Our first stop of the day was the neighbourhood of Insa-dong, right in the heart of Seoul. If you wanted to learn and experience more of the traditional culture of Korea, Insa-dong is definitely the place to be. You'll find shops selling hanbok (Korean traditional dress), pottery, calligraphy, folk crafts, and also your typical touristy souvenirs.

There's one main road in Insa-dong but there are also many hidden alleys housing art galleries, teahouses, cafes, and traditional restaurants.   

The restaurant we wanted to go to wasn't quite open yet, so we spent some time exploring Ssamziegil. Ssamziegil is a four-story shopping complex that sells mainly crafts and handmade goods. 

The building is actually pretty cool because each level wraps around the courtyard with an ascending ramp.

Themed cafes are everywhere in Seoul, but it was still funny to see a poop-themed cafe at the top level of Ssamziegil. Apparently the food and drinks here are served inside toilet-shaped mugs and plates. Appetizing, huh?

Not wanting to miss out on the fun, we saw a stall on the lower level selling poop-shaped pancakes! Filled with your choice of chocolate or red bean, these were a cute and surprisingly delicious snack for only 1000₩ (around a $1).

When the restaurant finally opened, we made our way over for our first meal of the day. Insa-dong Geujip is conveniently located right next door to Ssamziegil so it's pretty easy to find. The restaurant is actually housed in an old hanok (traditional Korean house) and also serves some traditional Korean dishes.

It's pretty tourist/foreigner-friendly since they have English translations on the menu as well as pictures.

You can order individual portions or they also had dishes that were good for 2-4 people to share. It's probably not a typical item you eat for breakfast but my sister really wanted to try the galbi-jim, or braised short ribs. It was delicious! The meat was soft and tender, and there was a bunch of ingredients (rice cakes, eggs, carrots, onions, jujubes) all hidden and mixed together in a sweet and savoury sauce.

We also got one of my favourite Korean dishes, hameul pajeon, or seafood and green onion pancake. The pancake was huge and quite filling, so I don't think we were able to even finish half of it.  

After lunch, we stopped by Osulloc to pick up some teas. Osulloc is the largest national tea brand in Korea, and houses farming and production in Jeju Island. Known for their green tea, the Osulloc stores are also attached to cafes, where you can buy green tea drinks and green tea cakes.

Another product that they're quite known for is their green tea milk spread. Think Nutella, but obviously green tea flavoured. I bought the spread off of Gmarket before, so I didn't pick up any this time around. It's quite a sweet spread, but perfect to eat on toast or just by the spoonful! 

We also walked down the rest of Insa-dong, looking and shopping for souvenirs. A lot of art, pottery, pouches in traditional fabrics, even bottle openers in the shape of soju.

The Starbucks in Insa-dong is quite famous, mainly because their sign is written in Hangul. I don't know if there's an official law or rule, but I heard the stores in Insa-dong are required to have signs in Hangul in order to preserve the Korean culture here.

More souvenirs ~

It was quite a hot day so we got some sikhye from a street vendor. Sikhye is a traditional sweet drink made from barley malt and rice. There's even grains of rice that settle at the bottom of the cup. It's refreshing and also helps with digestion as well. I loved it. It sort of reminded me in a way of nuoc sam, an herbal tea that my mom makes whenever we're sick.

Next on the agenda, we walked over to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest palace out of five in the area. It served as the home of Kings of the Joseon dynasty.

Before you get to the actual palace, you pass through Gwanghwamun (above), which is the main gate.

Standing guard.

There are free English tours and changing of the guard ceremonies that take place at specific times in the day. We were lucky to catch one of them.

Heungnyemun Gate (left) is the second main gate you pass through to get to Gyeongbokgung Palace (right). The area between Gwanghwamun and Heungnyemun is free to enter, but to go anywhere past that requires a 3,000₩ admission fee.

Since there are a lot of hanbok rental shops in the area, you'll see lots of people, particularly teenagers and young 20-somethings, dressed up in one to take pictures. If you are wearing a hanbok, palace admission is free.

After some time at Gyeongbokgung, we set off to explore the rest of Samcheong-dong. Like Insa-dong, Samcheong-dong has a similar traditional feel with hanoks being transformed into modern cafes and shops.

We stopped for another quick snack at Samcheong-dong Hotteok, which is tucked into a small alleyway. Hotteok is a popular street food, mainly consumed during the winter (but delicious any time of the year). It's a pancake, typically stuffed with a mixture of brown sugar, nuts/seeds, and cinnamon. The stuffing melts into a honey as it's cooked on a griddle.

I loved the dough as it was puffy and slightly chewy. The hotteok was also super crispy and the filling sweet and warm. My mom typically doesn't go for sweets so she had the savoury vegetable hotteok. They also sold a meat one as well.

If you're in Samcheong-dong, be sure to hit up Bukchon Hanok Village. It's really neat to see the traditional architecture of these homes. Although it's become a pretty popular tourist destination, it's also important to keep in mind that people still live in these homes. There will be a lot of signs asking people to keep quiet while they walk around here.

At the top of one of the hanok-lined paths, you get a pretty nice view of N Seoul Tower!

After a break at the Airbnb, we headed out for dinner in Itaewon. Itaewon is a unique area of Seoul, very multicultural and foreigner-friendly. A lot of tourists and expats typically will reside here.

There are many restaurants and shops in Itaewon, serving international cuisine from all over the world. I guess if you're a tourist and suddenly craving a taste of food from home, you'll come here.  

There was a 30-45 minute wait at the restaurant we wanted to eat at, so we walked a couple blocks over to the Line Friends flagship store to kill time. Similar to Kakao Friends, the Line Friends are a set of characters from the Line messaging app. Lots of similar merchandise as well as a cafe on the upper floor.

Finally after the wait, we were seated and ready to eat! We went to Maple Tree House, a popular Korean BBQ restaurant chain. They have three restaurants in Seoul (Samcheong-dong, Itaewon, and Gangnam), as well as franchises in Manila and Taipei.

We ordered two different types of meat at first, the marinated pork collar and the boneless short ribs. When the first round of meat arrived, we realized that it probably wouldn't be enough to fill us up so we also ordered the pork belly and beef short plate right after. The waitress grilled the meats and cut it up so there was almost no work to be done on our part. Also interesting that they utilized two different grills depending on the meat!

Also on our table was various banchan, salad, and gyeran-jjim (steamed egg). The gyeran-jjim was my favourite! I almost ate the whole thing to myself.

Glad that we were able to try K-BBQ while in Korea. It's almost a mandatory thing isn't it?

Only one more Korea post to go! Home stretch!

- CT


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CT is a 20-something Edmontonian who started blogging as an excuse for taking pictures of her food.

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." - Virginia Woolf