Monday, December 30, 2013

Food for the Seoul

Ice cream in Iksan, Bananagrams at Belgium Chocolatier, Ben's Cookies, Myeongdong Kyoja, Monster Pizza, listening to Tim Be Told, chilling at AcousticHolic, shopping at Ssamziegil in Insadong.
My wallet has been relieved of the army of King Sejongs who have been living in it undisturbed for quite some time. In their place, a wad of receipts. A weekend in Seoul always means money spent left and right, but I had a great time and ate a lot of amazing food; it was all well worth it.

Friday Food: MEAT and a quarter gallon of ice cream
So, last Friday after school, I took a two-leg bus trip to Iksan (익산) to visit Katelyn, who welcomed me with dinner at 종로상회, an amazing barbecue restaurant with generous portions, and the traditional Iksan Initiation: a quarter-gallon of Baskin Robbins, to be eaten in one sitting. At BR, we ran into two of her students, and I was sorely tempted to pretend to be Katelyn's boyfriend. We then pigged out on ice cream and cookies we had both baked while watching Monsters University, which I fairly enjoyed despite its predictability.

Saturday Food: street food and super-spicy vindaloo
Late Saturday morning, we took a bus to Seoul for our weekend adventure. Most of this adventure consisted of shopping and eating. Our first stop was Insadong (인사동), the neighborhood best known for souvenirs and traditional Korean crafts that are made in China. Eh, some of them are made in China, but honestly I wasn't able to tell what was really authentic and what wasn't. However, I was especially enamored with Ssamziegil (쌈지길), a four-story building crammed to bursting with little shops for everything from jewelry and clothes to phone accessories and toys. Everything looked handmade, and just walking around and taking in the sights was as much a pleasure as the shopping itself. I will certainly come back to Insadong in the future, this time armed with my camera.

As for good eats, well, there's nothing like a $1 hotteok (호떡) in a cup from a street vendor on a below-freezing night. After snacking in Insadong, Katelyn, Ashley, and I joined Liam in Hongdae for dinner at an exellent Indian/Nepalese restaurant called Yeti (예티), which I featured in hungryinhongdae a while back. The lamb vindaloo was extremely spicy and caused me to sweat, but I couldn't stop eating it (and should have ordered another mango lassi to calm my tongue...) Also, bottomless naan baskets! What a deal! Following that, we hurried to AcousticHolic to watch our friends perform. I hadn't been in at least six months, but everyone still remembered me! And their performances were excellent, as usual.

Sunday Food: chopped noodle soup, cookies, egg tart, fro-yo, American pizza and a burger
In an attempt to beat the crowds at the famous Myeongdong Kyoja (명동교자), Katelyn, Jessica and I aimed to arrive at Myeongdong, Seoul's famous upscale shopping district, at 11:30am. We actually got to the restaurant at noon, and the place was as busy as a beehive. The three of us were promptly seated at a table for two, ordered three bowls of 칼국수 (delicious noodle soup that warms your soul) and paid up front in cash (8,000KRW), and within two minutes three bowls of soup and sides of kimchi appeared on our table. It was faster than fast food! I was dumbfounded. But the restaurant was extremely busy; people kept coming in, eating, and leaving in the blink of an eye. Still, the ladies and I had the time to talk and catch up, and we also got second helpings of the delicious (and bottomless/free refill) noodles.

After lunch, Katelyn and I hopped in and out of shops in the midst of post-Christmas sales, but I exercised some restraint and bought only one thing: a divinely delicious orange-milk chocolate cookie from Ben's Cookies, a chain that does one thing and does it well, with six locations in Seoul. At three bucks, it's one-third of a nice scarf from Spau, but I'd take the cookie any day!

Katelyn then had to leave for the airport, and I hung out with Liam for the afternoon (i.e. read a book and napped in his apartment). We chilled at a small cafe in Hongdae called Cafe Omao that has egg tarts from Lord Stow's, which explains why a sign for the various tarts (not just egg, but also sweet potato tarts, pumpkin tarts, red bean tarts, and apple cinnamon tarts) read, "Andrew's Egg Tarts & Coffee". 2,200KRW for a small egg tart is extremely pricey in my opinion, but it was good, and the atmosphere of the place is perfect for what Liam calls "a good cafe session", which basically means we talked at length about our various experiences in Korea over the past 18 months, how our viewpoints have changed, and what we're expecting from the nebulous and uncertain future.

For dinner, we met up with Monica, on her way back from her sixth (or six-hundredth, who knows) K-pop concert of the semester, and dined at Burger B, another hungryinhongdae favorite. The gorgonzola burger (9,000KRW) here is great, but it's not something that will fill you up after a full day of halfhearted shopping (i.e. walking around), so we hit up Monster Pizza for some legit American-style pizza. It's not your Korean Mr. Pizza or Pizza Etang, nope, this is a huge slice of cheese, pepperoni, or ham with peppers -- no sweet potato, corn, mayo, or bulgogi on this baby -- for 3,500KRW. It was amazing. I'll be back (with my camera).

We ended our evening with fro-yo from Snow Spoon Cafe, which features macarons, gelato, standard cafe fare, and, of course, frozen yogurt in a number of crazy flavors on rotation. These include: milk tea, red wine, squid ink, rice, and something called "blue" (not "blueberry", mind you, just "blue"). I got red wine and blackberry, and Monica chose milk tea with original tart. Price is based on weight in grams at 26KRW/g, which is nearly 70 cents per ounce. Extremely pricey compared to Californian fro-yo shops. Still... it's fro-yo! I quite enjoyed it. At Monica's apartment, we watched Bridesmaids, which I thought was funny albeit a bit overhyped. Still, Kristen Wiig is fantastic. Also, pomegranates are fantastic. Hanging out with friends and eating pomegranates is fantastic.

Monday Food: brunch and Belgian hot chocolate
I had originally intended to return to Changwon on Sunday evening, but decided that I'd rather spend more time (and money) in Seoul with my friends, so on Monday morning, I met up with Ashley for brunch at The Flying Pan Blue in Itaewon. My egg/ham/avocado/pesto thing on toasted French bread was amazing, and Ashley got a delicious panini. Most Americans will attest that it's difficult to get a good sandwich in Seoul (let alone Korea), so this was quite a treat. Most breakfasts, which are served all day, run from 15-18,000KRW.

Following that, we went to a cafe called... Well, to tell the truth I'm not sure what it's called. Jubilee Chocolatier, I think, but my receipt tells me 벨지움쇼콜라띠에 (Belgium Chocolatier). I should have taken photos! Anyway, raspberry hot chocolate at this joint is pricey (5.800KRW) but delicious. The tiramisu tart is pricey (7,000KRW) and not quite as delicious, or perhaps my sweet tooth was finally running out after a weekend chock-full of desserts. In any case, the best part of this cafe was that Ashley and I got to play Bananagrams and Pirate Scrabble in peace, and this is part of why I love cafe culture in Korea.

Before I finally left for Changwon, I met a friend of a friend who is in Seoul visiting family -- and we chatted as I waited for my bus. He's also a fan of Tim Be Told, aka my favorite band in the universe! Everyone go buy their newest album, Mighty Sound.

Whew!
What a weekend. I was so happy to see my friends again and also to make new ones. It's a bit tough on my penny-pinching mentality to splurge the way I did, but the good times are worth it. I'm fortunate to have a job where I make enough not to have to worry about finances. That said, I should continue to be frugal, since I have two months of vacation and ahead of me, and travel isn't cheap.

On another note, how silly of me not to bring my camera to Seoul. I claimed I was trying to travel lightly, but seriously, I missed out on a lot of great photos of interesting architecture in Insadong, friends having a good time in Hongdae, and beautiful food everywhere. I had to struggle with the poor camera in my phone, and the result is the collage you see above. Lesson duly noted: bring your camera with you wherever you go, Andrew.

- - -
Just for my own future reference, bus times and fares!
Changwon to Jeonju: 2.5 hrs, 14,400KRW
Jeonju to Iksan: 45min, 3,300KRW
Iksan to Seoul: 3.5 hrs, 17,500KRW
Seoul to Changwon: 4.5 hrs, 30,900KRW (man, that price seems to go up every time I check it...)

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