For my winter escape I decide to head to South Korea, home to more than 50 million, and a growing leader in entertainment, tourism, culture and technology.
One of the first things I notice as I arrive at Incheon airport is the astounding size of airport and sophisticated style it had. This was truly a good reflection of the modern giant that South Korea have become. I thought making my way around the huge airport was tough enough, but this was nothing compared to what I was about to face… the Korean underground metro subway. It was really quite complex and to be honest it was all very overwhelming. Luckily the signs and directions were very tourist friendly which really eased me into using the subway.
Upon exiting the subway I notice the sheer amount of people hustling about. The ice cold winter winds also shocks me, as the winter months were such a contrast from the blistering hot 40 degree summers in Melbourne.
Despite the cold I decide to brave my way and to start my journey exploring the cityscapes of Korea. Seoul city has so much to offer and with so many districts offering the best in retail, dining and cultural experience. I decide to head to the 2 major hotspot districts Myeong-Dong and Gangnam for the best in culinary experience, fashion, shopping and local tradition.
MYEONG DONG/STREET VENDOR FOOD/CHANGEDEOKGUNG PALACE/BIMBIMBAP/N TOWER
The first stop I make on my trip is to the famous streets of Myeong Dong renowned as a shopper’s haven. Myeong Dong proud’s itself as a giant street of shopping and culture, with a massive number of visitors rounding to 1.5~2 million alone.
After exhausting myself from all the shopping, I can’t help but appreciate the convenience of pojangmacha; a local favourite, which offer quick, tasty and cheap (usually served in small paper cups) food to go. With each stall offering a wide range of snacks such as dokbokki (stir fried red pepper paste rice cake snack), warm Oden and broth (excellent warmer for the cold winter), various skewered snacks (sausages, hotdog bars and potato fries and many more) and twigim (Korean style tempura of usually peppers, squid, sweet potato, and a wide selection of other assorted vegetables) I am really quite tempted to try them all!
Eventually the freezing winter chill influenced me to go for the stall offering the dokbokki and warm skewered oden in broth. Each snack was served in small cups, and really added the perfect touch to warm the cold. I couldn’t have picked better.
The perfect oden (fish cake) lathered in dashi broth; served with the spicy dokbokki was the right amount of inner warmth that I needed to continue my travel journey in the cold winter.
As I take my fill on both spicy dokbokki and some delicious oden, I make my way to my next destination Changedeokgung Palace. Located about 26 mins from Myeong Dong stations and short walk from Hyehwa station, Changedeokgung proud’s itself as a cultural building providing insight on the architecture and history of Korea.
Having explored the historical landscapes of the Korean palace, I head back to Myeong Dong to make one last stop over at the famous Seoul N Tower (Namsan) which is just a short taxi drive from Myeong Dong. The tower has been a long tourist attraction spot due to the roof terrace and observatory which offers a spectacular view of Seoul (especially at night).
To finish up the day, I head back to where I started in Myeong Dong to finally try an authentic bibimbap; a staple dish that is the representative dish of Korea. The bibimbap is a perfect example of the Korean food philosophy which combines both elements of nutrition together with tasty flavours. I take my pick out of what seemed like an endless selection of Korean restaurants.
I finally settle for a restaurant and try the famous sizzling stone pot bibimbap. Upon trying the dish and I am instantly hit with amazing flavours. The combination of fresh ingredients; the crisp rice, egg, various seasoned vegetables, sweet bulgogi and bright red pepper paste (gochujang) were all harmoniously infused together.
It was a taste not to be forgotten. The combination of unique flavours hit the spot. It really left a great impression as a dish that can be enjoyed in a healthy and tasty way. Having felt light and satisfied, I knew I would be having more bibimbap throughout my journey here in Korea. What a great way to finish the day.
GANGNAM/SAMGYEOPSAL & KIMCHI JJIGAE
Next on my destination list, I head to Gangnam renowned as the equivalent of America’s Beverly Hills, Silicon Valley and Wall Street. Gangnam is situated on the Southside of the Han River with major tourist hotspots such as COEX mall, Rodeo st, Apgjeoung and Garosu-gil (Sinsa-dong)
I decide to visit each of these hotspots, and to get there I take the green line (line 2). I have to say that Gangnam was absolutely jam packed with people and I fully understood why it is referred to as one of the busiest and bustling districts in Seoul.
Overall I was extremely astounded and impressed with the liveliness, endless range of bars, restaurants and fashion retailer shops. Having exhausted myself from the travelling and exploring, I decide to catch up with a few of my friends at a famous Korean BBQ restaurant to finish the night at Gangnam.
Samgyeopsal is usually a very common place to eat out casually amongst the locals. Boy was it a restaurant enjoyed by the locals. The place was packed with people, and the environment was really hustling and bustling with people really enjoying themselves over some soju (a Korean rice spirit that is generally enjoyed with samgyeopsal) and good BBQ’d pork.
According to how the locals do it, samgyeopsal is best enjoyed when wrapped in some lettuce, perilla leaves and Ssam (which is a thick spicy paste made of red pepper paste, seasame oil onion, garlic, green onions and fermented soy bean paste (doenjang)). To add to the already delicious meal, a stew known as Kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) is usually enjoyed on the side to compliment the oiliness of the bbq.
It was a really unique yet entertaining experience to be able to grill my own meat. The combination of wrapping cooked meat with assorted lettuces, soup from the spicy Kimchi stew and to top it off a sip of Soju, all perfectly infused the tastes together to create a very harmonious blend of flavours. Yet again through the Korean cuisine I have been able to experience flavours that were unique, flavoursome but at the same time very healthy.
Gangnam was truly a shopper’s delight, with high end shopping, restaurants, cafes and a fantastic night life scene you won’t be disappointed by all the hype.
Korea will not only offer a culturally memorizing experience, but all the beautiful and unique flavours that Korean cuisine pertain will definitely have you coming back for more.
All photos courtesy of Boondog Photography boontog.tumblr.com