Day 33: The Seoul Report – Food & Fun

I know I haven’t been posting as regular as I was in Europe but I’m finding it harder to find time to write.  But, here’s an update of my visit in Seoul, Korea.  I’ll try breaking up this post into parts.

Malls and Stores in Seoul

Lotte Department Store Over the weekend I had my friend’s place all to myself.  My friend went out for the weekend with co-workers so I was exploring Seoul solo.  The first few days I didn’t really think of doing much.  I went to a few malls around the area.  They were, Techno Mart, Coex, Home Plus, Lotte Castle Plaza, Lotte Mart, and Lotte Department Store.  All these malls are either in Jamsil or a couple stops away from Jamsil station.

Inside Techno Mart Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of inside the malls.   I actually got stopped by security a few times for taking photos inside the malls.  Specifically Techno Mart and one in the Dongdaemun area.  I wasn’t even taking photos of objects.  It was more like just landscape photos, like escalators and foyers.  Photo on the side is what I took before I had security all over my ass.

Probably sounds weird I’m coming to Seoul to visit malls, but over the weekend it was raining a lot so it was pretty hard to go to the outdoor sites.  Actually the outdoors sites are probably one of my favourite things here in Seoul but more on that later.  Hanging out at malls in Seoul is still pretty interesting.  Probably my favourite department stores or mall is Coex in this area.  It’s probably the most up beat and it’s easier to shop too.  At some of the other malls like Techno Mart, it’s kind of like an open concept stores, so people tend to bug you more and try to convince you to buy things you don’t need.  I noticed something weird at the mall too.  There were line ups or queues for the weirdest restaurants.  Like this one place that sold Japanese Don (a bowl of rice with some sort of topping  like chicken katsu or egg), was like packed!  It’s not even that uncommon.  Another place that always had a huge queue was TGIF.  I guess I can understand that it’s kind of exotic and it’s interesting, but taste-wise and price-wise, not nearly worth it.  Inside Coex there was a concert going on.  Some Korean dude was singing English and Korean songs and there was a decently large crowd.

If I were to move here though, I think my favourite store would be Daiso and Home Plus.  Both these stores will pretty much have everything you’ll ever need to move in here, like detergent, lint rollers, pots & pans, baskets, toiletries, blankets.  After I landed I stopped by the local Daiso here and picked up a few smalls things.  It was definitely a life saver.  They’re both pretty common all over Korea from what I’ve been told.

Korean Food and More.

I have to say, for the most part traditional Korean food here isn’t too much different from the Korean food in Toronto.  HOWEVER, for the same quality, it’s much cheaper here than in Toronto.  And overall it’s easier to find the food you want to eat.  Most local restaurants only sell a few dishes.  Like, usually a store will specialize in noodles, or grilled meat, or soup.  Even without knowing Korean, most restaurants have pictures, so you can kind of just point if you feel like trying something random.  There’s your usual stuff like:

Dolsot Bipimbap: A black stone bowl, that stays heated for a while, filled with vegetables, rice, an egg, and then you put on as much hot sauce as you like.
Kimchichigae: Kimchi soup.
Ton Kastu: Pork Cutlet, that usually comes in fruits and vegetables here.  The cutlet it sometimes even stuffed with sweet potato which is a really nice touch.
Kang Ja Tang: Pork bone soup that’s really tasty here.
Jajiangmyun: Unlike Chinese Zha Jiang Mian, this one is served with wheat noodles and a soybean paste, with onions, for sauce.

These are just a few things you can order in Korea.  Most local restaurants would sell any of these, so might save you if there aren’t any pictures.  Probably my favourite thing in Korea though is coal grill BBQ.  Unlike the ghetto Chinese-owned Korean BBQs in Toronto, these are legit grills that taste better because of the coal or hot plate (depending where you go).  Not only that, it they give you REAL meat too.  Like, Kalbi, Bulgogi, Deungshim, and Anshim.  In Toronto, it’s like super sliced cheap beef, unless you go to the real Korean places, but they’ll charge you an arm and a leg.  Here in Seoul, I can easily find grills that are ALL YOU CAN EAT for $13, taxes are included of course.  I would say the quality here is about the same as the higher end Korean places in Toronto, but you definitely can get more value for your money here.  Of course, you won’t find these places in the city centre or tourist areas.  You’ll need to know where they are in the outer areas.

BHC Chicken Aside from the traditional stuff, Korea is pretty famous for other types of food we don’t see that often in Toronto.  Like, their fried chicken!  The fried chicken here is absolutely amazing.  Most places sell whole chickens which can cost anywhere from $7 to $13 depending on the flavouring you get.  There are some other pretty good chicken places in the central areas that are more like Wild Wings back at home.  If you’re here check out Kyochon.  It’s really good too.  Another really neat chicken place is BHC.  They sell chicken bites.  Kind of like popcorn chicken.  But, they come in these neat little cups, where half the cup is soda and the other half is the chicken.  Check out the photo on the side.  I still haven’t tried KFC here but I’d probably avoid it at all costs.  No real reason, but I try to avoid Western chains while in Asia.

Omelette Rice I definitely think the chicken and the local grills are probably the best thing to eat here.  Street food is pretty common in most markets and near the metro stations.  Those are definitely worth trying for a buck or two.  Most of the malls have floors dedicated to restaurants and they usually have some fusion restaurants that are interesting, but granted they are a bit pricier.  Omelette Rice is really good in Korea too.

Saunas, Spas, Food & Fun

This is probably by far the most interesting thing in Korea.  More interesting than palaces and museums, probably even more so than the food, is  KOREAN SAUNA HOUSES! Or otherwise known as Jinjilbang.  A few days ago I tried one out.  Jinjilbangs aren’t as simple as a sauna in a change room.  Let’s try to paint a picture here.  Think of going to a gym.  Then go into the change room.  You have lockers and you have a shower area with a sauna.  Now take the shower area and add like 4 hot tubs a pool and an area where you can get a body scrub.  You’ll be hanging out in this bath area stark naked but nothing to fear since it’s a pretty common thing to do in Korea.  No one’s judging.

At the place I went to, called Dragon Hill Spa, it had six floors, and the entrance fee was $10.  The 5th floor was the male change room with bath area, and the 4th floor was for the women.  After washing up you can head back to the first floor which is the coed area.  Before you head down though, you have to put on these oversized shorts and t-shirt they gave you at the entrance.  On the first floor there’s a massage area, pool area, video arcades, a Korean restaurant, a snack bar, and 5 giant saunas.

Each sauna area is pretty unique.  I went into one room that was like a salt sauna, heated at 52°C.  I’m so not used to it though. I walked like 5 steps and my feet were on FIRE.  I had to sit down and put a towel on my feet.  The next room is like a regular sauna but it had this ginseng scent to it.  I like eating ginseng but I rather not sit in it.  This next sauna was an ice room.  It was literally below zero in there.  Then there was a TV room sauna.  And the last sauna was this one that was, I swear, over 60°C.  It looked like I was walking into a coal furnace.  I didn’t last very long in there.  After relaxing in the saunas I got some Ton Katsu at the restaurant.  It was pretty expensive compared to the local places I go to, but the portion was pretty HUGE.

This place is amazing if you come with some friends.  I literally spent like 6 hours in this place alone.  Just relaxing and eating food.  There was this awesome restaurant on the roof top too.  It’s definitely a thing you have to do when you’re in Seoul.  Even the local Jinjilbangs is something you should try if you can’t make it to the central areas.

Anyway I think this post is long enough.  I’ll explain in my next post my next favourite thing to do in Seoul. Parks!  For now enjoy some of the photos I took! Finally found sometime to take some.  Most of these photos were taken around Seoul Tower.  I didn’t go up to the tower, but there’s enough in the area to keep you distracted.  The surrounding area is just beautiful.

Day 29: Korean Landings Land-of-No-Engrish

Just another plain blog post with no photos again.  I flew with Jeju Air to get to Seoul.  They only have charter planes so the smaller kind and they do flights within Asia.  The service is actually really good, and for a chartered flight in Asia you get a total of 20kg as check-in which is a lot for this kind of plane.  The flight itself was pretty cheap, around $300 CAD for a round trip to Hong Kong.

I landed in Seoul last night.  Their airport here in Seoul (actually Incheon) is really nice.  “A” plus on the cleanliness of the washroom.  It was super clean.  Although, from where my plane landed it took a while to get to the exit gates.  I spent like a good 20 minutes looking for the bus stop I needed to get to.  As I was looking though I noticed that at the airport they actually rent out cellphones.  I ended up picking one up since I’d probably need one to call all the tour companies and sites for information.  They don’t sell pre-paid SIM cards here because in Korea they don’t use GSM cellphone networks like most of the world.  They use CDMA which doesn’t use SIM cards so you can’t even use your phone here if you wanted to.  I ended up finding the bus I need to take to get to my friend’s place.  There’s a specific booth that sells bus tickets in front of every exit.  Remember this when buying KAL (Korean Airport Limousine – Coach Bus) tickets that you can get round trip tickets.  They might try and scam you saying that they don’t sell them.  But just argue until they do.  Its generally cheaper to get a round trip.

Notable things in Seoul.  Remember to bring deodorant when coming here.  Its not popular at all and generally pretty hard to find in the less central areas.  Bring cash before arriving.  Most of the ATMs here won’t accept your debit card if you want to withdraw cash directly from your bank account, and only take credit card.  I had to find a HSBC that was a few subway stops away from where I’m staying, but it wasn’t exactly close.  Seoul is HUGE.  From one end of the subway system to the other, it can take up to 2 hours to travel.  So its definitely much much larger than Hong Kong.  If you love fried chicken, you’ll love Korea.  There’s a fried chicken place at every block! Better than KFC or Popeye’s any day!

Earlier today after getting my cash, I walked around the underground mall in Jamsil Station.  It’s pretty neat.  It’s kind of like Toronto’s PATH mall but slightly smaller.  From I was told, these underground malls are generally easier to shop at than the bigger malls.  I guess I’ll find out what they mean when I actually go see them tomorrow or later in the week.

Tonight I went out with my friend and her co-workers from the private school she teaches at and everyone there is Canadian save for one.  But, it was awesome.  They took me out to this ALL YOU CAN EAT Korean BBQ.  It was 100 times better than the ones in Toronto!  Actually, in Toronto, all the all you can eat KBBQs are pretty crappy.  The Chinese owned ones where they sell you cheap ass meat, but then I guess it’s okay after 10pm for $10.  But, this KBBQ here is EXCELLENT meat and it’s ridiculously cheap! Only 13000₩ which is roughly $13 CAD.  What made it so good though was that it wasn’t on a cheap grill either.  It was on a pretty high grade hot plate from what I can tell.  Cooking food on it didn’t really leave a dirty char film that you usually get with cheaper grills and of course the side dishes were great!  Oh and can’t forget the cheap soju here for like 2000₩ or $2.

I’m headed off to bed now though.  Going to check out Seoul’s multicultural area called Itaewon tomorrow and there’s supposedly a museum there too.