A Compedium of Seoul, As We Know It

[03 Nov 2016]

It was our last day in Korea and we were back in Seoul. According to plan, we were supposed to proceed to N Seoul Tower N 서울타워 to view the autumn foliage. Instead of scaling the steep slope followed by a cable car  then steps from Myeongdong 명동 like we did the past two times we visited, this time round I opted for an easier method – public bus followed by a shorter, steep slope. Much less tedious option. 🙂

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Apart from the tower (which is the reason why most, if not all people make their way up), the Namsan Octagonal Pavilion 남산 팔각정 is also a rather significant landmark. Seoul is further north and therefore still colder than Jeju, resulting in less prominent autumn foliage when we visited. Still beautiful, just lesser vibrant shades of red.
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Lovers still love to put up locks along the railings. One of ours should be somewhere within the thousands, or it might have already been removed to make space for newer ones. I wasn’t aware that people have started trying to place their locks at ‘exceptional places’ (refer to the signage in the picture above) but the graphics are hilarious! So creative!

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I love setting off for touristy locations early; this entire trip we were almost always assured of quieter spots when we sat off early. That morning, the little park in front of Namsan Tower was also rather quiet, with few visitors. We should really make it a habit to always turn up earlier than the masses.

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We chose to stroll down Namsan the same way we came up, via a slope and then catch the public bus bringing us back to Myeongdong. All we had to do was to sit comfortably and enjoy the autumn foliage as the bus wound down the hill slowly.

The rest of the day was spent doing a massive lot of last-minute shopping in Myeongdong – that afternoon alone, I bought a winter coat and a sweater. 😯 Good thing it was already the last day of our vacation.

The Foods We Had in Seoul

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Our first available night in Myeongdong we went to Kang Hodong Baekjeong Korean BBQ 강호동백정 for dinner. It’s the mister’s favourite because he found it cheap and rather delicious. Of course the meat quality cannot be compared with Maple Tree House  단풍나무집 (they have a branch in Itaewon and one in Myeongdong), but the latter is quite costly to dine at. This round, we were disappointed by our meal at Baekjeong. Despite ordering the best quality meat cuts, they didn’t quite meet our minimum standard. I’m not sure if it was just that branch (which we had eaten at, twice before), that certain day, or in general all restaurants in the chain had opted to go budget. He declared that we shall stop patronising this chain. Hmmm… I don’t know, I may drag him to his favourite branch at Sincheon 신천 once more before he makes his decision.

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The next morning, we went to Myeongdong Gyoja 명동교자 for brunch. I love the dumplings while he likes the knife-sliced noodles so it’s a win-win for us when we dine there. Brought friends there and they loved the food there too. It’s not at all overhyped like what some travellers claim. Myeongdong Gyoja has 2 branches in Myeongdong, and the queue/crowd always looks daunting, but don’t be afraid to queue or venture in. They serve and clear tables very quickly, so the wait is never long. I’ll probably continue patronising every single time I visit Seoul.

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We walked towards the more quiet side of Myeongdong, nearby the Catholic Church. And discovered this gem of a small, nondescript looking eatery. Uncharacteristically, I requested for the mister to have makgeolli 막걸리 (sweet rice wine) with me. You see, I don’t drink at all, except on very rare, special occasions when I do feel like drinking dessert wine. He obliged gladly since it was getting cold in Seoul and we welcomed the warmth some alcoholic drinks would generate. I ordered my all-time favourite Soft Tofu Stew 순두부찌개 while he went for the fried chicken. If you know a little about Korean culture, you must have heard of chimaek 치맥, which essentially is the abbreviated form of Chicken and Maekju (beer). I felt bad for making the mister drink makgeolli with me, and asked him if he wanted to drink beer instead. He merely shook his head lightly, happy to go with my earlier request. 😳

Our eyes nearly popped out when we saw how insanely humongous the portion of fried chicken was. There was no way he could finish it alone even though the chicken were really tasty. We ended up with wastage.

I remember neither the name nor the exact location of this eatery, but trust me when I say that Myeongdong (in fact the whole of Seoul) is replete with thousands of small eateries like this. Walk into any one that at least looks clean and more likely than not, the food would be cheap and good.

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After dinner, it was time to browse the food stalls lined on both sides of the busy streets in Myeongdong. Seafood seemed to be a popular theme this season: we saw new food stalls selling barbecued scallops and cheese lobsters.  After a hearty dinner, we were not that interested in nibbling on any of the street food, but I found it enjoyable to walk through the streets, pausing once in a while to take a closer look at the food stalls. The mister isn’t a fan of crowded places but he humoured me by walking through throngs of people on a Friday night. Love him for being so accommodating, even if it was only towards me. 🙂

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I asked for a packet of fresh pomegranate juice after walking a bit. Was getting thirsty. He was not very keen because I have a sensitive stomach and he was afraid the drink might give me a tummy ache. He finally relented. The packet of juice was very fresh and delicious, but little and being priced at ₩6,000 I thought it was rather expensive.

The night was still young, and with the streets buzzing with activity, we started venturing into shops to browse as well. By and by, we found ourselves back at the hotel. Very naturally I went upstairs where my favourite Beans Bins 빈스빈스  is located. Still too full for their signature waffles, the mister and I ordered a mango bingsu 빙수 (shaved ice). Each. I don’t know what we were thinking. Of course we couldn’t finish the two portions. 😆

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We tried a new Korean barbecue place this round. For two evenings in a row, I was preoccupied with other activities that didn’t involve the mister. A convenient place for us to meet up after that for dinner was Hongdae 홓대, where a small family eatery I’ve been wanting to visit is located. I managed to locate the restaurant Piggy Bank Stone Grill Korean BBQ 홍대 돼지저금통 using Naver Maps. This is actually their new name; their signboard indicates another name. I think the second generation took over and was attempting to rebrand to a more catchy name.

What’s so special about this restaurant? Meat is grilled on a layer of stones laid over hot charcoal. Interesting much? And their signature meat cut is there salted pork scotch fillet. For good measure, the mister also ordered the beef ribs just in case I find the pork too gamey for my taste. It wasn’t too bad actually. In fact, we liked it enough to visit two nights in a row. This restaurant has officially found its way into our Seoul-visit-again list heh.

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After days of begging and nagging, I was finally allowed to try the barbecued cheese lobster. I understand the mister has misgivings about street food in general (they don’t usually sit well with my sensitive stomach), not to mention that this particular street food is rather costly at ₩15,000. Yes, it’s lobster after all, I know that. It’s just that street food sold at Myeongdong hardly cross the ₩10,000 mark. This exception caught us off guard.

We spent a few nights observing every single food stall selling this (there were a total of 4 within Myeongdong), observed how they handled the lobsters, and which stall seemed to be selling faster before deciding which stall to buy from. We are sometimes cautious like that.

The caution and time spent was all worth it when I finally had the lobster in my hands. So, so good! I wished there was more cheese though. If I ever try again, I’m going to request for more cheese.

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Beans Bins is my absolute favourite waffle place in Korea. We finally found the time and tummy space to have the waffle. So unfortunate that we were too early for strawberry season so I could only order the mango waffle. Don’t be mistaken, it was still good; I just prefer strawberries and cream.

Every other person that I’ve introduced to Beans Bins has thanked me profusely for the recommendation. The waffles and bingsu they serve are good. If you are into coffee, I think they serve pretty awesome ones too. I wouldn’t be able to verify that, since I don’t drink coffee. Let me know how it is if you do try.

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My final meal in Korea before flying home was Naengmyeon 냉면 (icy cold noodles) at Incheon Airport. It was a dish I used to order at Maple Tree House whenever the mister ordered barbecued food, and I like it with a lot of vinegar. After we stopped visiting the expensive restaurant, I haven’t found that many opportunities to have this dish. Happy to end my vacation on a happy note. 🙂

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