Seoul Food: The Neighborhoods (1st in a Series)

Seoul Food Series:
1st part: Seoul Food: The Neighborhoods
2nd part: Seoul Food: Markets & Munchies
last part: Seoul Food: My Favorite Foods

There are a few things that surprise me about Seoul. First, is that the subways are always, always full, but they’re at their most crowded at 10.30pm. (Apparently, people here are quite the night owls). Secondly, Koreans seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in cafés – don’t they have school? Or work? Then again, their cafés are so eclectic and unique, it’s no wonder they’re always jam-packed. Seoul is, after all, the world’s second largest metropolitan area bustling with over 25 million people.

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Downtown Seoul. The 237-meter N Seoul Tower in the distance appears nestled in the Namsan Mountains.

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Located between Sinsa-dong and upscale Apgujeong, Garosu-gil (literally, tree-lined street) and also known as the Europe of Seoul, melds the hip with the traditional. A stroll through this half kilometer promenade enchants with its boutiques, cafés and restaurants.

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Everybody was eating trendy smoothie bowls topped with açai in this superfood café.

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While here, snazzily dressed patrons sipped coffee amidst flower-filled interiors.

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At Lady M, a chichi New York import, we enjoy a slice of their famous crepe cake – ethereally light – and their earthy marron torte. I find it odd that the server places both cakes on a single plate. “Perhaps labor’s expensive,” my Bin comments cheekily.

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Of course we go to Gangnam. Gangnam Station is the busiest station in all of Seoul, serving as a vital transfer point among subway and bus lines. Throw in a massive underground shopping center and it’s just wild in here.

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Several large companies have their global headquarters in Gangnam, including Samsung. The buildings are beyond impressive, the roads extensive.

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Off the main streets of Gangnam lie arteries of smaller alleys bursting with people and the places that feed them.

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Stealing away from the chaos of Gangnam to stop for a patbingsu (also, bingsu). Impossibly fine frozen ice? milk? sprinkled with aromatic kinako, toasted soybean powder. Digging into this icy dream, a revelation: chewy cubes of injeolmi, sweet rice cakes like those crowning the hill of red bean above. It’s minus 1°C outside and here I am eating this.

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A dynamic balance of the ancient and the new, Korea offers tranquility amidst the hubbub. At the Gyeongbokgung Palace, we partake of peace while pondering our next meal.

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The rain today has made the day blustery and gray. After visiting the Palace, my Bin and I make a pit stop at a café with a cute name: Daily Brown.

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Inside, it’s blessedly warm, I can feel my hands again. We enjoy cups of coffee and hot chocolate, the heat floods through our numb bodies, as does the sweetness of the soft, thick toast laced with honey and cream.

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A stroll away from Gyeongbokgung Palace is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Seoul, Samcheong-dong. It’s a hilly neighborhood housing restaurants, galleries, and boutiques located in an area called Bukchon.

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Bukchon is the representative hanok (Korean traditional home) residential area in Seoul, and here, there are many hanok-style establishments, as seen above. The diversity in architectural styles from exposed brick to wood and stone is astounding.

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