Category Archives: South Korea

Sokcho Blues

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It has been close to 2 weeks of a partial lockdown in Singapore, and time has gradually freed up for me to do some writing. To mourn the cancellation of my Korea trip that would originally start in a little more than a week’s time, I am reminiscing the 2 days 1 night in Sokcho last year. One of my favorite cities in Korea till date, part of me secretly wishes for it to be kept hidden from tourists, while the other part would like to express its quaint beauty to the world.

나만 알고 싶은 속초.

My first time taking an express bus out of Seoul from the Express Bus Terminal, the 3-hour ride was surprisingly smooth and comfortable, with a rest stop in the middle – that is coming from someone with motion sickness. We reached the quiet coastal city just in time for a late lunch.

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A stone’s throw away from the Sokcho Express Bus Terminal, it is a restaurant bearing a good reputation from being featured in one of celebrity chef Baek Jong-won’s TV programmes. They serve just crabs here, 3 types – the 킹크랩 (King Crab), 대게 (Snow Crab) and 홍게 (Red Snow Crab). Prices here are not cheap and there seems to be other places with better reviews for crabs, but I picked this place out of convenience.

We opted for 2 red snow crabs (70,000KRW), which are a delicacy caught in the East Sea of Korea, right off the coast of Sokcho. Ahjumma also taught us how to eat the crab legs conveniently.

Sokcho6 Don’t end the crab feast without ordering 게장밥 (Fried Crab Roe Rice, KRW2000 each). Generously fried with bits of crab roe and stuffed into a shell, this was a mouth orgasm.

We ended up paying about 35,000KRW per pax, which is still considered value-for-money compared to Singapore.

라마다강원속초호텔(Ramada Gangwon Sokcho Hotel)

– 대포항희망길 106

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Our one-night accommodation was right next to 대포항 (Daepo Port), where a fish market and fresh seafood restaurants lined the circumference of the port. Apart from the scenic view of the circular port against the backdrop of the 설악산 (Seorak Mountain) from the hotel, our hotel room had a serene view overlooking the 대포항등대 (Daepo Port Lighthouse) standing in sea of sometimes aquamarine, sometimes dusty blue, depending on the light and angle.

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외옹치 바다향기로

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A 15 minutes’ walk from the port led to the entrance of a trail that runs along the coast, passing by the grandiose Lotte Resort, then along 외옹치해변(Oeongchi Beach) until it connects to 속초해변(Sokcho Beach). With the right weather, the trail makes for a relaxing stroll.

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소야삼교리동치미막국수 – 청초호반로 76

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From the heart of Sokcho Beach, our dinner venue was a short bus ride away. It was our first time trying Makguksu, a cold noodle dish made with a high concentration of buckwheat and a specialty of the Gangwon Province. The signature of this restaurant is its 동치미 막국수(Dongchimi Makguksu, 8,000KRW) – a bowl of makguksu served along with a pot of dongchimi, or radish water kimchi. Together with the dongchimi, the bowl of noodles was extremely refreshing.

Sokcho18On the side, we had 메밀전 (Buckwheat Pancakes, 8,000KRW), which were savory, earthy and nutty at the same time.

칠성조선소(Chilsung Boatyard Salon) – 중앙로46번길 45

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Next morning, we had breakfast at possibly the most popular café in Sokcho. This café was indeed a shipyard right up till recent years, thus explaining not just its name but its raw structure. The complex is vast, with a gallery displaying the shipbuilding that once took place in the same space, an indoor café and outdoor sitting areas overlooking the 청초호(Cheongchoho Lake).

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Sokcho27Among the items we had – Chai Café Latte (6,500KRW), Black Bean Macaron (2,500KRW) Egg Tart (3,000KRW), and Gateau Au Chocolat (4,000KRW) – the Portuguese egg tart was so unexpectedly good, I was relieved that my friend and I each bought one for ourselves.

아바이마을 (Abai Village)

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After noon, we headed to this village which has a historical story of its own from the days of the Korean War. Without prior research on places to dine in this area, we picked and entered a store randomly. I had the 명태회 냉면 (Naengmyeon, or cold noodles, with pollock) which had a fiery kick to it.

영금정 (Yeongggeumjeong Pavilion)

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An impromptu stop, this is a traditional pavilion from which the scenery of the endless East Sea calms you right to the bones. And if you have extra time, there is the 속초등대전망대 (Sokcho Lighthouse Observatory) nearby too.

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Right before the journey back to Seoul, we made a quick pit stop at the 속초관광수산시장Sokcho Tourist & Fishery Market, which is not shown here as the lively throng of the crowd filling the main aisle of the market made it quite impossible for photo-taking. There, we tried a bit of  오징어 순대 (Stuffed Squid), waited in line for 술빵 (Alcohol Fermented Bread), and brought back to Seoul a box of 닭강정 (Fried Chicken in a Sweet Sauce) from the famous 만석닭강정 (Manseok Dakgangjeong).

Understated Coffee, Seoul 언더스테이티드 커피, 서울

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Right from its queer location on a quiet street amongst old shop houses and buildings, Understated Coffee is not what you would quite expect from a regular café. Through its floor-to-ceiling glass windows, one can easily see from the outside the interiors of this quaint café. Of course, the white-washed and minimally furnished space played a huge role, but what really stood out to me were the exposed concrete portions, irregular lines and uneven surfaces.

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Turns out that the owner (and main barista) majored in architecture in France and having a major interest in coffee, decided to start a café back in his home country.

While deciding on the beans and coffee to get, the owner kindly explained to me all 3 types of beans that were on the menu. Despite his cool exterior, he was friendly and I could feel his passion in making good coffee. All 3 types of beans I saw that day were sourced overseas, and the main beans that are still constantly in use are those from Belleville Coffee in Paris.

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I got the White (5,000KRW) which I liked a lot. It had a fuller body than other coffees I’ve tried in Seoul while not being too acidic.

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When I went, the only available pastries were their plain butter Scones (3,500KRW), but recently they have launched them in more extravagant flavours, such as earl grey cream, tomato confit fromage and chocolate matcha. The plain scone I had was towards the savory side with a moderate density.

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Though there were 2 other inner rooms for patrons, I decided to take a seat on the round, uneven structure right in the middle, just to admire the slightly penetrating sunlight, the baristas at work, the irregularities of the cafe interiors and the stillness of the street.

1F, 69-1 Mallijaeyet-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea

12 to 7pm, Mon – Sat

Autumn in Seoul – 5 Spots to Catch the Fall Foliage

My stay in Korea last year encompassed many firsts in my life – flying alone, living independently of my family, solo travelling… and autumn. My first genuine autumn after 21 years of stale summer in Singapore. It was the season where I never felt like staying indoors, the season where everything seemed to have a sentimental value to it, the season where memories of rough summer days were awashed by freshness. 

In this post I’m sharing a few spots where I saw some unforgettable scenes of fall foliage in Seoul. I’ve actually picked and edited the photos in this post eons ago, but I missed the timing to write it, and eventually resorted to waiting close to a year to get this up. The best time for sight-seeing of foliage in Seoul is from the last week of October to the first week of November!

1. Haneul Park

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Nearest train station: World Cup Stadium

One of the 5 parks of the World Cup Park, Haneul directly translates to ‘Sky’, it’s name befitting of its location on the highest part of the World Cup Park on a hill. To get up, you can either pay a small fee for a tram or climb up 291 steps of stairs. I recommend the latter for the views on the way up, and also since the weather will not make you break out in a sweat. 

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I can’t remember how I first came to know about this park, but when my first time there was actually in the transition phase of Spring to Summer. During that time, the park was not crowded in the slightest bit and filled with mostly green plants, with occasional splashes of colours from planted flowers. Visiting again but in autumn was a different thing altogether – throngs of people (both locals and tourists) and the rich luscious colours of fall created a lovely bustling atmosphere.

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The two most representative plants at the park in autumn are the silver grass and pink muhly grass – though you may find them at spots all over Korea, the fields at Haneul Park are expansively planted with them and divided into specific zones. The best time to go would be at sunset, when the park is tinged with soft, golden light.

2. Campus Tour – Yonsei University

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Nearest train station: Sinchon

Having attended Yonsei University for a short semester, I’ve seen the transition from late summer green to autumn yellow, orange and red like a time-lapse video. The day-to-day anticipation was fluttering, and slightly kept me energised for lessons even. 

Most people know about the main pedestrian path of the school that starts from the main gate and that leads right all the way in to the heart of the school – in autumn, the gingko trees that neatly line this main road turn yellow. However, I preferred the foliage found deep in the remainder of the school – the gingko trees are larger and more densely grown with leaves and more fall colours can be spotted. I snapped these two photos on an uphill road that serves as a side entrance to the school. 

3. Seoul Forest

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Nearest train station: Seoul Forest

When I finally had the time to go to Seoul Forest with my camera, the weather had become much chillier (necessitating a winter jacket) and the season was about to come to its end. While thinking to myself if I had made the wrong choice in making a futile journey, I chanced upon a vast field of yellow fallen leaves. Bare trees grew interspersedly, while the afternoon sun cast their long shadows cast all across the field of yellow, creating a brilliant canvas. I spent a good amount of time there, before moving on and picking out the remaining trees in autumn bloom. A good number of maple trees were still bearing red crowns, thankfully.

P.S. Along Seoulsup-gil which is just right outside the park, there is a small cafe district that I feel is worth heading to after a stroll in the park. 

4. Seodaemun Independence Park

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Nearest train station: Dongnimmun

The fall foliage at this park was an unexpected and surprising find. I alighted at Dongnimmun Station in hopes of finding the path through Ansan Park that would lead me up to Ansan Mountain, but didn’t manage to do so. 

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Instead, I found myself at Seodaemun Independence Park (did not even know the name of the park at that time), an important historic cultural site serving as a remembrance of Korean liberation activists during the Japanese colonial period. It is also the grounds of the Seodaemun Prison History Hall and Museum which was used to hold Korean independence fighters captive. 

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Several other monuments were erected in the park, and there were also many spaces provided for recreational and family activities. The historical site, together with the background of lush foliage in varying colours, created a grandiose sight.

5. Gyeongbokgung

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Nearest Station: Gyeongbokgung

Oh, the classic spot that I just couldn’t leave out of this post, no matter how well-known it already is. There are many spots to admire the fall foliage in the Gyeongbokgung premises and the surrounding neighborhoods, but one of my favorites is that along Hyoja-ro. Running along the West Wall of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the road is methodically planted with gingko trees which turn bright yellow in autumn, and runs through a few neighborhoods like Hyoja-dong, Changseong-dong and Tongui-dong. Compared to the grounds of the palace and the very touristy neighborhoods on the East of the palace (where Bukchon and Samcheong-dong are), the West side is less crowded (with the exception of Tosokchon Samgyetang) and allows you to take in the foliage in a more tranquil manner. 

On the other side of Hyoja-ro, you can expect to find small museums, galleries and cafes, from which you can get a view of the foliage too.

And to Each Season, Gwangju 광주 카페 앤투잋시즌

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On that fine Monday afternoon, the city of Gwangju was oddly quiet. It was my first time stepping foot there, and I realized a little too late that I made a miscalculated move of visiting on a day when many cafes and stores in general were closed. Good thing, that one café I really wanted to visit was opened and my friend whom I went to see in Gwangju kindly brought me there.

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Situated in the café district of Yangnim-dong, And To Each Season opened in summer last year, a permanent spin-off from a design company cum café created by the owner to concentrate on serving coffee.

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Heading right in to the cozy nook of the café, the atmosphere was that of a tiny, snug cottage. I could tell that extra attention was put into the layout and details of the interior. Later, I found out that the furniture is mostly recycled, refurbished and mended by the owner from thrown out furniture… impressive.

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What also caught my eye was the ordering sheet for drinks. On a small piece not much larger than a name card, various options to customize your coffee are presented: First, pick your choice of beans from Brazil (Cerrado NY2), Guatemala (Antigua SHB) or Ethiopia (Yirgacheffe G1). Second, pick your caffeine intensity to be strong or basic. Third, cold or iced. And lastly, your type of coffee – Americano (5000KRW), Latte (5000KRW), or Deep Vanilla (5000KRW). The latte I got was very satisfiable, with the right amount of acidity and flavor I would like in my coffee.

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For non-coffee drinkers, Matcha (6000KRW) and seasonal fruit teas are also offered on the order sheet.

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Since the space was small and trapped sounds easily, I was more than delighted to have the entire café to ourselves, watching the stillness of the neighborhood from translucent white curtains that led in diffused sunlight. Perhaps visiting on a Monday was not such a bad idea after all.

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198-1 Yangnim-dong, Nam-gu, Gwangju, South Korea

12-6pm on weekdays, 12-9pm on weekends

Avec El Shop & Cafe, Seoul 서울 카페 아베크엘

The original text in English was first posted on DanielFoodDiary.com.

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아베크엘은 몇 년 전부터 정말 가 보고 싶었던 카페인데 저번 초겨울의 12월에 드디어 방문했다. 한 번도 아니고 그 한 달에 두 번 갔다.

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특히 첫 방문이 또렷이 기억난다.  온도가 영하8도인 날씨에 칼바람과 싸우던 내 초라한 모습. 서울역에서 후암동에 위치한 카페까지 걷던 오르막길들. 암튼 카페 문 열린 시간 직전에 도착했으니 다행이었다. 카페 내부 사진 많이 찍으려고 했으니까. 창가 자리도 잡으려고.

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내부는.. 뭐라고 할까.. 완전 취향저격. 일단 인테리어 자체는 새하얀 톤으로 했기에 넘 깔끔하고 맘에 쏙 든다. 게다가 미니멀한 소품으로 가득한 카페의 구석구석은 아기자기하며 매력적이었다. 마치 이케아 쇼룸처럼? 소품들 중 직접 살 수 있는 것도 있었던 것 같다.

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여긴 계절에 따라 계절적인 과일이 들어간 디저트가 특징이다. 그때 겨울이었으니 시즌 한정된 디저트는 다 딸기가 들어가 있더라.

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첫 방문 때 메이플라떼 (6000KRW)랑 눈길을 제일 끌어당긴 베리베리토스트 (7000KRW)를 시켰다. 시즌 한정 베리베리토스트는 토스트랑 위에 풍부하게 올려진 베리콤포트, 치즈크림, 딸기의 조합이 상큼달콤했다!

avecel11 메이플라떼는 메이플시럽이 들어가 있었기 땜에 커피가 달달하고 커피 맛 안 셌다.

avecel7 옆에 있었던 두 테이블의 여자분들이 나와 같은 토스트를 시켰는데 동시에 서서 토스트 사진 찍는 게 너무 웃기더라. 아마 반투명한 커튼으로 비쳐 들어온 그 날의 햇빛이 예뻐서 더 열심히 찍었던 것 같다.

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그리고 두 번째 방문은 3개 시켰다. 사실 딸기티라미수 (7000KRW)는 티라미수처럼 안 생겼다고 딸기 사이사이에 스펀지케이크 레이어 있었으면 좋겠다고 생각했다. 그럼에도 불고하고 상큼한 딸기가 맛있었다.

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햇빛이 비치면 비주얼이 빤짝빤짝거리는 딸기소다 (7000KRW). 생각보다 달콤했지만 워낙 단 걸 좋아해서 좋았다.

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딸기로 너무 오버할까 봐 시즌 드저트가 아닌 홍차쉬퐁케이크 (6500KRW)도 시켰다. 얼그레이 맛 살짝 나니까 담백한 케이크였다.

싱가폴에 돌아온데도 인스타 활동을 꾸준히 하니까 아베크엘의 2점 (메이종아베크엘)이 생긴다는 소식도 알게 됐다. 사실  올해의 5월에 서울에 여행하러 갔지만 시간이 모자라 못 갔음.

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서너 번 가더라도 지루함이 아예 느껴지지 않을 아베크엘 카페.

대한민국 서울특별시 용산구 후암동 41-1

12-8시, 일요일 휴무

Bibibidang, Busan – Traditional Korean Teahouse with a Scenic Sea View 부산 전통 찻집 비비비당

bibibidang7After a quick brunch at a café in the Haeundae district of Busan, I had planned to have dessert at Bibibidang, which happens to be located in a building nearby on the same road (Dalmaji-gil). It turns out that the entire building is managed by the same brand, with each level showcasing a different concept.

bibibidang6 Bibibidang, occupying the 4th floor of the building, is a traditional Korean tea house and dessert café that had opened its doors since 2012. Till today, it retains its popularity much thanks to the amazing view overlooking the East Sea from the café itself.

bibibidang3The name of the café has origins that are as interesting as its name sounds. In Buddhist cosmology, there exist 3 realms in which the highest point of attainment is termed 非想非非想天(bi-sang-bi-bi-sang-cheon in Korean romanization). This point is where all desires are overcome and is also said to be the equivalent of enlightenment. Thus, Bibibidang (a direct translation to Chinese would be 非非非堂), represents a space where one can dream of transcending that point.

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Being ushered in by a smartly uniformed waiter, I was surprised to find that the space was much more spacious than I expected, and that the scenic sea view could be seen from nearly every dining table. The café was further divided into a main hall with modern tables and chairs and a few Hanok style rooms with wooden floors, low dining tables and cushion seats. I went for the hanok-style table by the window.

On the menu, a wide variety of hot and cold teas including green teas, yellow teas, flower teas, grass field and mountain teas can be found.

bibibidang1However, instead of tea, I went for a popular dessert on the menu, the Sweet Pumpkin Bingsu (10,000KRW). Meant for 1 person’s portion, the bingsu was plated delicately on a wooden tray, together with small piece of tea confectionery (called dashik) on the side. Unlike any of the bingsus I’ve had, the top layer was slathered generously with sweet sauce, giving a sticky consistency. The shaved ice, a pure bright natural pumpkin orange, contained real chunks of pumpkin within, giving a rich and intense flavor.

bibibidang4 Another popular item on the menu is the Red Bean Porridge (8000KRW), perfect as a warm treat in winter.

bibibidang9Very much reluctant to leave the serenity of the café, I stayed for as long as my self-planned itinerary would permit. Perhaps one of the most peaceful time I’ve spent in a café.

4F, 239-16 Dalmaji-gil, Jung-dong, Haeundae, Busan, South Korea

11am to 10pm daily (except Mondays)

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