Explaining Seoul Neighborhoods in NYC Terms. Part 2.
Yesterday I posted the first of my Seoul neighborhoods break-down, through the lens of a NYer. Meaning: I use NYC references to explain how I’ve come to understand Seoul. Here’s Part 2:
What: A pedestrian-only street of shops selling traditional-looking pottery and artwork (by way of China), teahouses, and Korean “hansik” restaurants in hanok-style houses.
In NYese: Actually, the only way to describe this is in British-ese. Like in Julian Barnes’ “England, England” where a country “Other-izes” itself by taking its most stereotypical features
and creating them into amusement park. Or maybe it’s like Colonial Williamsburg, except you’re probably not going to run into Joseon Dynasty reenactment performances or anything. It could
also be kind of like how there’s that little triangle of quaint and stereotypical British shops in the West Village by like Greenwich Ave: Tea and Sympathy, the grocer Myers & Keswick, and the fish shop A Salt & Battery. So what Greenwich Ave means to Americans when they think about Britain, is what Insadong-gil (street) means to Koreans and tourists when they think of Korea.
Go For: Trinket souvenir shopping (chopsticks, plates, mugs). Chon restaurant. The only street in Seoul where you won’t risk getting hit by a car or bus. The fancy tea.
Some vendors on Insadong-gil selling sugar-spun candies. Tres labor-intensive.
Don’t Go For: If you’re snobby about tourists, then get thee not to Insadong.
Directions: Anguk Station, line 3. Exit 6, go straight out of the exit, pass the Tourist Info kiosk, then take a left at the Crown Bakery onto Insadong-gil.
What: When you tire of the cutesy Insadong shops, wander over to nearby Samcheongdong. It’s a neighborhood of galleries, restaurants, cafes. Also, farther along there’s the Bukchon Hanok Village (북촌 한옥 마을).
In NYese: Sleek Soho galleries and industrial architecture meet ye olde architecturally-significant edifices. In a surprisingly harmonious way.
Go For: A pleasant stroll. The traditional hanok-style houses. The fancy restaurants. Cute cafes. The chance to rub elbows with artsy movers and shakers. Gyeongbokgung Palace. The Hanok Village.
Don’t go for: a cheap meal. If you’re not into the whole concept of East-meets-West.
From Anguk exit 1, take the first right, then take a left at this street. This will take you to…
별궁식당, aka Byeolgung Restaurant. They serve really really stinky fermented bean paste soup, aka cheong-guk-jang. Actually, this is one of a few cheap restaurants in the ‘hood.
Directions: Anguk Station, line 3. Exit 1. You’ll be in front of a Starbucks that says “Starbucks (스타벅스)” in Korean, which is already an embodiment of East/West. Take the first right and the prettiness will begin immediately.
What: A major shopping area and also the most expensive real estate in all of Korea. Known for hordes of Japanese tourists, hence all the Japanese signage.
In New Yorkese: A toss-up between Rockefeller Center and Times Square.
Go for: Myeongdong kalguksu! It’s a bowl of hand-cut noodles, usually in a beef broth. There’s a Myeongdong Kalguksu restaurant right across from the Forever 21. The shopping. The street food: dried squid, corn dogs wrapped in a french fry torpedo, roasted AND peeled chestnuts, charred rice cakes, grilled chal corn on the cob… Oh, and I guess, the shopping, too. I like the Migliore shopping mall, which reminds me of the underground shopping mall (now RIP) on Main Street in Flushing.
Don’t go for: The Forever 21, which is sadly more expensive than the 34th St one. Also, their merchandise is all a little too shiny for the New Yorker palate.
Directions: Line 4 to Myeongdong Station. Or, if you’re like most people in Seoul and are mainly serviced by line 2 (the green line), take it to Euljiro-1ga Station (을지로입구역), get out at exit 5, head in the space between the Paris Cafe towards the TGIFriday’s, then continue on straight on that main street towards the ABC Mart. You will be at the heart of Myeongdong.