops specializing in the raw beef dish, and chose one that I had read about named "Brother's Raw Beef". The only way I found it was by the cow logo as all the signs were in Hangul.
No English spoken, but the gentleman running the place as well as the woman who served us were very friendly.
And really, all you need to do is put up one finger and say "Cass" and then raise that index finger again and say "yukhoe"......
And in case you wondered about how fresh the meat was; there were three women in the back of the restaurant prepping the beef.
The Missus recalls the beef-daikon soup that came with the raw beef was really tasty.....
But all I remember was how very good the Yukhoe was. Just enough Asian Pear to add crunch and some sweetness, some pine nuts adding another dimension of flavor, the egg yolk lending a richness to the whole dish.
A touch of sesame oil....that's all I really needed.
The beef, while lean was surprisingly tender. This was my favorite dish from our time Seoul.
Brother's Raw Beef (형제육회) - In Gwangjang Market 160-8 Jongno 4-ga (near exit 10 of the market) Seoul, South Korea
It was still raining when we left the market and headed back in the direction of our apartment. We took a short look around Tapgol Park.
As we were leaving, the Missus decided we needed to head back to Myeongdong.........
The forecast called for rain on our second full day in Seoul. This meant one thing for the Missus.....get an early start. We decided to head back to Bukchon Hanok Village as we believed (rightly so), that we wouldn't have to deal with the hoards of tourists. A Hanok is a traditional Korean house, and this collection of structures between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, once the lair of high ranking government officials, Bukchon Hanok Village is full of little alleyways, with these traditional structures, some of which date back to the Joseon Dynasty.
It's a wonderful place to wander in and out of the alleyways during the early morning. Even though some of the structures have been turned into cafes, shops, galleries, and guest houses, there are still many residences here. Which is why we felt really bad seeing the place mobbed with loud tourists....geez, can you imagine if you lived here?
If you've been reading our little blog long enough; you'd know that the Missus loves Hachiya Persimmons and was mesmerized by a tree full of them! She stood under that tree for a good ten minutes trying to will some of the fruit to fall. Alas, there was to be no divine intervention here. No fruit falling from the heavens. So we left Bukchon Hanok Village, taking some of the quieter back alleyways back to the hustle and bustle of the morning rush.
The wind was picking up and there was some intermittent drizzle as we got back to Jong-ro.
We were getting hungry and headed off to another place from my "list". Walking back to Myeongdong, over the Cheonggyecheon Stream.
As you could tell from my previous posts; I'd been seeking out classic Korean dishes and down the street, across from Myeongdong Cathedral, stood another shop I wanted to try.
Hadongkwan has been in business since the 1930's and serves basically two things; suyu (boiled beef or pork slices) and gomtang, a clear beef soup.
The drill here is that you order and pay at the register first, then have a seat. The woman working looked mighty tough.....she looked at me and said "you big...." and then "small" to the Missus. In other words she ordered for us. And frankly I wasn't going to argue as I'm fairly certain she had a ruler to whack me over the knuckles had I disagreed.
As we sat, she walked over to another table and grabbed the bowl of sliced green onions right off it and brought it to us....the guy was still eating! We couldn't help but chuckle...what if he wanted more green onions? I guess he would have had to deal with her and we were fairly certain who would come out on top.
The kimchi here was very good, not salty, mild fermented flavor, very clean tasting. Ah yes, clean tasting, that also describes the gomtang, in spite of the nice fat, and collagen infused broth, it tasted very clean......sea salt, rice, and a ton of scallions for me. Just like Japan, scallions are considered a veggie here. And, as much as I joke about the woman running the front of house, she was very efficient. When she saw how much I enjoyed the green onions, she nodded at one of the servers, who instantly refilled our bowl....same with the kimchi!
Very nice, straight up beefy flavors. This might seem simple, but getting things right is deceptively hard.
Hadongkwan 10-4 Myeong-dong 1-ga Jung-gu, Seoul
After breakfast, the Missus decided to do some shopping and we wandered the side streets of Myeongdong. And while we saw a very familiar sight.....
Though the Missus really couldn't find the cosmetics She wanted. So we headed to the huge Lotte Deprtment Store....this being the main branch.
Unfortunately the department store didn't open until 1030, it was just getting to 930. We noticed that the Lotte Duty Free store was just opening so we decided to head on over......to the feeding frenzy! Sheesh! It was a huge rush of Darwinistic, every woman for herself, Chinese tourists. We started walking around a bit and noticed many of the women dragging along huge suitcases. Naturally we thought that these folks were heading off to the airport and just making a stop along the way, until we noticed that once items were purchased, they'd open the empty suitcases and fill them up. We saw women literally buying a thousand dollars worth of cosmetics and dumping it into a empty steamer trunk! Yikes! This was just too much for the Missus and She needed to leave.....
We decided to head back to the apartment for some calming tea, before heading back out.....of course crossing Cheonggyecheon Stream yet again. This time we walked on down and along the stream for a bit. A nice, relaxing walk.
We meandered through the back streets parallel to Jong-ro. There are a ton of restaurants down those streets and alleyways. I came upon one which caught my eye.....it was a hot pot place....I could tell they served goat and lamb. But what was that creature between the goat and lamb?
As the sun set on Seoul, we realized what a full day we'd had, crisscrossing Jongno, from breakfast on Supyo-ro, then off to Gyeongbokgung Palace only to find that the palace was closed that. It was then onward to Bukchon Hanok Village, only to find that place crawling with tourists. Then deciding to walk to Changdeokgung Palace and a wonderful tour of the Secret Garden, followed by a walk through Insadong with lunch at Gogung. Whew. When evening hit, man, we were pretty hungry. The Missus had Samgyetang, ginseng chicken soup, on Her "wish list" and who am I to deny Her?
So we headed out....the Missus wanted a different route, so we headed down to the Cheonggyecheon Stream area, once an elevated freeway area and crossed over to the very busy Myeongdong area, bustling with post-work and pre-Christmas shoppers. Around this time of the year, lanterns adorn the stream.
Walking past Lotte Department Store, we headed in the direction of City Hall and soon heard some loud singing. It was this guy singing his heart out....unfortunately, it was just to an empty field of grass.
That didn't deter him from giving it his all though......
This palace is Deoksugung, which had evening hours. After getting the Missus Her Samgyetang we returned but decided one should only visit so many palaces a day and decided to pass.
A busy intersection and few blocks away was our destination; Korea Samgyetang, which claims to be the first Samgyetang Restaurant in Seoul, opening in 1960.
The place has four floors. We sat on the first floor which was pretty empty when we arrived, but quickly filled up. A mix of tourists and locals.
As the Missus loves Her Black Chicken, She ordered the Black Bone Chicken with Wild Korean Ginseng Broth and Abalone......which I think came out to something like $30!
Things started off with some panchan and some (free)ginseng wine, which I found a bit too medicinal for my taste.
I think I already mentioned how good the kkandugi was in Korea, this one was probably the best....not too salty, not bitter, slightly sweet, and with a nice crisp, but not hard texture. It must be the type of daikon used as the texture is totally different from what we have here in the states. That raw garlic...was quite potent.
Like I mentioned above; I'm not a big fan of Samgyetang and this didn't really change my opinion. Personally, kind of flat tasting, the abalone was very tough and hard.....same could be said for the black chicken stuffed with glutinous rice, dried dates, and ginseng. The Missus? She loves black chicken and really enjoyed this....
The place sure does get busy. As we were finishing up, a group of Thai arrived. When we were leaving I started cracking up as I saw a Ziploc bag of Thai Chilies being passed around from person to person.
The service was efficient, if not a bit perfunctory. I was happy for the Missus.....
Korea Samgyetang 55-3 Seosomun-dong Jung-gu, Seoul
And while Samgyetang is traditionally "hot weather" food, the Missus seemed energized by all that rubbery chicken and ginseng floating around in Her belly, so we decided to walk around for a bit.
King Taejo, who founded the Joseon Dynasty, chose Seoul to be the Capitol in 1392. Security of the center of government was important to Taejo, so he ordered that a wall be constructed to protect his city. The wall had 8 gates, which also is the number of mountains which surrounds the city. So you'll come across many gates during a visit. This one is Souimun (Seosomun).
I was again struck by the contrast of the ancient and modern in Seoul......
We made our way back in a roundabout way, finally deciding to walk along Cheonggyecheon Stream to admire the lanterns.
We fully intended to stop when we got to the apartment, but for some reason we just kept on walking down Jongro....pass a shopping street where the Missus said, "you can't go down there....you're too old."
Somehow, we ended up back near Supyo-ro and I was feeling a bit hungry. I remembered a "KFC" (that would be "Korean Fried Chicken") place I saw the previous evening and was suddenly hungry. You can't go to Seoul without getting some KFC, right?
Which how we ended up at Kkanbu Chicken........
We ordered the Crispy Chicken, which came with a bowl of popcorn (?!?) and water kimchi. Man, this was like a whole chicken!
The chicken was super crisp, the batter very light, the chicken very moist.....but the flavor seemed bland and in need of seasoning to us. The Missus looked at me and said, "you'd kill for a bottle of Crystal hot sauce right now wouldn't you?" The chicken sure did need a bit of flavor and something to cut all of that...friedness. Some of my Roasted Ghost Pepper hot sauce would have been killer...heck, if I'm coming back to Seoul, I might invest in those tiny keychain bottles of tabasco!
On a cute note; there was a young couple who sat on the table next to us. We saw some kind of fruity soda and a mug of beer arrive at the table. To crash those stereotypes; it was the tiny young lady who had the mug of beer and the guy had the soda. I did notice that the girl only ate the kimchi and nothing else though, which I found kind of strange...the guy just whacked the whole chicken.
The service was nice, though I was really looking forward to the KFC place I had on my list scheduled for a few nights later.
Kkanbu Chicken 202 Nagwon-dong Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
By this time I was kind of feeling all those miles and I was looking forward to hitting the sack. But it was not to be...at least not right away. As we got to the highrise where our apartment was located, the Missus kept on walking.....we ended back up on Sejong-ro on Gwanghwamun Square, staring at the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin.
As we got back to the apartment the Missus looked at Her smartphone and said "perfect....we just put in 20 miles of walking today!"
What?!? I needed a shower and a good night of sleep.......
Since we had pretty much struck out at Gyeongbokgung Palace (wrong day of the week....damn you jetlag) and Bukchon Hanok Village (crawling with tourists), we went for "Plan C", Changdeokgung Palace. Walking over, the place looked quite busy, but once inside it was rather sedate.
Completed in 1412, this was considered the "second palace", after Gyeongbokgung. You enter through the Donhwamun Gate into a large courtyard that fronts the Injeongjeon, the throne hall.
The markers you see indicate where the court stood....basically in terms of rank. So of course the Missus stood next to rank 1 for Her photo and took one of me in front of the last rank! Not really knowing much about the history of Korea, the Missus was fascinated to see that Chinese was used as the written language.
From this throne the king received envoys and oversaw ceremonies.
We walked along Daejojeon Hall, the official residence of the queen.
This was all very nice, but there was one area I'd read about and really wanted to visit; "Biwon" (비원 The Secret Garden). This area can only be visited via a guided tour and you need to purchase tickets. Also known as Huwon (후원 Rear Garden), this series of pavilions and ponds were originally created for the royal family.
We had a hint of things while walking around other parts of the palace.
There are times when travelling when everything just seems right, your timing is perfect. In spite of the other 50 or so folks on the tour, this was the highlight of our time in Seoul. Our guide was so very knowledgeable, She explained the use of Chinese writing and the transition to Hangul to the Missus later on during the walk.....she was oh so very patient, keeping a group like this together was like herding cats. And listening to the three Filipino girls was a hoot; "pleeease, no more hills", "what, more steps?", "ok, enough leaves already...."
The colors were stunning as was the backdrop.
The photo above show the area named Juhamnu; this is where the Royal libraries were located. The pond in front of it is called Buyongji Pond.
One of the most stunning sites was the next stop; the "Love of Lotus" pond and pavilion (Aeryeonji).
We don't have an intense changing of the seasons here in San Diego, so just the colors had us mesmerized.
For a kid from Hawaii like me....this was like being on a different planet.....
This is the Jondeokjeong Pavillion, known for the double roof.
This is the Soyoam Rock. Notice the carving in the rock. Along with the name of the area carved by King Injo, there's a poem carved into the rock by King Sukjong.
At the end is a Chinese Juniper Tree that is supposed to be over 750 years old.
It was nothing short of spectacular to us......the timing was just perfect; the next few days were quite windy and somewhat rainy which I'm sure changed things. Sometimes you just get lucky!
We were getting hungry, so we headed down to the bustling streets of Insadong, full of shops, little restaurants....tourists and locals.
In the basement of the very popular Ssamziegil Mall is a restaurant named Gogung, famous for their Bibimbap.
The restaurant specializes in Jeonju Bibimbap, supposedly a specialty of Jeonju which was declared one of the Creative Cities for Gastronomy by UNESCO. Jeonju Bibimbap is supposed to be serious stuff; sometimes with up to 30 ingredients used for a single bowl!
The Missus really enjoyed Her meal here and considers it Her favorite meal in Seoul.
There were two items that arrived with the panchan that caught our attention. The first was Deulkkaetang a perilla seed and mushroom based soup. The flavor was quite interesting, like basil, mildly sweet with an anise finish combined with the earthy flavor of the mushrooms. This was nice, but I found the fragrance kind of odd, mildy fishy-earthy, not sure if my olfactory was working well on this day.
The second being some fermented thick cabbage stems which smelled almost exactly like the suan cai we make at home. Funky fermented flavor. So of course the Missus just loved this.
We noticed that folks on the other tables pretty much stayed away from this....the Missus was tempted to grab them........but She displayed great restraint.
The Missus went with the Jeonju Dolsot Bibimbap; which might have been one of the best dolsot bibimbap I've ever had. Amazing textures, especially the bean sprouts which tasted oh so good.
As the rice crust formed things got even better; adding a layer of nuttiness and even more contrasting textures to the dish.
The Missus though, really enjoyed what I ordered; the Yukhoe Bibimbap. The amazingly clean tasting raw beef had perhaps a bit too much minced Asian Pear in it, making it a tad to sweet for me; but the Missus really loved the flavor and texture of this.
She polished this off in no time.
The traditional Sujeonggwa was served as dessert/digestif.
We both enjoyed it as this was not as sweet as most versions back in the States, making it quite refreshing. The prices weren't too bad at all; the Dolsot Bibimbap at ₩ 11,000, about $8.75 and the Yukhoe Bibimbap at ₩ 15,000, about $12.
Gogung Insadong 44 Insadong-gil Jongno-gu, Seoul
After lunch we wandered around Ssamziegil Mall, through all the little shops; but mostly people watching.......
Kids are the same everywhere, aren't they?
Soon enough, our afternoon nap came calling and we headed back to our apartment amongst the highrises of Jongno-gu........
We'd already put in a good amount of mileage, but little did I know we'd put in another big chunk this evening.
Ah yes, Seoul, I need to get around to my posts before all the memories fade. Why Seoul, I'm not quite sure.....it had something to do with those K-Dramas the Missus was watching. I told my coworker "SJ" about this and she laughed......"it's really nothing like those soap operas....." but she was excited about my travelling to Seoul where much of her family still lives. I mentioned wanting to really try the "standards", "Seoul Food" if you will, and she came up with a huge spreadsheet of choices, recommendations from friends, family, and her.....we managed to visit a couple of these places as well as a few I did some research on. Yet, the Missus had Her heart set on eating at Pojangmachas....which SJ found to be quite amusing.
I was dark and rainy when we arrived from Narita, something we got used to since we had only one really clear night during our trip. It would have been quite difficult finding our way to our AirBnB amongst the highrises around Jongak Station. But our host left us amazing instructions....with photos and landmarks! The apartment was comfortable, cozy, and had all the amenities one could wish for. And the location couldn't be beat. It's probably one of the best and well set-up AirBnB units we've stayed in. They even had pocket wifi to use during your stay. Thanks Mark!
So we headed out into the night and straight for the Pojangmacha near Supyo-ro....and reality hit the Missus, the food looked like it had been sitting all day, rain was dripping on it...and while it would probably hit the spot after a hard night of drinking...we weren't that drunk yet. So, I went to my list and thought some Seolleongtang would just be perfect. And we set out to find Imun Seolleongtang, one of the oldest, if not the oldest restaurant in Seoul. According to Seoulistic the place was established in 1902. How we found the restaurant, in the darkness and drizzle, I'll never know. But tucked away from one of the main streets, we found the place......a gentleman was walking in and we asked him "Imun Seolleongtang?" He smiled and nodded and waved us in...turns out he was one of the owners/managers of the place as he stationed himself behind the cash register.
Most of the customers looked like older folk, a good sign in my book. We were seated and took a second too long to order so the older woman, totally a "Ajumma" just ordered for us.....hilarious. We wanted Seolleongtang anyway.
A couple of notes; we found that the baechu kimchi in Seoul was delicious and not as "pickled" and salty as what we have at most places here in the states.
It wasn't always to my liking, but it was a nice change for me.
Meanwhile; I found the kkakdugi to be really great just about everywhere; so crisp, refreshing, not too salty.......
And boy they love their scallions here.....
Baskets or huge bowls are passed around when you order Seolleongtang or Gomtang. I found that I really enjoyed adding a pile of this to my soup as it added crunch and a nice pungency and flavor to the broth...along with the sea salt and crushed red pepper (gochugaru).
So now is when I mention my SD card failure once again. Unfortunately, my SD card malfunction ate my Seolleongtang photos...so you'll have to bear with my description. The broth was milky white, highly defatted, but still having that collagenic tongue coating feel to it. The flavor was beefy and not much else; it was up to you to add what you needed. The slices of wha loked like brisket had that nice texture of not too tough and not falling apart.
A perfect tummy coating soup for a rainy and rather chilly Seoul evening......
Imun Seolleontang 30-22 Ujeongguk-ro Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Arriving at night in a city or country you've never been in before can be a bit disorienting; but we're kind of used to it now, so we just took things in stride and had a good night of sleep.
The next morning we awoke hungry and decided to head on out........but first we needed some sustenance. Where....well, I wasn't sure. I recall seeing a couple of places neat the pojangmacha the night before so I suggested we walk on over to Supyo-ro. Looking over places, we decided on this one.
Sorry, neither the Missus nor I read Hangul. But the smells coming from the place was inviting....there was a group of "guys" finishing up their meal as we entered.....they were still drunk and were trying to sober up.
The panchan was decent, but nothing special....though I will say again, it wasn't as salty as what is standard here at many Korean restaurants.
I got the Doenjang Jigae - the soybean paste stew. It was decent, nice flavor, hearty, the tofu was especially good. The Missus enjoyed this more than I did.
Meanwhile, I really enjoyed the Kimchi Jigae....it had the nice fermented flavors of kimchi, wasn't too salty, was nice, thick, and plain delicious.....though the pork was really tough, which was to be expected based on the price.
And while we had a version later on that was plain delici-yoso....this hit the spot.
And yes, the price.....well 6500 won, about $5.20...not bad for breakfast, eh?
Seoul was an interesting city for us. A mix of the old and new, folks pushing carts around while using smartphones, the" juxtaposition of the old and new" is a phrase I used a couple of times while describing the city.
It was our intention to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace on this morning, at least that's what the Missus decided the night before....that's how She rolls. Most of the time She'll decide what She wants to do the night before. It's sometimes a bit of a scramble, especially when She gets hungry. I have to prepare and have options for everywhere, which can be a bit of a challenge at times.
The palace was literally a few blocks (albeit long blocks) away from where we were staying, but we were early. So we decided to have a cup of coffee.....man, the prices of coffee in Seoul was pretty expensive. Like $4+ a cup! After checking out a couple of places, we found a schoolhouse themed coffee shop called Coffee TeaCher; complete with schoolhouse desks, seats, and even lockers!
We both started noticing things right away. There was a group of office workers sitting when we arrived having drinks. When we left 30 minutes later they were still there taking a "coffee break"! We started keeping track when having a cup of coffee and noticed the same thing.....folks take some pretty long coffee breaks here. And then there are the "smoking blocks" outside office buildings......
We headed to Gyeongbokgung Palace a bit after 9am, but quickly noticed something.....
The doors looked closed.......
The time/day differences and jet lag had gotten to us. It was Tuesday and the palace was closed. Which didn't bother us too much since we were literally a quarter mile from the place.
So we walked on over to Bukchon Hanok Village which was just a few kilometers away. This is an area, between Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace where traditional Korean homes "Hanoks" are located in a community that was once set aside for high ranking officials and the nobility.
It was quite beautiful. The only thing being the groups of loud tourists...some of whom would climb up walls...my goodness, folks are still living here.....
The Missus and I decided to return early on another morning and headed to "plan C", which turned out to be the best decision we made during our trip.