Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Seoul: Day Two

The next day we woke up bright and early. A Korean friend of ours came over to the hostel to pick us up and together we rushed to the station where we had planned to meet another friend. We spent the morning walking around the Samcheongdong (삼청동) area. In Samcheongdong there is an area with many traditional Korean houses. The area was full of narrow alleys of stone with sturdy wooden doors. Our friend told us that Yangban (the nobles of Korea) used to live in the houses, but now it's mostly an area for museums, tea houses, and craft stores. Also, people that live in traditional houses are given a subsidy by the government in order to pay for the upkeep of the houses. Our friend also said that this area is also where the Korean drama Personal Preference was filmed. I'm a bit ashamed to saw that I recognized it before she told us.

After walking for a bit we found ourselves at a traditional Korean tea house.

The tea house was in traditional Korean style with low tables and pillows to sit on. We removed our shoes and stored them in a shelves before entering the building. The cafe had a calming feeling about it. The building was a squared C shape with a small, sparsely decorated courtyard at the center. While sitting at our table we could look through the large windows at the courtyard, or through the outward facing windows overlooking the street. Because the tea house was located on a hill there was a beautiful view of the city below.


Surprisingly, the women that greeted us could speak Japanese and Korean. She spoke to us a bit before handing us a menu. The menu also was in Korean and Japanese. Unfortunately for though, there was no English. I tried to look through the teas, but there were so many and too many kanji that I couldn't recognize. So I did whatever I do in Japanese restaurants when I can't decide- I asked for a recommendation.

[For anyone that is curious, Do you have any recommendations?  is オススメがありますか (osusume ga arimasu ka)? So now you too can ask for suggestions in Japanese restaurants when you're confused. haha]

At first our friend recommended Yuzu tea (tea made from citrus fruit), but because I had already tried Yuzu tea before in Japan I asked if she had any other recommendations.

To be honest I can't remember the name of the tea that she recommended, but it was a type of herbal tea. When the tea came, it was served with more glass cups than I knew what to do with. Fortunately, our friends translated.

Step one: Pour hot water from the thermos into the small glass tea pot.
Step two: Let it steep for 30 seconds.
Step three: Put the small strainer on top of the small glass container with a bit of a spout.
Step four: While pressing down on the small red braid, pour the tea through the strainer. Make sure to put your hand only on the red braid because otherwise when steam hits the glass it will be PAINFUL. This nearly happened to me a few times because the tips of my fingers didn't quite fit on the braid. And judging by how painful it was while still touching the braid, if you touch the glass you will definitely get burned.
Step five: Move strainer to the small wooden dish and pour the tea in the last small glass cup. Now your tea is ready to drink!

The tea tasted a bit bitter, but also relaxing.

Our friends also ordered some snacks for us to share: Tteok(떡), and sesame seed candies. The candies were good, but because I had already eaten similar candies I wasn't really amazed. The tteok, however, surprised me. All the tteok I had eaten before was just like Japanese mochi - with a pleasantly chewy texture. But this tteok was not like those mochi.
Sesame candy (I don't know what these are called in Korean)
Instead of beaten, as most mochi is, this type of tteok was shaped and then steamed. Instead of a chewy texture it was a bit grainy. In fact, it reminded me a bit of cornbread. In case you are wondering, it was delicious.

We sat there for a while, drinking tea and feeling our legs turn into pins and needles.

After we left the tea house we continued to wander up and down alleys lined with stone. With the both the walls and the road made of stone, and all of the doors made of the same type of wood we ended up a bit lost. Once when we reached the top of an alley we saw a metal plaque on the ground that read "photo spot". So we lined up and took photos while standing on the photo spot.

Soon we came to a main road. There were many shops and restaurants. One of our friends said that this area was popular for dates. Not for students- it was too important- but for working people. After getting lost and walking past the restaurant a few times, we finally found it.

I can't understand Korean, so here's a photo of the sign:

 Our friends told us that the restaurant is famous for Tteok Kal Bi(떡갈비), a dish of rice cakes fried with a meat patty of beef ribs The restaurant had three floors and the first two were packed. Like the tea house, the seating was also on the floor, on pillows. Our friend explained that because Korean houses usually have heated floors, it's warmer to sit on the floor.

The menu was in Korean and we were hopelessly lost, so our Korean friends ordered for us.  In fact, we weren't sure what they had ordered until the food came: three orders of Tteok Kal Bi, a plate of Mandu(만두) Korean dumplings, Pa Jeon(파전) Korean pancakes made with green onion and seafood, Kimchi, rice, and side dishes such as cubed radish kimchi.

Tteok Kal Bi (and some side dishes)

Pa Jeon, kimchi, rice and more tteok kal bi
Everything was extremely delicious. In that one meal I knew that it had been worth it to come to Korea. And as I tasted the Kal Bi I was reminded of how much I love Korean food. It really is too bad that I avoided Korean food for much of my youth because I dislike most spicy food. So I'll make up for it by eating lots and lots of Korean food now.

And Korea is cheap, cheap, cheap! Especially when you come from living in Japan where everything is overpriced. And not only is the food cheap, but it's also worlds above any Korean food you can get in Japan. Delicious cheap food?! I seriously want to move to Korea.

We ate until we were full and then we ate some more.

After we were sufficiently stuffed we decided we should walk around more. So we walked through Samcheongdong to Insadong(인사동).

We explored a building full of small shops with handicrafts and souvenirs. In the center was a small courtyard with more stalls.

One guy was even selling what looked to be taiyaki (a Japanese pastry filled with red bean paste), except instead of the traditional fish shape these were shaped with piles of poop.

I admit I was tempted to try them, but I decided that the mere fact that it was shaped like poop wasn't enough of an incentive. Actually is shaping food like poop any incentive at all? 

haha maybe I've been in Japan for too long.

The building itself was also very interesting. There were murals and art installations in the staircases and many people had signed their names on the wall.



Walnut Manjuu

After leaving the marketplace we continued along the street. We stopped to try food at a few of the street vendors: first manjuu with walnut and red bean paste, and next Hotteok(호떡) a type of Korean pancake filled with a sweet mixture. This sweet mixture, according to Wikipedia, is made of brown sugar, cinnamon, peanuts, and honey. If you ever go to Korea you must try Hotteok! Because you can buy it straight from the vendor the pancakes are warm and slightly crispy. The filling is gooey and as you bit into the pancake it oozes out. Ah, now that I'm remembering the taste I want to eat it again! I'm so glad that today my friend showed me a place in Japan where you can buy Hotteok! XD


And so we continued walking and walking and walking. We walked past Cheonggyecheon(청계천), a stream that runs through Seoul. In the past the stream was covered with cement, but recently was restored through an urban renewal project by the government.

Our destination was Myeongdong(명동). Many people go to Myeongdong for shopping and it was full of shoppers and tourists. We looked in a few shops, but because Myeongdong is a fairly upscale shopping area everything was too expensive. Even with all the sales and discounts, it was too expensive.

But even the streets of Korea were interesting. Korea is a lot like Japan, and yet completely different. If you were to ask me about all the differences I wouldn't be able to give you a clear answer. But the feeling and personality is different.

After Myeongdong our Korean friends left us and we headed back to the hostel. But, on the way back we stopped at a street vendor and bought some Tteokbokki(떡볶이). It was extremely spicy but yummy. I should probably mention at this point that most street vendors in Korean are more like small food tents into which you enter. Then you gather around the cart and stand as you eat. While we were waiting the vendor also gave us oden broth to drink. Mmmm...

By the time we got back to the hostel we were exhausted. I took a shower because during the course of the day my hair had been a knotted mess and my friends took a nap. We had made plans to meet one of our friends after he finished his meeting and go out for chicken and beer, but alas his meeting ran later than expected. Instead we ordered chicken to the hostel (the owner helped us choose and even called in the order for us)! So around midnight we were sitting on the floor of my friends' hostel room eating chicken and watching Zombieland. It was pretty awesome.

The next day we were meeting a friend of mine, so after the movie we tuckered off to bed. :D

And this concludes day two in Seoul.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Seoul: Day One

Once again it has been a long time since I have last written.

Recently I have just gotten back from visiting Seoul, so I thought that I would document my travels here. :D

My flight left from Narita Airport and arrived in Incheon International Airport. Unfortunately, because it was really late by the time I got through customs and got my luggage there were no more trains running and I had to take a taxi to the hostel. :(

The taxi driver couldn't speak English or Japanese and the only Korean I know are a few phrases from dramas and the names of some foods, so the taxi drive was really interesting. Because I would just say in Korean "I like Gam Ja Tang." And then the driver would ramble in Korean and I would be completely lost. Once we had moved off that set phrase I had no clue what was going on. So then I would say "I like Sam Gyup Sal." And he would say something else in Korean, and I would pretend I knew what he was talking about. He kept on recommending a dish he called "Won won Ja Tang". And eventually I understood that he was trying to tell me that I should try Gam Ja Tang made with dog meat. D:

The taxi drive was extremely expensive, about 80,000 won. So if you're planning on going to Seoul I recommend that you try to get to the airport early enough to catch a train (only about 4,000 won)!

Finally, I reached Hongdae Station. The taxi driver had no clue where my hostel was and I had directions from Hongdae Station (also known as Hongik University Station) saved on my ipod (in English of course), so I just decided to walk from the station. The walk to the hostel ended up being down a series of ill-lit and slightly ominous looking backstreets and I was relieved when I arrived at the hostel with all of belongings still in my possession.

The hostel that my friends had picked is called Birdsnest and it was a really great place. I strongly recommend it to anyone going to Seoul. The prices are cheap, there are a lot of facilities provided, and the owner is helpful and is quite good at English.

Here's the website if you're interested: Birdsnest Hostel at

After I got settled into the hostel, we decided to wander around Hongdae. Although it was already around 1 the area was brightly light and packed with drunk college students. We walked around for awhile, wondering what to do. Eventually we decided to drink at a bar. Around Hongdae there were many Ho Bar stores (Ho Bar III and Ho Bar VII, I believe). So we decided to drink at a Ho Bar location. The Ho Bar was dark and badly lit by a red neon sign on the wall. Loud music blared from the speakers. The bass was verging on painful.

At the Ho Bar there were options for sets of drinks that we could order, so we chose one with three Heinekens and three Singha (a Thai beer). It also came with a platters of crackers/cheese/tomatoes/ham/cucumber, chips and salsa, and some kind of dried grilled squid or fish.

There weren't many other customers in the Ho Bar. We drank as we watched a group of drunk foreigners dancing in the back of the bar. Soon a coule of Korean guys wandered over and joined them. Every once in a while one of the waiters standing around would also break out into a strange angular dance.

We considered going out clubbing but the next day we were meeting some friends at 10. So instead, after we finished drinking we went back to the hostel and slept. And this concludes day one in Seoul. :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shibuya/Imperial Palace/Yokohama


I'm sorry I disappeared for a bit. Things got a bit hectic after starting school! But don't fear, I have many more meals to report to you!

The Saturday before last we went with some friends to karaoke in Shibuya! Although we saw the famous Shibuya Downtown Crossing, I admit it was not as crowded as I had expected. I didn't take any photos of Shibuya this time when I went, so these are photos of when I went to Shibuya a while ago while shopping with friends. :D

Can you see the Shibuya 109?

Statue of the famous Hachiko

I was surprised to see H&M in Japan!
Karaoke in Japan was quite similar to karaoke in Montreal. We sat in a small room around a able facing a tv with two microphones. The main differences were that there was a free drinks bar (only non-alcoholic, of course!) and there was a telephone in the room. We didn't order any food, but apparently you're supposed to use the telephone to place your orders or to extend your time in the room. We mostly sang English songs because we didn't know many Asian songs well enough to sing. One of the few Asian songs we did attempt to sing was our school song (yes, our school song is famous enough to be featured at karaoke places). Ironically though, the only one in our group that knew the whole song was from Keio University, Waseda's rival! When we had 10 minutes left

After karaoke we went to a meat restaurant. Although it was a bit pricey, the kal-bi there was delicious!!
Kal-bi... yum!

Mmm beef tongue!

Then on Sunday we went to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Although I say the Imperial Palace, we really could only go into the park nearby.

What is this ugly building? I don't know.

Swans! (白鳥/hakuchou)

Then we met up with a friend who owns a car and we drove out to Yokohama. 

Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse
The Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse is a shopping mall of sorts. We went in and looked round for awhile, but it was fairly expensive! :O It must be because it's a tourist spot.

There were some huge huskies! So cute! :3

Yokohama is famous for the nearby Chinatown
(Why do all Chinatowns have this gate?!)

Sun Wukong a.k.a. The Monkey King
There were a lot of Panda goods for sale! :D

Apparently Yokohama is also a famous dating spot. :P

And with this view, one can see why!

I'm sorry this post is not as wordy as usual. I hope the excessive amount of photos will make it up to you! Also, tonight I'm going to the matsuri at Kawagoe, so I will have more to write about! :D