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East Meets Further East: Eating Indian Food in Seoul

If there’s one thing Korea’s not lacking, it’s good food. As I’ve mentioned before, food is cheap, and usually very delicious. However, one thing Seoul is lacking a little bit is good foreign food. There’s a little of everything, but the foreign restaurants are flung far across the massive city of Seoul, and they’re also usually more expensive than Korean food. When it comes down to it, you can find basically every kind of cuisine, but you just have to search a little bit.

One thing that’s not as hard to find here as other foreign cuisines is Indian food. Because a lot of people from that part of the world work in factories in Korea, there are some pretty decent Indian food joints–we even have two places in our little town! But by far, the best we’ve had here in Korea is Everest Restaurant, in the Dongdaemun neighborhood of Seoul.

We found this gem through our friend Andrew, and even though it’s far away and hard to find, we manage to get there pretty frequently. It’s a Nepalese, Indian and Tibetan restaurant, and most of the staff are actually from those regions. Everyone who works there can speak nearly perfect English too, which is a nice bonus. They have a large variety of items, including chicken, lamb and veggie dishes, several kinds of naan, and lots of popular Indian drinks (like lassis and mango juice). They also have really cheap beer, which Matt appreciates.

Deliciousness.

The aftermath.

The entire restaurant is covered in trinkets and decor from India, Nepal and Tibet, and they even sell a small selection of items from these countries. Plus, there’s always a Bollywood movie playing on the television–and who doesn’t love to see a good song and dance number to cheesy Indian music while eating? I know we do.

To get to Everest Restaurant, take Seoul Subway line 1 to Dongdaemun. From there, take exit 3, and walk straight until you reach the end of the block. Turn left, and then take a right down an alley. The restaurant is on the second floor of the building that will be in front of you–watch for the signs. 

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Seorae Village: Seoul’s “Little France”

When we first heard rumors about Seoul’s “Little France” neighborhood, we thought it might be too good to be true. In this cheese-less land of soju, could it be? Could there really be a place to eat authentic baguettes, drink wine and hear snippets of French on the streets?

My friends, it’s true. Seorae Village is a little bit of Europe, plopped down in Asia. It’s home to 40% of the French community within South Korea. The village began to build up in the mid-eighties, when Lycée Français de Séoul, Seoul’s only international French school moved into the neighborhood. Soon French expats, mostly in the country for business, began to move to the area to be near the school. The neighborhood is nicknamed “Montmartre” because of its hilltop location and similarity to the famous Parisian neighborhood of the same name. Since we both really like Paris, we figured we’d better go check this place out.

There’s not much to do in Seorae Village other than eat…but the eating is so good. There are loads of French cafes, French and Italian style restaurants, cheese shops, wine bars and some French chain stores, like L’Occitane. Once we actually found the village (it’s pretty tucked away and a little bit of a jaunt from the nearest subway station), we just spent the day walking around, eating, and taking it all in.

We had lunch at an adorable restaurant called Market Vinoflower (more of an Italian than French place), where we ate an amazing caprese-style garden salad (with pesto dressing, yum!), an extremely thin crust gorgonzola pizza, and some delicious wine. Pricey for sure, but definitely worth it. Plus, after our meal, the waiter gave me a rose!

After lunch, we made our way to the (fairly) authentic Paris Croissant Bakery (there’s also a famous coffee chain in Korea called Paris Baguette, but they are MUCH different!). This little gem devotes one whole floor to breads and pastries, the basement houses cheeses, wines, macaroons, soufflés and cakes, and the top floor serves as a cafe. We sampled a delicious blueberry cheesecake and an amazing cappuccino, and then purchased some rustic Italian-style bread on our way out. Everything was pretty pricey here too, but it was so delicious we couldn’t have cared less.

If you’re in Korea and need a little break from it all, Seorae Village is a great place to go and feel as though you’ve temporarily stepped into Europe. The streets don’t really look European, but the atmosphere is not very Korean either. It feels more like an international village than a strictly French village to me–but either way, it’s lovely and definitely worth checking out!

To get to Seorae Village, take Seoul subway line 3 or 7 to the Express Bus Terminal. Then take exit 5 (we didn’t do this and got super lost at first), and then walk down a long pathway lined with trees for several minutes. Once you reach the highway overpass, turn left, cross over the highway, and then follow Seorae road into the village.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Korea

Being over halfway through our year here in Korea, I feel like I have a new perspective on a lot of things regarding the culture and customs here. Now that we’ve had time to settle in, learn some things and fall into normal day-to-day routines, I feel like it’s time to share the things I love (and hate) about this country. I’ll start with the things I hate so we can end on a positive note…

What I Hate About Korea

1.) There is an extreme disregard for personal space in this country. I don’t know if it’s because it’s just a crowded country (48,875,000 people in a country about the size of Indiana), or if it’s more of a cultural thing, but being pushed or crowded while walking, lining up or attempting to get on or off public transportation is the norm. It’s the kind of thing I can’t get used to, and it oftentimes still makes me livid. I know it’s not considered rude here and so I should accept it…but I just can’t. I want to scream “GET OUT OF MY BUBBLE!” every time some old lady shoves me to get on the bus.

2.) Everything you buy from the grocery store comes in about 5 times too much packaging. Same with take out. Expect your take out, fruit, veggies and even eggs to not only be in cardboard or Styrofoam (the worst!), but also covered in plastic wrap and probably some ties as well; then the whole thing will be double-bagged in plastic bags. This one kills me, because in Seattle I made a very conscious effort to buy things with minimal packaging and to avoid plastics. That is nearly impossible here. I still make an effort to bring my own reusable grocery bags, which nearly always causes some some nervous laughter and or confusion as I refuse the plastic bags. At least they have a good recycling system here…

3.) Squatter toilets are the worst. No need to rehash this one, I already thoroughly over-shared about the bathroom situation in Korea here.

4.) There are so many drunk, old men. Drinking is a big part of the culture here–there are many rituals surrounding drinking, including how it’s served, and who serves who, etc.–especially among men, and even more so among old men. It is way too common to see belligerent old men stumbling down the street, sleeping on the subway, or puking on the sidewalk. Not a fan.

To be fair, I have no proof this old man was drunk. But it’s not an uncommon site to see people passed out drunk on the subway.

5.) Korean winters are absolutely terrible. Maybe I’m just a huge baby, but this last winter was so cold I thought I was going to die on the spot every time I stepped outside. Three months of snow, ice, arctic winds, subzero temperatures and gray skies was not my idea of a good time.

6.) Nothing in Korea is ever a comfortable temperature or volume. I actually stole that phrase from our friend Andrew, but I definitely think it’s true. When it’s cold here, the heaters on the bus are blasting and the busses get way too hot, but the opposite was true for our schools this winter. Despite the fact that it was usually below zero, the school windows would be open, and the heaters barely trickled heat. Now that it’s getting warm, I’m noticing a lot of teachers still won’t use their fans, and the busses still have the heat on. I DON’T UNDERSTAND.

As for the volume–it’s always loud, no matter what the situation or place. When you go into stores, salespeople will scream at you in a microphone–as if that would ever make me want to buy anything! The students shout their answers back at me instead of just speaking normally. Television commercials are too loud, and the music in bars is always FAR too loud. I will be amazed if I haven’t lost some of my hearing by the time we leave Korea.

Apparently loud music and yelling in megaphones is supposed to make me want to vote for someone…

7.) None of the coffee shops in Korea have soymilk. I take this one as a personal affront since I can’t drink milk. I love lattes…and yet in Korea, I’m (mostly) deprived. The only coffee shop that carries soy in Korea is Starbucks, and there are no Starbucks’ in my town. I guess if I’m looking on the bright side it helps me save money and gives me something to look forward to in Seoul…but still. I really wish Korea would jump on the soy bandwagon already.

Drinking black coffee…but not enjoying it nearly as much as I would if it was a soy latte!

…so now, lest you think I actually do hate Korea, here are the things I love about this country!

What I Love About Korea

1.) Korean food is so cheap. Matt and I frequently eat out and barely ever pay more than 15,000 won (about $15) total. Usually it’s less than 10,000 won. Plus, almost all Korean food is delicious.

2.) Korean people are friendly. While strangers might point and/or giggle, if you actually smile at them, you are sure to get a huge grin back. Little old ladies are constantly babbling away to me in Korean, big grins on their faces, totally oblivious to the fact that I don’t understand a word. I just smile and nod, and they seem to appreciate that. On a deeper level, the Korean friends we’ve made have been absolutely invaluable to us–once they know you, Koreans treat you like family, which is awesome.

3.) Korean public transit is amazing. Seriously, amazing. Subways and busses are cheap, clean, they always come on time, and for the most part, everything is easy to understand. Busses not so much if you can’t read Korean, but the subways are heaven for tourists–everything is translated into both English and Chinese, and the entire system is both numbered and color-coded. It is so nice to have reliable public transportation–one less thing to worry about!

4.) Even the taxis are cheap. I’m talking dirt cheap! Never in my life would I have taken a taxi from the grocery store if it would only be a ten minute walk home, but these days, if my arms are full of groceries, I’ll pay the 3,000 won to be dropped off at home. I’m not joking–most taxi rides we take here (within our town) are less than $3. I find that insane, and thrilling. Taxis in and out of Seoul are never more than $50, which is at minimum an hour away, some parts about two hours away. To put that into perspective, I once paid $200 for a two hour cab ride in New York City.

5.) Korea is shopping heaven. If you like ridiculously overpriced designer handbags, you’re in luck–because swanky department stores are abundant. If you think $3 is too much for a shirt, you’re also in luck–street shopping and subway shops are literally all around you. For me, these little booths and shops (plus a ton of cheap boutiques) are where it’s at. Too bad I’m trying to save money to travel…I could easily quadruple the size of my wardrobe here.

6.) Korean springtime is breathtakingly beautiful. Koreans deserve this gorgeous spring to make up for the horrid winters. It’s between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit everyday, humid (but not too humid), and sunny. Flowers are blooming everywhere, suddenly all that was gray is green. I hear it’ll all go away soon when monsoon season starts, so I’m trying to soak up every moment!

7.) In Korea, I’m like a celebrity, especially among the children. People I don’t know say hi to me, parents make their kids wave at me, people take my picture, and when I walk around school or town, people yell my name. I’m not joking. I don’t think I’ll ever again have a job where people both bow to me and tell me I’m beautiful all day, so I might as well enjoy it…

Fan mail.

8.) And lastly, I think we might have the best apartment in Korea. I certainly didn’t think so when we first arrived, but after seeing other peoples places (so small!) and hearing people complain about not having bathtubs or room for a double bed (we have two double beds in our place), I think we hit the jackpot. We also have killer views from our 14th floor apartment–my new favorite thing to do now that it’s warm is to sit on our sun porch with a drink and read or watch the city below. It’s the perfect way to end a day, or start a weekend morning.

So there you have it…my love/hate list. What’s your favorite thing and least favorite thing about where you live?

Taking Care of Business: 5 Things About Korean Bathrooms

I apologize in advance, but it had to be done. We have to talk about the toilet situation in Korea. Is it weird or just plain awesome that this is actually the second time this blog has had a whole post devoted to toilets?

Maybe I just didn’t research Korea enough beforehand, but I didn’t realize that toilets and/or the entire bathroom situation might be different from what I was used to. Maybe this makes me ignorant, but either way, I feel like it’s something people should know! So without further ado, here are 5 things you need to know about public bathrooms in Korea (and to some extent, all of Asia):

Pop a Squat

Don’t be shocked if you open a stall and see this:

Squatter toilets are super common all over Asia. For a Westerner, the first site of one of these puppies can be quite shocking–how does it work?? How do you use it without peeing all over the floor (or yourself!?) The answer…you just do. It’s not nearly as complex as it looks, although I still avoid them like the plague whenever possible.

At least half of the public toilets in Korea are squatters, so at some point, they become impossible to avoid. Unfortunately, more often than not you find yourself in these situations in the wee (pun intended) hours of the morning, in a dirty bar in a haze of cigarette smoke, bladder full of soju…overall, while not pretty, sometimes I’m just thankful I don’t have to touch anything.

Where’s the Toilet Paper??

…well, when there actually is toilet paper, it’s usually on the outside of the stall. This one makes no sense to me, except that maybe it’s supposed to conserve paper? But then it’s a bit counter-intuitive, because most people I know grab extra just in case...

Anyway, this is (for obvious reasons) a good one to know before you enter the stall.

The Toilet Paper Goes Where??

…not down the toilet as you’d expect. Maybe it’s because the plumbing is old, but almost every public toilet has a garbage can next to it to throw your used paper in, and a sign that reminds you not to flush the paper (stupid Westerners!). This is as gross and stinky as it sounds. We don’t need to discuss it any further.

You’ve Hit the Toilet Jackpot!

As I mentioned before, about half the toilets are squatters. So what about the other half?

High tech space toilets.

At least that’s what they remind me of–complete with seat warmers, built-in bidets and a range of spray/stream options, these Japanese-style toilets have more buttons than my television remote control.

Basically, in the game of Russian roulette that is Korean toilets, consider yourself very lucky if you draw one of these space-age commodes!

Want to Wash Up?

Want to wash and dry your hands? Well, that might be asking too much. Far too many public bathrooms in Korea are lacking both soap and/or paper towels. Most of the subway stations are pretty well stocked and most use motion-sensor hand dryers, but I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve found both soap and something to dry my hands in a restaurant or bar bathroom. I don’t like to think about what that means for the people preparing my food and drinks…

Moral of this story, always carry hand sanitizer.

Have you experienced any unusual or unfamiliar bathroom situations while traveling?

The Finished Product: Getting a Custom-Made Suit in Seoul

As I mentioned before, getting a custom-made suit in Seoul is really economical compared to buying one off the rack. In this post I told you about how Matt was getting fitted for a suit, but I held off on recommending the place until we saw the finished product and could assure you all that is was in fact worthy of recommendations–but no worries, it definitely is!

Matt at the wedding in the finished product! Sorry, I didn’t get any full body shots.

We picked up Matt’s three piece suit a couple of weeks before we left for Seattle so he could have it to wear to the wedding we were attending. The grand total for three pieces (pants, vest and jacket) plus a custom-made white dress shirt (complete with his initials sewn into the cuffs) was 348,000 won, or about $307.

We purchased the suit from Mercury Custom Tailor. Benjamin, the owner, is really nice and speaks amazing English. The total turnaround time for the suit was about a month, and we were told it could be done faster than that if needed. The suit is really high quality–made of a cashmere blend, and Benjamin was up to speed with all the latest men’s fashions in Asia, Europe and America/Canada. He listed out for us all of the different details on the suit that were most popular in each region, and then within the regions, for the different age groups. I have never given a moments thought to men’s fashion, so it was definitely informative! They make suits for men (and women) of all ages, from all over the world. He didn’t need to stand out on the street and cat-call passerby’s in an attempt to get customers like other Itaewon-area shops, because the customers find him. Plus, he seems like he’s way too classy for that anyway.

If you’re in the market for a custom suit in Seoul, definitely go to Benjamin at Mercury Custom Tailor. We just walked in, but I’m sure you could call ahead for an appointment too.

Mercury Custom Tailor

57-13, Itaewon-dong, Yong San-gu, Seoul, Korea

(02) 796-0846

cell: 019-282-0846

mercuryben2@hotmail.com

mercuryben@hanmail.net

Amusement Abounds! – Lotte World Seoul

Seoul has everything, even an underground (partially) amusement park!

About a month after we arrived in Korea, I (Matt) was pleasantly surprised by a random day off school!  The middle and high school students were all taking one of the many nationwide standardized tests…SO I had a Thursday to play around with a friend in Seoul.  I had heard rumors of a couple of amusement parks in the area, so I decided to hit up LotteWorld.

The stuff of fantasy and nightmares. More of nightmares at times.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I did know a few things going in.  LotteWorld is owned, like everything else in Korea it seems, by Lotte (pronounced “low-tay”), a huge company with grocery stores, low to very high-end shopping malls, gum and candy, insurance, apartments, hotels, and even has their own kind of burger fast food joint called “Lotteria.”  (More on information on this HUGE conglomerate is available on the official Lotte site: http://www.lotte.co.jp/english/group/index.htm).
I won’t deny I was a little overwhelmed when we entered the park.  I had to take a few minutes of staring to really take it in before I could start walking around!  I came up from a lower entrance, so it was like rising out of the ground into a different world.  The best way I can describe the theme is “It’s a Smallworld” meets knock-off Mickey Mouse characters.  The park is half inside, half outside.  The inside consists of a 8-10 story mall; the lower levels are shops, including an ice rink, that don’t have access to the park which is on the top 3 floors.  The entertainment inside was everything you would see in a normal amusement park, with a pretty legit Korean history museum thrown in.  Outside had the larger rides, and not as many small carnival-type games.

A bit of Rome as you come out of the subway at Jamsil

It was a fun experience.  I would definitely recommend an early start, hitting up the bigger rollercoasters/rides as soon as you can because the park will inevitably get packed with what seems like the entire population of Seoul.  Patrons can get fast passes for some rides, limited to 1 or 2 within some time period (sorry, can’t remember).
Jamsil Station, lines 2 & 8, exit 4.  You will exit into a shopping center, follow the signs to the underground entrance to Lotte World!

Birds Eye View: Seoul’s Famous Namsam Tower

It seems that every big city has a famous observatory-type tower. In Seattle, we have the Space Needle. Chicago has the Sears Tower, Kuala Lumpur has the Petronas Towers, and of course Paris has the Eiffel Tower. The list goes on and on, and Seoul is no different.

Seoul’s version is Namsam Tower (otherwise known as North Seoul Tower). Namsam Tower gives you 360 degree views of the city, and just like Seattle, features a turning restaurant at the top. As far as towers go, it’s pretty standard. The views are (of course) fantastic, there are overpriced and cheesy gift shops, and there’s not much to do other than wander around once you’re up there. One unique thing about Namsam Tower is that it prides itself on being “The Highest Post Office.” That’s right, you can bring your mail up with you, and drop it off in the mailbox under some terrible Konglish signs up at the top.

Other than that, there’s not much to say about the tower. The little boys I went with really enjoyed the telescopes and the “shocking floor,” which was a screen on the floor that was motion triggered. Once it sensed movement, it would start to “crack” and then the floor would “fall” away, leaving you with a birds eye view of the city. A little gimmicky for sure, but the kids loved it!

I wrote about the cable cars that will get you to Namsam Tower here, and about the surrounding area here. For adults (ages 18+), tickets to the tower are 9,000 won. For teens from age 13-17 the tickets are 7,000 won, and for kids from ages 3-12 the tickets are 5,000 won.