First thing after breakfast yesterday, my mom, my sister and I went KyungBookGoong, which I guess you could say is like the Forbidden City of Korea. It’s a palace complex where all the kings, queens, emperors and other such important people live back in the olden days. Because it’s a national treasure and a tourist attraction, KyungBookGoong is directly connected to the subway station, which they also built to look older and underground-palacier.
Right outside the subway station was the huge entrance to the palace – the first gate to the inside.
Once inside, we walked around all the palace building – this place is freaking huge! It took us 2 hours to do a self guided tour. For a little under $2, you get a cool mp3 player thing and a paper map with pictures and descriptions of each building. All you do is hold the mp3 player to the the picture of the building, a laser on the end of the player will scan the paper and give you a recorded description in either English, Korean, Japanese, or Chinese. It was pretty sick, and made touring the KyungBookGoong really simple and convenient.
After we had seen all the buildings, my mom and I decided that we were hungry enough for lunch. We took the subway for InSaDong, which was one stop over.
InSaDong is an eclectic mix of cultural and modern. Although it’s one of the older parts of Seoul, it’s been modernized a lot recently so there’s a huge variety of things to see and do.
The stores here have been around longer than those in the newer parts of Seoul; so what happens with a lot of American chain store signs is that instead of being written in English, they’re phonetically spelled in Korean.
The older stores sell more traditional products like:
There’s also stuff like calligraphy pens and inks, as well as clothing boutiques with that sell hanbok-styled modern clothes.
And there’s the more modern, quirkier part of InSaDong – stores that sell the cutest accessories and food that you can’t really get outside of Korea.
Like this outdoor mall-ish building that sold everything from modernized jade stamps to hand sewn-cell-phone cases to miniature banquet tables.
InSaDong is a very artsy place – there are art galleries and exhibitions everywhere, and almost all the stores sell products that are hand-made, usually by the owners themselves.
There are a lot of craft stores too – little, almost cafe-like places where you can sit down and paint pottery or make your own soap or candles.
The first thing when we got to InSaDong was look for a place to eat; there was a restaurant listed in my mom’s Korea tour book that was said to serve really traditional Korean fare, so we decided to eat there. But then we couldn’t find it – we thought it had been shut down, so my mom, my sister and I went to look somewhere else. We found a restaurant that looked good, but when we sat down and ordered the dishes, they said it wasn’t available so we left. Then the same thing happened at the next restaurant. And the next. We went to 4 restaurants before we finally found one that actually served decent food outside of the lunch menu.. I think it turned out that way because by the time we finished exploring KungBookGoong and decided to eat, it was too late to order anything that’s usually served for lunch.
My family finally decided to settle down to eat here at around 3:00.
I love how easy it is to eat healthy in Korea; this place, for example specialized in either bibimbap-ish things or bulgogi dishes.
The most important thing about a good bibimbap is the ratio between each of the ingredients. GoGoong must have measuring cups back in their kitchen, because this place got it RIGHT. A perfect blend of savory, crunchy, green vegetables to spicy-sweet pepper paste to plump rice. GIVE. ME. MORE.
After our lunch, we wandered up and down InSaDong a couple of times, going into art galleries, browsing through the stores and picking up a few cute things here and there. By the time 7:00 rolled around, none of us were hungry enough to eat dinner. Which makes sense considering we finished our lunch at 4 o’clock. So we just decided to have a snack at a dduk shop that had caught our eye. Especially my eye. Eyes.
I admit, I may have been suckered into going here by the aesthetically-pleasing, appetite-whetting, marketing ploys of Bizeun. But the trip in here was well worth it; I am now in love with this store.
Even though it’s a dduk (Korean rice-cake) store, Bizeun has taken the traditional Korean snack to the next level by selling their ricey treats much like a Korean bakery would sell bread; with open, beautiful displays of steamed goods waiting for you to pick it up onto your tray to take to the cashier. Not only does Bizeun have every single type of Korean traditional dduk, but they also Japanese mochi and manjoo, as well as puffed rice snacks and nut crackers. Like almost everywhere else in InSaDong, this place is also fusion – a happy marriage between traditional dduk making methods and new flavors.
I kind of got a little shutter-happy in Bizeun because it was so cute, and there were so many things I wanted to eat. Have I mentioned how much I love rice cakes? There are so many to choose from, but I love all of them. From the ones with the chewy, sticky textures and just-sweet-enough fillings to the light, almost bready ones. And did I mention this place had a cafe that served bingsoo too? CAN IT GET ANY BETTER?? For me, this place was a dream come true :).
After taking a gazillion pictures in the actual “bakery” part of Bizeun, my mom told me we should at least order something. So of course I decided to get bingsoo; Bizeun has a sweet pumpkin flavor that I wanted to try because I’ve never seen nor heard of it before. Unfortunately, it was sold out. Boo. So my mom and I settled for green tea. Which turned out to be perfectly ok, because this green tea bingsoo ROCKED MY WORLD.
Like good bibimbap, good bingsoo is also about the ratio, especially between the ice and the sweet red bean. Bizeun added just the right amount of red bean – even all mixed it up, the bingsoo was just sweet enough (maybe it was because we gave the ice cream scoop for Calynn to eat?). The pepitas and walnuts, which are pretty unusual bingsoo ingredients, gave a good contrast as well as a deep, nutty flavor to each spoonful of sweet ice shavings. Usually, my favorite part of bingsoo are the sweet rice cake bits, so I loved how this one had an entire cut-up mochi served on top of it. TEXTURAL CONTRAST (like the one between the chewy rice cake, crunch nuts, and soft shaved ice) IS IMPORTANT FOLKS!
But the best part of this icy treat was how it used real green tea ice shavings. As in, the people at Bizeun actually used matcha green tea (the powdery stuff that’s extra-green tea-y) to make green tea ice cubes which they put into the ice shaving machine. It just raised the bingsoo to new heights of frozen goodness by giving it an extra OOMPH of green tea flavor. I DECLARE THE BIZEUN GREEN TEA BINGSOO THE BEST GREEN TEA BINGSOO I’VE HAD IN MY LIFE THUS FAR. Now I have to go back and try the sweet pumpkin one.
And that was our dinner. Don’t give me that look – there’s protein from the beans and nuts, carbohydrates from the mochi, and green tea’s full of antioxidants. IT WAS A GOOD MEAL. And like I said before, neither my mom nor I were very hungry; we were just craving something cold and sweet.
After our satisfying dinner, we browsed around a little bit more before heading back to the subway station for the hour ride back home. It had been an exhausting day, but one of the most enjoyable so far :).