Monday, 28 June 2010

Cupcakes and Kimchi

I finally managed to scrape enough money together to take a trip to Japan's closest neighbour, South Korea. I only have five more weeks left in Asia, so was really happy to be able to see one more Asian country before I head back to the West.

Yumi, Ed and I spent four days in South Korea's bustling capital city, 서울, Seoul. It was one of the busiest trips I had ever been on - so much to see, do (and eat!) and so little time to fit them all in. First of all, thank you so much to Vivian and Jenny. Korea would not have been as enjoyable an experience without your help;Vivian compiled an amazing list of things to see (thank you so much!) and my Korean friend Jenny was the best guide ever, taking us to all of her favourite places and telling us about Korean cuisine. One of my favourite things that Jenny told me was about age in Korea. Jenny was born in 1988, making her 22, however, in Korea, she is 23. In Korea,a person's first year is counted as year one, rather than year zero. So Jenny has two ages - an international age and a Korean age. :-)

I enjoyed the food in Korea so much. I found it to be much more satisfying than Japanese food. Everything is very spicy with lots more vegetables than Japanese food. It was nice to eat spicy food again after so long.

I forget the name of it, but one of my favourite dishes was cold spicy noodles (it even had ice cubes in it to keep it extra cold). I liked adding loads of kimchi (spicy vegetables) to make it even spicier. Scissors are a staple item in Korean dining. They are used to cut everything from lettuce leaves to noodles into more manageable sizes - cute eh?

I loved jijimi; a Korean style pancake. It's traditionally made from the leftover scraps of vegetables. It was divine.

Seoul is a huge metropolis. I loved riding the subway and changing trains all the time - it really made me feel nostalgic for the hustle and bustle of London (not long now!) There are an abundance of things to do in Seoul and everything is available. For the most part I liked this - I enjoyed being able to have nice smoothies, good coffee and interesting salads whenever and wherever I pleased, and I took full advantage of the cheap cosmetics shops that seemed to appear on every corner.

That said, the Americanisation of everything was something I hadn't anticipated. In many ways, Seoul seemed far more advanced than even Tokyo; everything Western is embraced. Japan is definitely more perseverant in retaining its own idiosyncrasies and I do believe that there are merits and disadvantages to each approach. I think however, that if I hadn't stuck to eating largely Korean food and didn't have Jenny with me, Seoul is the kind of place where one can have a 'city' experience, rather than an authentically Korean one. It's an international, cosmpolitan kind of place and authentic culture can be overshadowed by modernism. I guess it's the same for every major world city though - authentic culture is often hard to define now.

I love the Korean script so much. I like all the little signs that look like 'o's. I think it is much less ferocious looking than Japanese writing hehe.

The Leeum Museum was a really beautifully designed art museum in the neighbourhood of Itaewon, filled to the brim with interesting pieces.

We spent ages there and even longer outside with these spider sculptures.

I am always on the quest for a good piece of cake and Vivian recommended a small cake shop located just by the Leeum which I successfully found. It was the cutest little shop and my green tea cupcake was delectable.

High on my list of things to see was the heavily populated student area of Hongdae. Hongdae is the best - it's full of these tiny little shops, selling pretty things and bars and restaurants a-plenty.

We rested our feet in this really cute restaurant/bar hidden away in the back streets. Dining outside is not so common in Japan and Seoul is no where near as humid, so it was really lovely to be outside, chatting away into the early hours.

Hongdae is just as buzzing during the day. On Saturday, Jenny took us to a little restaurant where we had the amazing spicy cold noodles for lunch, again, with lots of kimchi.

After a spot of rain and an impromptu co-ordinated umbrella party....

...we went to Hongdae Saturday Flea Market. I loved it so much; it was full of young artists and designers selling their produce, with live music and lots of places to sit down and relax in the sunshine.

After we had stocked up on treasures, we took a walk down to Cheonggyecheon, a newly developed area of the city....

...before trying another traditional Korean dish for dinner. Galbi is grilled meat (usually pork or beef) eaten in a lettuce leaf, with a variety of side dishes, kimchi and grilled vegetables. I didn't really like this too much, I don't eat much meat and it was a little too heavy for me. I snacked on kimchi, the lettuce leaves and the lovely sides instead.

That evening, we headed to the Central Plaza area of the city to watch the South Korea v. Uruguay football match. It was so much fun to be in Seoul at this time and despite the fact that it poured with rain for the entirety of the match, the area was teeming with people.

Jenny and Gin, the red devils.

We stayed out all night on Saturday, so spent Sunday, our final day, mooching about in coffee shops, stocking up on face products and taking it easy (yet still managed to almost miss our flight!). Our final taste of Korean food was this bibimbap; a bowl of sauteed and seasoned vegetables (and often meat)and chilli pepper paste that is mixed with rice. Mmmhmm.

I had such a wonderful time in Seoul. Despite its proximity to Japan, it boasts a flavour and feel that bears no relation at all to the culture I am experiencing here in Nihon. It amazed me that two neighbouring countries could have such different taste buds! Seoul was such an exiting, fun loving and vibrant city to visit and if I was in Asia for longer, I would not hesitate about returning.

Hearts for Seoul!


  1. Aw, Isabel! You definitely captured the essence of Seoul- it's a very Americanized city (which I found comforting when I was living there), but if you dig a little deeper there are so many traditional things. I'm so happy you got to see the art museum, and the flea market, AND the cupcake shop!! I must admit, looking through your pictures just wants to make me do something CRAZY. I wonder what crazy thing I'll do this week!!! Hmmmm.... Just so glad you're back. Kagawa is not the same without you xx

  2. Yes, I wish I could have stayed there longer to get more of a feel for it. Was hard to fit everything in in just four days! I think I would have found the Americanisation very comforting too and it would probably be something I would appreciate if I was living there.
    Glad to be back in the Kag-ken. Let's have a lovely next few weeks :-D And don't do anything crazy without me - fun times in Hiroshima and Osaka o kudasai yo!


  3. I am wildy jealous- this all looks amazing- and so different to home (except the fast food places, but I bet even those feel different)