Before we boarded our train due north, I feared I’d put too much stock in our weekend away to Seoul. We’d waited nearly three months of living abroad to make the trek up to the capital—now, two paycheques later, the trip was finally plausible, and I couldn’t wait to check out the big city lights, and of course, the big city bites.
Seoul is a serious city—it hosts the world’s second-most-populous metropolitan area, a population density twice that of NYC, and one of the top transit systems in the world, known for its ease of use (every station is marked in English and Korean) cleanliness (we sat on the floors, and eating off of them wouldn’t be out of the question), and price (about a buck a standard ride, though seniors and the disabled always ride free). And the shopping. Oh the shopping…. **pretends not to think about bank account**
After a casual 271 km/h, 2-hour jaunt on the train, we grabbed a cab to our hostel (Kimchi Hostel, natch), in Hongdae District—the University area which I’d liken to a Kensington-Queen-West mash-up for you folks back in Toronto. We checked in around 11:30 p.m. on Friday night… and then it was time to go shopping. By the time we arrived at Dongdaemun Market, it was actually Black Friday in the States, fitting for the endeavour upon which we were about to embark!
This photo was shot at around 2:30 a.m. early Saturday morning—right amid market hours! We were the wusses who left by 3 a.m., early by Korean standards, as Dongdaemun Market opens at 5 p.m. at night and remains frenzied until 10 a.m. or noon the next day, only closing for about 5 hours so vendors can take a nap before the next evening. Block after block is lined with a muddling of tents, food stalls, department stores, and bulk vendors hocking wholesale goods. And the people! Population density becomes evident at Dongdaemun, even in the early hours, as shopkeepers come and stock up on wholesale to sell back at their stores. For shopping fuel, I snacked on some mandu (korean dumplings) and a variety fish-meat-and-tteoboki-stick that was somewhat questionable and somewhat tasty. Ah, 3 a.m. street food, you are risky business.
In the morning, too excited and hopped up on city-energy to sleep, I strolled up to a nearby bakery and brought back an assortment of goodies and caffeine to fuel our day ahead. Not the most attractive presentation, but I’ve been continually impressed by the variety of baked goods we’ve come across in Korea..
After some, er, more shopping we took the Metro up to Itaewon, the Foreigner’s District—the U.S. army base is around here so there were a lot of familiar accents around! It was so strange to be surrounded by English (or at least the mish-mash of languages we’ve become accustomed to in Toronto). We found a buffet (ah! a buffet!) that served Indian food called “International Food Restaurant,” chose to ignore the cheesy name, and went in. Here, some papadum, hummus (hooray!!!), tikka chicken, chicken curry, some daal, and a veggie pakora. Unfortunately the veggie dishes—the veggie pakora and the veggie curry—were pretty disappointing, the pakora tasting incredibly dry and somewhat stale, the curry with a strange artificial flavour. That said, the daal, chicken curry, and tikka chicken were excellent! Still not craving Western food, but Indian definitely was a nice change-up from Gochujang.
Then, on Mipa‘s recommendation, we ventured in both National Foods Mart and High Street Market. We actually hadn’t sought either out on this trip as we didn’t want to stroll Seoul with bags of groceries, but we did happen to serendipitously cross both—meant to be, no?
It was pretty comforting to see things I recognized on the shelves, with names in English (and Turkish, and Chinese, and pretty much any other language you can imagine—Seoul truly is an international city!). Thankfully, I’ll be heading home for the Christmas break in just a few weeks so I gussied up all of my willpower and limited myself to the necessities.
At High Street Market, I was delighted to see this sign–a sign of the blogosphere in real life! I’ve been reading Mipa’s blog since before I came to Korea and couldn’t wait to try some of her vegan treats. Woohoo! There was a fine selection available, but knowing again that I’d have to carry whatever I bought around (a trip back to our hostel to drop things off would be a 2-hour round-trip journey), I picked what was really calling my name. Pumpkin chocolate chip banana bread. Oooooh yes.
Soft, moist, and with the density of a cupcake—oh yes, it was worth waiting for. Mipa, I will definitely be ordering some of your goodies when I come back from Christmas! If you live in South Korea, do check out Alien’s Day Out Bakeshop and order some for yourself!
And the rest of my mini-haul from the foreign markets—Chimes Ginger Chews, a big ol’ bag of dates (hooooray!), and some blanched-almond almond butter. I’ve been making my own here, but the Korean food processor that was left in my apartment isn’t quite strong enough to do the job. Hopefully these goodies will last me ’till Christmas!
Late Saturday night, we savored each drop of beer from Riley’s, the Canadian-owned craft brew pub in Itaewon, a more-than-welcome respite from the unfavorable selection of Hite (shite) and Cass (tastes like ass) brews otherwise favored in Korea. We also had a few brews at the Rocky Mountain Tavern, a Canadian foreigner bar. Though the Moosehead tasted pretty funky, it was pretty incredible to be watching an OUA football game, talking to people with familiar accents, and be surrounded by Canadians in Korea.
Of course, a few beers calls for a few snacks. The mandu I ordered from this street food stall were the best I’ve had yet—deep-fried, perfectly salted, and with a savory soy-and-scallion sauce for dippin’, finger-lickin’ goodness. If only I could find a way to cram some nutrition into Korean street food…
Food, shopping, and the perfect mix of plans and aimless wandering… Seoul was absolutely incredible, incredibly overwhelming, and way over my expectations— and I can’t wait to return. I’m sold on Seoul.