Monday, June 23, 2014

Seoul (Day 1) - We basically just ate all day long

In my opinion, that there's no better way to get to know a new city and a new culture than by spending a day eating your way through town.  Palaces, temples and museums are wonderful -- and don't worry, we'll get to those soon! -- but for now, let's see what people eat in Seoul.

We started the day with a breakfast at one of the ubiquitous Paris Baguette Cafes.

I forgot to take a photo in the morning,
so here's what it looks like at 10pm at night.
The pastries were appealingly displayed on tables, with trays and little tongs on hand for
us to make our selection.
I wanted to try one of everything.  That seemed a little extravagant, so I settled
with an assortment of six.  It's the most sugar and carbs I've eaten in a long time!
From top left: cream cheese danish, Belgian waffle, leek-filled doughnut,
purple sweet-potato churro, gooey bread with red bean, gooey bread with cheese.
Adorable mango smoothie.
The Koreans have an advanced culture of "cute" and it manifests in many ways...
Amanda thought she had ordered something like a snow cone with fruit.
It turned out to be much more elaborate.

The pastries were delicious and filling -- we both had to wrap a couple to go, that's how full we were -- and so we set out into the steamy city to see what we could see.  Turns out, one of the first things we saw was a shop selling freshly cooked Belgian waffles.  Second breakfast!  

One doesn't pass up an opportunity to eat a Belgian waffle hot off the presses
Sadly, while it looked like a Belgian waffle, it was't quite right.
Doughy and warm, yes; God's gift to taste buds on earth, no.

By the time we had finished our waffles, we had about an hour to sight-see until we met up with Veronica for a food tour through Insadong, one of Seoul's more vibrant neighborhoods.

We started with lunch at the Insa-dong Tofu Restaurant, which was nestled in a tiny back alley where we never would have found it on our own.

Address:  Insa-dong 30-12, Jongno-gu, Seoul; 02-735-9996
Apparently a "simple lunch of one entree and two sides" consists of about 48 different dishes.
Tofu with mustard sauce (one of Amanda's favorites)
Korean coriander
Tiny eggs in a squash paste sauce.
Veronica was super impressed that Amanda and I both had the chopstick skills
to pick these things up without using a spoon.
Leek pancake
Glass noodles with soy sauce (this was one of my favorites)
After a while, I gave up on trying to photograph everything individually.
The plate on the right has pork and tofu with lettuce leaves. You dip the pork in one of
the little pots of sauce and wrap it in the lettuce.
On the left are bowls of stew: the red one is a spicy tofu stew; the yellow one
is a milder puree.  We ate the stews with rice.

Leaving the tofu restaurant, we wended our way through more tiny streets, past many shops and restaurants in low-slung traditional Korean houses until we arrived at Koong, a traditional dumpling restaurant.  Veronica ordered a plate of mung bean pancakes and a plate of pork dumplings, both of which were really delicious.

30-11 Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul; 02-733-9240
Mung bean pancakes with spicy dipping sauce.
These were fantastic; I could have eaten the dipping sauce by the spoon.
The pork dumplings were even better.  They were made by hand by a little woman sitting
in the front of the restaurant, and the freshness was noticeable.  They also came with
a savory dipping sauce; following Veronica's lead, I poked a hole in the dumpling and
spooned the dipping sauce in.  Delicious!
When Amanda and I slowed our eating, Veronica warned us that
it would be "over an hour" before our next meal, so we should eat up.
We fortified ourselves by finishing both plates.

That hour between meals ended up being more like an hour and a half.  Veronica led us on a scenic walk through one of Seoul's historic neighborhoods.  We were waylaid by rainstorms, and foiled twice by shops that were closed on Mondays.  (Having only just learned that Amanda and I don't drink, Veronica was improvising, trying to find a good place for non-alcoholic desserts.)  Eventually we returned to a place very near where we started, in Insadong, where the specialty was sweet red bean desserts.

I didn't get the name or the address of this place.
Sweet red beans, topped with sunflower seeds, with ice flakes.
This was a standout among everything we tried today. The "ice flakes" were absolutely
divine, with a lightly sweetened flavor that melted in your mouth.  A wonderful pairing
with the heavier, earthier flavor and consistency of the beans.
Red bean porridge
Sweet red bean porridge.
Looks like chocolate mousse, tastes like sweetened refried beans.
I liked it, but not as much as the beans with ice flakes.
Lotus root tea and super-fluffy seed-covered things
that didn't have much flavor.

It was six o'clock by the time we finished our food tour.  Veronica helpfully suggested some places for dinner, only we really were so full by then that we couldn't imagine sitting down for another meal.  So we walked through the city, taking in the now rain-free ambiance on our way to an evening theater performance (more on that separately).  The theater was in a lively part of town with street-food vendors everywhere.  By the time the performance ended, I had digested enough of our earlier meals that I could try out a skewer of sausages.

Perhaps Korea isn't known for its sausages, but they were just what I wanted:
something not fried, not sweet, not kimchi!

This won't be the end of our gastronomical adventures in Seoul.  Before parting ways with Veronica, she promised to send us recommendations for every remaining meal during our stay.  Can't wait to discover more Korean food!

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