Here are a few things I’ve been doing in Seoul for the last 2 weeks…
Pollock stew (생태찌개 – saeng tae jji gae) in a brass pot cooked at the table. Once ignored as a reminder of the hard times, this type of thin brass pots and bowls called yang-pun (양푼) made a comeback as a nostalgic memento in Korea. I love how Korean stews can be so hearty and refreshing at the same time, and having pollock-in-season as the main ingredient only makes it better.
Thanks to Joshua of Wine Korea, I had a chance to DIY grilled clams over briquettes. Clams were fresh, fire was hot, and it was actually a lot of work, true to the meaning of do-it-yourself. It was made truly unique with a bottle of Chardonnay poured in proper wine glasses, courtesy of Joshua.
I was back at Baru, where Korean temple cuisine is served in course meals. Above is beoseot gangjeong (버섯 강정), crispy mushrooms in spicy-sweet glaze. This is a dish that would make everyone – vegetarian or not – happy.
A new duck dish at Jung Sik Dang, it tastes as good as it looks pretty on the plate, if that’s possible. Every morsel on this plate adds to the whole with its flavor and texture.
Jujube tea at a tea house in Insadong. Jujubes, a.k.a., Chinese dates (대추- dae chu) or red dates are used in traditional medicine in Korea, but don’t let that scare you away. These are naturally sweet and known to soothe your mood. After walking a long way in the cold, I think a cup of hot, sweet jujube tea would work for everyone.
I could never get tired of street food – mini kimbap, tteokbokki and fish cakes (어묵 – eo muk) in Gwangjang Market (광장 시장 – gwang jang shi jang).
I’m being a tourist in my own city and I’m finding new angles and details I overlooked before. I don’t remember much about my childhood field trips to palaces in Seoul, but this time, I was in awe in the secret garden (후원 – hu won) behind Changdeok Palace (창덕궁).
Gilsangsa (길상사) is a Buddhist temple in Seongbukdong (성북동). The site and some of the original buildings were donated by the owner of what used to be an exclusive restaurant to the Venerable Beopjeong, one of the most beloved Buddhist monks in Korea. Beopjeong seunim (스님 – Buddhist monk) later spent his last days here before he passed away in 2010. Not only does the temple sit on a picturesque site, I found another little pleasures of this temple. There are short messages and teachings of the late Beopjeong sunim found in random places in the temple. Here is one.
참으로 소중한 것은
어떤 사회적인 지위나
신분, 소유물이 아니다.
우리들 자신이 누구인지를
– 법정 스님 –
a truly precious thing is
not any specific social status,
class, or things we own.
It is to know
who we are ourselves.
– Beopjeong Seunim –
I was off to Chuncheon (춘천) for a day trip. I think it was about -15C (5F) that day, or at least it felt like one. Still, when I got to Soyang River Dam (소양강 댐), the view just opened my eyes and my mind.
…and here are my pickings from the farmers market in Chuncheon. Clockwise from the the top left, sea water tofu, dallae (달래 – small wild onion, Allium monanthum), naeng i (냉이 – Capsella bursapastoris [argh, a very long and boring title for such tasty grass]), godeul bbaegi (고들빼기 – Crepidiastrum sonchifolium), announcing the arrival of spring.
Back in Seoul, I helped a friend with the new menu for his cafe/bar. Look out for the new bruschetta plate at 1950 hotel in Shinsadong (신사동) Garosugil (가로수길).
Spending time in tourist sites in winter means…that you’re spending your day in the cold. Really cold. But it also keeps many others indoors, which allows you to take it slow and notice the remaining snow on the tiled roof at Gyeongbok Palace (경복궁). The sun came out for a few minutes before it hid itself for the rest of the day, and there was a perfect minute of silence before others joined in for the view.
Gwanghwamun (광화문), the main entrance to Gyeongbok Palace (경복궁), was reopened in 2010 after renovation. I guess I wouldn’t have walked by Gwanghwamun at this hour if I lived in Seoul. Gwanghwamun came a little closer and real to me this time.
Ssamjigil (쌈지길) in Insadong is a complex of cute shops selling traditional, kitchy, fun, random stuff like teas, T-shirts, plates and hats.
Cheong-gye-cheon (청계천) is a stream running through the middle of the busy office and tourist districts in Seoul. Looking down the water feels rather cold during the day, but evening lights seem to warm it up a bit.
Bukchon Hanok Maeul (북촌 한옥 마을) is a hilly neighborhood lined with traditional houses. Although I had been here before, I decided to take a detour on my way to dinner that evening. How glad I was to go the long way instead of rushing to a meeting like I usually do.
That’s what I have for now. I’m spending my last couple of days in Seoul with my family and wrapping things up. I’m not really sure how I’ll organize hundreds of photos I took, but I hope to tell you somewhat coherent, interesting stories through those photos soon. But I’ll worry about that when I get back to New York.