48 Hours in Seoul

My parents immigrated to the States a few years before I was born. As an infant, my mom brought me back to Korea to meet her side of the family (my dad's entire family immigrated to the US too) a few times and then the summer before grade 7, my parents sent my sister and me to Korea to stay with our maternal grandma for a couple months. That was 20 years ago and I hadn't been back since. My aunts had been insistent on us coming back but it just wasn't that easy; flights were expensive, it was hard to take enough time off of work to justify a trip that far, and to be honest, there were other places that were higher on my travel priority list.
But, because of some family things that happened earlier this year, I really wanted to make some time for visiting Korea on this trip. And I'm really glad because we loved seeing our cousins and their kids, who we'd never even met before, and the food was amazing. Actually, I have a feeling that this post will look as if all we did was eat because I didn't really interrupt our family time with too many photographs.

My aunt picked us up from the airport at 5AM. We were hoping we'd have an opportunity to use showers at the Incheon Airport but unfortunately they were only available for people on connecting flights.
My aunt was suggesting we just get something sensible like sandwiches or muffins for breakfast and then said that she thought we wouldn't want to eat something like kimchi stew and we were like, "Um, no, we'd love that!" so she took us to this restaurant, which is open 24/7, to get pork rib stew.
Ugh, you'll never understand how much this hit the spot. The stew was overflowing with pork, the broth was deliciously savory and spicy, and it just tapped into my tastebuds in the most comforting way. I honestly felt like I was Anton Ego tasting that ratatouille and getting transported back to his childhood, not necessarily because this was a dish from my childhood but just because these flavors and ingredients are my default and the most familiar to me.
After breakfast, we went for a walk and then met up with my cousin and her kids and hung out for a bit before heading out for lunch. I had requested son jjajangmyun (hand pulled noodles with black bean sauce) so that's what we got.
We also got kkanpoongi, which is a dish of battered and deep fried chicken chunks tossed in a spicy and sweet sauce. They made it extra spicy at our request and honestly, it's the best kkanpoongi I've ever eaten.

The jjm totally hit the spot. It wasn't better or worse than the jjm available near my house but it was really good and because I hadn't eaten it in a while, I was in heaven. The noodles were springy and chewy, the sauce had a rich and savory umami flavor, and together, it was a match made in heaven.
My cousin's sons shared a bowl of jjamppong, which is a spicy seafood soup with hand pulled noodles. The broth was hot and spicy and awesome; my aunt said that this dish is what they're known for.
My cousin said she thought it was just a little too anticlimactic for us to part ways directly after lunch so she suggested we get some dessert and the obvious choice was to get bingsu, which is Korea's answer to shaved ice.

The photo below is my cousin's daughter. Isn't she the friggin' cutest?!
We got a chocolate bingsu and a matcha bingsu. The actual shaved ice is made with milk so it has flavor and it's shaved so fine, it's like actual snow. Both were delicious but the chocolate was a bit too sweet for me.
We were originally supposed to stay at our aunt's apartment but we ended up getting a hotel right by her son's apartment nearby. The hotel was fine and nothing to write home about. I don't even want to get into the details because if you're planning on visiting Seoul, you wouldn't stay here; it's not the most convenient for sightseeing.
There was some pretty good shopping near our hotel so we ended up putting a load of laundry in at the nearby coin laundry and then killing time by perusing some shops. We ended up buying a bunch of stuff at Daiso, which is a Japanese store that's basically like a dollar store, including journals, stickers, washi tape, and hair ties as souvenirs for friends back home.

This place was kind of like the Target dollar spot on crack. There was a gardening section, kitchenware, stationery, pet supplies (we bought George Michael a little jersey), and knickknacks.
After picking up our laundry, we met up with our cousin and his family for dinner. The other meal I had requested before arriving was Korean barbecue so my cousin had arranged this ahead of time.
We ate loads of marinated beef, pork, banchan (side dishes), naengmyun (chewy buckwheat noodles), until our bellies were about to burst.
After dinner, we went to my cousin's apartment to have dessert and hang out. We just had some fruit and played with his daughter, YD, who's so sassy and smart.
In the morning, we had breakfast at the hotel before heading out for the day. My aunt was going to leave us alone to our own devices but ended up asking to tag along, which was fine with us. She knew how to navigate better than we did anyway.
Since we were only there for such a short time, instead of getting a multi-ride subway card, we bought individual tickets every time we needed a ride. You have to keep your card to leave the station as well (because it's a different cost for varying distances) and when you return the card, you're given back a ₩500 ($0.50 USD) deposit that you pay upfront for getting the card in the first place. It's a nice little incentive not to just litter or throw away the cards.
I wanted to pick one kind of touristy spot to visit so we ended up at Changdeokgung. My uncle grew up in this area so he said this was the better of the two palaces to visit (the other being Gyeongbokgung). He compared Gyeongbokgung to Buckingham Palace and Changdeokgung to Windsor Palace, meaning the former was where they conducted business and the latter being the living quarters. I actually agreed that the living quarters would be more interesting so that worked out.
It's a pretty humongous place but honestly, the architecture gets kind of repetitive after a while and though it was initially pretty empty when we arrived, it started to fill up pretty quickly so we didn't end up staying too long.
After walking around the palace for an hour, we walked some more to the nearby Bukchon neighborhood, which features old buildings with traditional Korean architecture.
Even thought it would've only been a twenty minute walk, my aunt said she was tired so she hailed a cab to take us to the market.
We immediately made a beeline for the kalguksu (knife noodles) vendor that was featured on Netflix's Street Food. Since Gwangjang is known for the beendehdduk (soybean and vegetable pancake), we wanted to get some and guess what? You can just ask for it to be delivered from one stall to the other, which is pretty awesome. I supposed you may need to know Korean in order to facilitate this, but guess what? I can speak Korean so I guess I'm just at an advantage here, ha!
The dumplings were just okay but everything else was fantastic. The pancakes were so crispy and so flavorful.
The noodles were so soft and chewy and I loved how irregular they were. There were curled ones, thin ones, thick ones, squiggly ones, short ones, long ones, etc. The broth had a subtle underlying seafoody richness but also had a brightness from the zucchini and carrot. It was just a delicious bowl of goodness.
We also got one of these skewers with a spicy chewy rice cake (rice cake similar to mochi, not like the dry Quaker kind) and sausage. One side of the rice cake was crisp, which was a nice textural contrast. The inside of the rice cake was pretty bland, but it was necessary because the sausage was so salty. It was kind of like a hot dog except better.
We also got hodduk, which is a chewy pastry filled with honey. It came fresh off the grill which meant it was piping hot and extra delicious.
Just outside the south exit of the market is an entrance to a little riverwalk running through the city. This is kind of like Seoul's answer to the Highline in NYC or the Promenade Plantee in Paris. We walked along the path to help us digest and also because it was just a really beautiful day and we wanted to be outside.
We had intended to get some nakji bokkeum (spicy octopus stir fry) but the place my aunt wanted to take us to ended up being closed because it was Sunday.
Instead of getting sour about missing out on nakji bokkeum, we found some random sun loungers on the rooftop of some museum and relaxed for a bit.
Gangnam was just a neighborhood over from where we were staying so instead of heading straight back to our hotel, we decided to check out the iconic location that is now known all over the world thanks to Psy.
Having missed out on nakji, we had room in our bellies for a snack so we got more bingsu. This time, we got a strawberry version.
The main souvenir I wanted to get in Korea was skincare because Korean skincare is awesome. Sheet masks are so much cheaper there so we stocked up.
We wanted to hang out with my cousin's daughter some more so we thought rollerskating together would be a good bonding experience; our aunt told us she loved it.
I had fun but I also ended up falling really hard and bruising my tailbone so there's no way I'm doing that again any time soon. Honestly, rollerskating is so hard! I prefer rollerblading.
For dinner, we got dahk kalbi, which is a stir fried chicken with a spicy sauce. There's loads of cabbage and onions and rice cake in the pan as well that all get smothered in the spicy sauce. And then, when you're almost finished, the server will come by and turn the leftovers into fried rice. It's a really fun and delicious experience that I highly recommend.
Even though I wasn't even hungry, I decided I couldn't leave the country without getting wings so we got takeaway from the nearby chicken shop. It was totally worth it because they were so yummy. The chicken was so tender and the seasoning was so balanced between sweet, savory, salty, and spicy. Plus, the wings were actually pretty dainty and a bit smaller than those of an abnormal hormone-injected chicken.
On our final morning, we had one last hotel breakfast before finishing up our packing. Our cousin picked us up and drove us to the bus that we could take to the airport.
This bus terminal was awesome because you could go through immigration and avoid the long lines at the airport.
At the airport, we got one last Korean meal. We got bibimbap, which is a bowl of rice with loads of vegetables and you mix it all up with a spicy gochujang sauce. We also got yukgaejang, which is a spicy beef soup. It was just nice to fill our bellies with our comfort food before heading to our last country of the trip.
Here's my video diary:


Post a Comment