Korea & Taiwan 2015
- Out We Go Again
- Hwaseong to Gangnam
- Korean Fried Surf & Turf
- The King, the Art, and the Food Stalls
- Myeong Dong Kyoja
- On To Taichung
- Eating All Day Long
- Happy 90
- This is How We Breakfast
- Signage & More
On our first morning in Seoul, we were greeted by rain. Bummer! Living in California these days made us quite averse to wet weather. We docked into a nearby cafe called “7 Gram” and had breakfast.
The kids were completely stunned. Not sure they had the concept of rain.
Then we took the subway, officially known as the SMRT, into the touristy part of town. Among the reasons that the metropolitan Seoul was incredible to me, the SMRT is one of the largest and most complex subway systems in the world (when all lines are counted, it has more stations and longer routes than its counterparts in NYC, London, Tokyo, etc). This impressive fact came with a cost, though… even as someone who has most New York’s subway map memorized, I found the SMRT system map incredibly confusing and intimidating.
45 solid minutes and a tricky transfer later, we arrived at the Anguk station. On the street greeting us was a gigantic calligraphy brush:
We proceeded to the second largest palace that the Joseon Dynasty built in its capital: Changdeokgung. This palace was the seat of the government for 270 some years and had been destroyed by the Japanese several times since the late 1500s. Its architecture was known for its integration into nature, so it felt more like a garden than a political complex.
After Changdeokgung, we walked down Insadong, the cute neighborhood filled with artsy and cultural tourist souvenirs.
Xuan sharing her chips.
The most well-known place in Insadong has to be this spiral structure Ssamziegil.
The poopy place where Julia’s dad bought everyone snacks five years ago was still here.
Mom trying out a cute piece of hot turd.
This spiral structure reminded me a lot of the indoor version in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Ting and grandpa at the top.
Meanwhile, Hong and I embraced our Asian selves and did a photo sticker machine.
After having way more fun than expected at Ssamziegil, we no longer had enough time to visit Alive Museum, which was on today’s itinerary. We pulled up the address of a famous vegetarian restaurant and headed into some twisty valleys.
Monks! We gotta be near the vegetarian restaurant!
Name (?) of the restaurant.
This place turned out to be not completely vegetarian. It served traditional Korean set meals that had mostly no meat, so it worked out fine.
After lunch, Hong and I took the kids back to the hotel, while my parents continued sightseeing in old town. A few hours later, we met up again for some evening activities.
Now is the time to say this: I have some really awesome coworkers. Prior to this trip, I’ve casually chatted with several Korean friends about things to do in Seoul. It was only natural to ask for recommendations, “because all Koreans must know Seoul well.” Okay, just kidding. I only expected whatever was conveniently on top of their minds, and to briefly brainstorm some ideas. But they took my request to heart. Jay gave our itinerary to his wife Bebe, who texted her family in Seoul and came up with a (impressively formatted) PowerPoint presentation listing restaurant recommendations along our path. On the other hand, Karen consulted her sister in LA and typed up a two-page personalized recommendations for things to see and do. Despite having done very comprehensive research on my own, there was nothing like personal recommendations. We were so grateful to have such awesome friends.
The recommendation was put to test for the first time tonight, as we sought for a restaurant called “Moon u Chicken” (or “Moon and Chi”… it was confusing). We took the subway to Sinsa, and asked my parents to find their own food as this place definitely had nothing vegetarian. Then it was a bit of a challenge actually locating this particular restaurant.
Without directions from the locals, how would anyone look at this and say, “yeah let’s eat here”?
The menu wasn’t extensive, and ordering couldn’t have been easier given the only English labels were “must eat” on one item and “must drink” on another.
I don’t even like beer, but this super foamy cold beer (with a boba straw) was pretty good.
Ta-da! Giant octopus legs, deep fried, atop fried chicken.
This deep-fried surf and turf was incredible both in looks and in taste. Honestly, I would’ve been plentifully happy to have those octopus legs on my table, even if I didn’t eat them. They were unquestionably the most interesting cut of meat to look at. But it didn’t disappoint in the mouth, either. The crispiness and chewiness combined to form a unique texture on the bite, and the artfully flavored batter made me wonder why they even bothered to give us dipping sauce. The chicken under the octopus looked like a mere plating stuffer but was actually another star. I wasn’t too impressed by anything already cut into small pieces, but Hong called it the best friend chicken she ever had. That was a serious compliment considering how much friend chicken we eat. The salad and potato wedges on the side were delicious, too, but I literally only took one bite of each to sample as I was too busy battling that sea monster.
Thanks for the memorable recommendation, Jay and Bebe!
After dinner, we walked through Garosu-gil. It, according to Karen, was the trendy neighborhood that overtook the Korean Beverly Hills as the place where the coolest kids hangout. Unfortunately, on a cold Tuesday night, we didn’t see a very interesting crowd.
Then, we took a cab to Banpo Hangang Park to see the rainbow water fountain show. It was an interesting concept (unthinkable in California) where the entire length of Banpo Bridge sprayed water into the Hangang River, accompanied by colorful light displays. It was quite cold by the river and Xuan was terribly cranky, so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we expected to.