exploring Anguk, Seoul

On one of those days in Seoul, I went to look for the area recommended by a colleague, Anguk. This is actually a neighbourhood nearby the palace, and is walkable from the Anguk subway station on the Orange line (Line 3), although it is quite a walk from the station to the right exit, and then again from the station it takes a bit of time to walk as well. So try to do it when the weather is fine, but I did it when it was a fairly warm day, despite that there was the occasional breeze.

Based on what I’d read online, this is quite a well-known area for interesting cafes, where I had seen many nice pictures posted of the cafes as well as their offerings. However, I didn’t get to try any of them since I already had my breakfast and coffee before I went, as the shops there don’t open till after 10am, the earliest. It was still quite a good walk though, and the next time, I can make it a point to pop by and stop by one of the cafes!

This is the “entrance” to the area, based on the way that I walked from the palace. You can already spot bakeries and cafes on this main street but they are of course the larger and more commercialised ones perhaps.IMG_9917.JPG

As you delve deeper into the area and branch out to the side alleys, you will discover more shops and cafes, some of which look rather promising on the outside with their decor. But I wouldn’t know how their coffee and food would be like until the time when I finally get to try some of them.IMG_9919.JPG

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There is really a great variety in terms of the kinds of design they have, whether the cafe is decorated in a country style, modern style or like this one below, retaining the traditional look of the building they occupy. IMG_9920.JPG

And this Homestead Coffee with its giant cup atop its entrance is a common picture I see online on blogs that review this area.IMG_9922.JPG

Another shop, not a cafe, but a clothing shop, that actually bothered decorating its exterior too. I think they also have an art gallery of sorts within, which probably explains why. And near this place, there are also various museums and galleries so that’s another possible reason.IMG_9921.JPG

The area is quite popular with locals as well as tourists I gather, but the crowds were manageable when I was there, possibly due to the timing that was late morning to noon (and that was why it was so hot) and also as it was a weekday. As I was exploring the area, I caught a whiff of extraordinarily nice aroma that led me to very rustic-looking, small cafe, where they were in the midst of roasting coffee beans. It was just indescribable, the amazing scent that permeated the atmosphere of the surroundings that brought me to it and I totally understood why people can love coffee so much. Ok, it is just the smell here and not even the taste that I am getting into, but I am only usually more familiar with the nice aroma of coffee being brewed, but this coffee roasting smell… it’s wonderful.

I walked around for an hour or so, and when it got to warm to bear I decided to leave and head elsewhere. On the walk back to the station, where I will pass by the Insadong area, I spotted this! IMG_9923.JPG

I used to play Cookie Run on my iPhone when I purchased my very first iPhone years ago, and that’s why I recognised this character, and in the flesh! Haha. It didn’t look as cute as the character in the game but it was still quite a funny idea to see a human-sized gingerbread man cookie walking about on the streets of Seoul, though I really empathise with the person inside who is wearing that thick heavy gear!

snacking my way through a vacation

Far from being a champion of healthy-living and healthy-eating, I do indulge in snacks pretty often. On the whole, I think I am fairly well-balanced in terms of good and bad foods that I consume, although there could certainly be improved to skew it more towards the good than bad. But vacations are usually the times for people to let go, let loose, enjoy and indulge, in various senses of the word. And so, this of course includes gastronomic indulgences, and for me, someone who relishes in cheap food (someone I think my palate is just not geared for expensive food, unfortunately), would mainly be snacks. If I could and would, disregarding health concerns, I could just survive solely on snacks the entire day!

This was a stash I got on the very first day that I arrived in Seoul.20140807-093839-34719832.jpg

And what I stuffed the mini bar fridge with. It’s comforting to return from a day’s walking to the hotel room, open up the fridge and be greeted by such stuff waiting. Typically by the time I get back during the mid-afternoon breaks, my stomach will be craving for some snacks and as usual, I will be feeling peckish. These are great to pop a few in the mouth before stuffing them back again into the fridge.20140807-093856-34736713.jpg

Apparently, the banana milk is something quite well-known in Korea, or it’s supposed to be a famous Korean beverage yet I have never tried it before. I picked it up at the supermarket as I have seen it in the Korean marts in Singapore, but opted for the light version, which proved to be a good idea. My friend told me thereafter that the original, which carries a green packaging instead of blue, is much sweeter than this, and as I drank my first sip, I already found this to be too sweet for my liking. But to be fair, it has a strong banana flavour scent/taste to it. Not for the non-fans of bananas definitely. 20140807-093914-34754371.jpg

And everywhere I go, I always try to get my prebiotic fix in the form of yogurts. I love yogurts, not for any of their supposed health benefits if they are really as claimed, but just for its tinge of sourness and the creamy or fluid texture, depending on which type of yogurt, is something that I really enjoy. 20140807-093914-34754273.jpg

And biscuits! They are one of my loves alongside breads, cakes and pastries. I have morphed into a flour monster of sorts over these years, oddly, when in the past, I think I didn’t even enjoy eating bread and cakes that much. This little pack was picked up at a subway station and it provided a great snack for me on the move, when I’m experiencing hunger pangs on those long rides or just tired from walking. :)20140807-093914-34754318.jpg

Chocolates! Also something that I just can’t live without these days, whether they serve their purpose as a purported stress-buster, or just for the sugar rush when I need a boost of energy during the day. I am always fascinated by the variety of snacks and what-nots that convenience stores or supermarkets overseas carry, but then again I think it’s more a factor of me being too familiar with what we stock on our stores’ shelves in Singapore to truly see the variety. As the time passes, there is a greater array of products being brought into Singapore, so there really isn’t a lack for us so to speak, whether we are talking about snacks or other kinds of food, Western or Asian. It’s just that familiarity just makes me glaze over the assortment, I guess.20140807-093914-34754231.jpg

Another cup of juice and a pack of crispy, crunchy Korean spicy chicken-flavoured snack! It isn’t spicy at all, but more sweet, so I didn’t like it as much as if it had a spicy taste. Maybe I was imagining it to be something like Twisties, the curry-flavoured type that I really used to love until I resolved to cut down on snacks and Twisties fell from grace. Haha.20140807-093914-34754434.jpg

The Grand Hotel Myeongdong, Seoul

I shall continue with the Seoul trip! Now that I am done with the food proper, I will move on to the hotel. When it comes to hotels, I don’t necessarily need to stay in luxury 5-star hotels but I still like to pamper myself, even if it means having to pay a little bit more. To some, it’s extravagant because hotel is purely a place of rest for them for a short period of time at the end of a long shopping day. But for me, I want to have a nice, comfortable place of rest too! So on this trip, I decided to book a stay with the Grand Hotel Myeongdong, after reading through some good reviews online and also because of its good location. There were other similar options at lower costs, but because my trip was relatively last minute, I was left with few choices. So perhaps it is a reminder for me to confirm my travel plans earlier so that I don’t have to pay exhorbitant prices for hotels! Having said that, except for feeling the pain in parting with the money, I don’t regret staying with them, because this is really quite a good place to stay at.

The Grand Hotel Myeongdong is a very new hotel, completed only in the last couple of years so everything about it is still new and well-maintained. Let’s hope they upkeep the maintenance of the place, or in future, look out for newer hotels? It is located on the fringe of Myeongdong, so you get the benefit of being at Myeongdong but not caught within the bustle of the place. The hotel is a few minutes’ walk away from Exit 9/10 of the Myeongdong subway station, so when it comes to transport, there is little problem as well. It isn’t as well-situated as Hotel Sejong where subway or the airport limousine bus is concerned, but it is really just a 2 minute walk from Sejong, and it is much newer, unless you are able to get Sejong at much lower rates, then go for it!20140806-074053-27653369.jpgI booked a room with Expedia, and requested for an early check-in since my flight was due to arrive in Seoul really early. By the time I got to the hotel, it was perhaps only about 10+ in the morning, and most hotels have a check-in policy that they could adhere pretty strictly to, especially when they are fully-booked, or those that are booked on restrictive rates. I seldom had that problem on my past business trips, perhaps due to the hotels not being located in popular tourist areas or the city centres, but when I travel on holidays, I frequently have to make do with depositing my luggage at the hotel, freshen up at the hotel’s common restrooms, and then head out looking a little dishevelled. However, I was able to check-in upon arrival at the hotel, which I was really thankful for, so that I could get a quick freshen up and change of clothes before I headed out to explore the place!20140806-074053-27653223.jpgMy room is comfortable, nice and clean, and I liked that the room decor was accompanied with ambient lighting that further accentuated its comfort level. Dim lighting in hotel rooms somehow makes for a higher level of comfort somehow, to me at least, and in this case, it didn’t give it an uncomfortable eerie feel. Perhaps in some hotels, dim lighting exudes a slight creepy feeling, when the room is too big with dark corners that lend themselves to shadows from dim lighting, so there is probably a benefit to having rooms that economise on space. Not that I don’t enjoy larger hotel rooms, but I suppose you get the drift.

And the bathroom! One of my common gripes about some hotels that I stayed at previously, where luxury hotels have luxurious rooms without a matching luxury-level bathroom. I don’t expect too much from hotels that I book on a slightly lower budget (i.e. not your 5-stars) but I think in general, I am pretty ok, and in fact, quite like, the Japanese hotel-type of bathrooms. The ones in the Grand Hotel are similar in a way, though not as completely ‘plastic-mould’ as the Japanese ones. It was not too crammed where space is concerned, so I don’t have any complains about it.20140806-074053-27653282.jpg

One of the things I wanted to rave about the bathroom is the complimentary toiletries provided. Typically, we only see brand-name toiletries offered in expensive hotels. In this case, the Grand Hotel has managed to outdo many other hotels by stocking their bathroom with Innisfree items! This is a Korean brand that hails from Jeju, and although I have heard of them and seen them around, even in Singapore, I have never tried them. This range of bath products had a refreshing, green tea scent to it that I really liked. I only used the shampoo and conditioner a couple of times so I can’t know if they are good, but at least they didn’t make my hair feel dry and stringy after use, like how some other hotel-provided shampoos and conditioners do. Only gripe was that the bottles used should have been softer, because the conditioner wasn’t exactly fluid like the other three items, and with a hard plastic bottle, it made it virtually impossible to get the conditioner out.  

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So there is my review of the room. The hotel staff were all very friendly, helpful and could speak decent, good English. I didn’t check out the roof-top where supposedly there is a pretty good night view, neither did I try the hotel’s buffet breakfast (because it was quite costly at 18,000 KRW per head and also because I was more keen to check out the various cafes around for breakfast options), so I can’t really comment on those. But I will definitely put this hotel on my list of recommended places to stay in Seoul!

Starbucks, Seoul

Just one last one that I missed out. This was the breakfast that I had on my final day in Seoul. And yes it is Starbucks, no surprise but I really wanted to try out something from them. Almost ordered a Carrot Cake, which they had in stores there but sadly the cake selection in our Starbucks stores are quite pathetic. As my eyes roamed gleefully over the food display case, I was having a hard time trying to decide on what to order. Finally, I settled on a cranberry brown rice scone. I really loved that their cafes stock such interesting things; maybe it’s nothing unusual for them, just me being a frog at the bottom of the well, or that our cafes are just not that big on food items? Maybe even if they are well-stocked, which I think they aren’t, we might have gotten used to the array over time and find nothing special. In any case, I really wish for more, particularly since I spend more time visiting cafes than restaurants. 20140801-105856-39536358.jpg

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As with most pastry products, and scones in particular, it was fairly crumbly, as you can see from this picture below. I would like to comfort myself from its name that it should be at least a slightly healthier option as compared to typical scones, and it doesn’t have a strong buttery texture and taste to it, which probably also explains its crumbly-ness? Ok, scones are hardly healthy things to eat, even if they feature pretty regularly on breakfast menus. But the good ones can taste really good even on their own, and of course, they go extremely well with butter, jam and yes, definitely clotted cream. Perhaps that is what ups the unhealthy index, but let’s just put it aside and enjoy it for what it is.20140801-105856-39536532.jpg

Korean Dak Galbi (Korean Spicy Chicken Stir fry)

I believe this should be the last of the food posts about Seoul. There are some of those random snacks that I bought from their convenience stores and marts but where actual food is concerned, this will be the final one.

Somehow, Korean food always strikes me as being a distinctive orange in colour. Maybe I was only thinking about kimchi when I made that connection, and how kimchi is a very prominent Korean food. Anyway, one evening, we had dinner at this eatery in Myeongdong that serves up stir-fry chicken. I think they specialise in chicken, and there is more than one of them in the area. Basically, there is this huge pan in the middle of the table where you are seated, where you can choose from various combinations of chicken and rice cake, rice, noodles, etc., that you can request for the staff to stir-fry for you. Actually, I don’t know if they have to be the ones to do it, but I think it’s safer that way. But thereafter, you can add more stuff to it, such as cabbage, which is free flow from a serving counter, and then stir it in yourself, if anything but to diffuse the spicy-ness of the dish. We ordered the chicken with rice cake version, and subsequently asked for a portion of rice to mix in.

How the mixture started out in the pan.20140731-083046-30646162.jpgStir-frying in progress.20140731-083046-30646221.jpgThe finished product! It was really delicious, and perhaps it may be good to eat this on top of plain rice rather than to mix the rice/noodle in, your choice. We just thought that mixing everything in gives the rice/noodle the flavour. But in case spicyness isn’t your forte, you can consider opting for the separate option.20140731-083046-30646277.jpg

 

I paid about 6,000 KRW (S$7.50) for the dinner, which was really cheap, but then it was also because we didn’t want to order too large a portion since the 2 friends I was dining with do not eat that much. It was just about right and enough so that there is space leftover for snacking thereafter.

FIKA Swedish Coffee Break, Seoul

In Swedish, I think FIKA means coffee break, and indeed this is the name of the cafe that I chanced upon in Seoul, at Garosugil in Sinsadong. It’s this hip and happening area in Seoul that is replete with cafes and clothing and accessories shops, something like Holland Village but bigger and better in terms of the shopping and variety of cafes. Or should I say it is more like the Haji Lane area that we have in Singapore, only much bigger. I made a short afternoon trip there and did not have sufficient time to cover as much of the place that I would have liked, also because it was a fairly warm afternoon in the blazing late afternoon sun. However, it just means there is more incentive for me to head back there for future trips!

From the Sinsa station, it is easy to walk there. If I recall correctly, the way out should be Exit 2, or just follow where everyone else is walking and you will get there anyhow. Along the way, there are already various cafes visible, and a pretty large Tous Les Jours bakery. But when you do get to the area, which is a straight tree-lined street flanked with low-rise shophouses containing all these cafes and shops that sells all kinds of fashionable stuff, it can be a little overwhelming. To me at least, because I was looking for a caffeine fix and it being a popular place it meant that many cafes along the way were packed with customers. As with most cafes, turnover can be expected to be low. The good thing about this place is that, despite being hugely popular and crowded, most of the crowd appeared to be fairly young and local. Even the tourists who visit this area are of a different type and genre as compared to say, Myeongdong.

From the main street, there are many side alleys that you could branch out to, which will open up to more shops and cafes. If you have the time, which is something I should target to do in my next trip to Seoul, you can just weave in and out and check them out. However, of course where cafes are concerned, it’s hard to be cafe-hopping. How many cups of coffee or how many slices of cake can one take in an afternoon? I finally got to this part of the street where I decide to branch out and explored this slightly-quieter part. Or so I thought. There were still people streaming in and out of cafes and shops too but away from the main street, it didn’t seem as busy and noisy. And then I came across this place.  20140729-144155-52915053.jpg

It was just by chance that I headed in because I only wanted to check out if there are seats available, which I thought there might be by peeking from the street. As luck would have it, I think they had, on the upper floor of the cafe. So I bought myself a coffee and cake and waited for the buzzer to go off. 20140729-144154-52914950.jpg

And voila, my FIKA coffee and pound cake, the whole of it! The very first time I have tried a cafe named FIKA was in New York City, which serves pretty decent coffee. I don’t think they are related, because I haven’t found any connection online, neither do I think they are related in any way to the FIKA Coffee we have in Singapore. But nonetheless, I think the Europeans, and perhaps especially the Nordic countries, have always given me the impression that when it comes to enjoying coffee and the experience, they take it seriously and are experts in it. Makes me miss the travelling days once more, but to be honest, I have only visited Helsinki twice for work where the Nordics are concerned, and I would really love to be able to head to the other parts of Finland, to Norway, Denmark and Sweden. They always give me an image of a sophisticated laid-back culture, with strong focus placed on design and style.  20140729-144155-52915103.jpg

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I really enjoyed the fig and prune pound cake I ordered, even if this was a pre-dinner snack and it might and would definitely come across to many as being too much for one. Well, for me, who is nuts over cakes these days, this is no big deal for me. But I just imagine other people who will take just one of the 5 pieces here and declare that they are stuffed and done with it. It is not very sweet and the addition of fig and prune perhaps gives it a kind of sweetness that is associated with the typical sweetness of sugar that is used in making cakes…? Of course, I would assume sugar is still used but I’m just saying I didn’t think it was too unbearably sweet. I love cakes but I don’t have an irredeemable sweet tooth. And who can resist nice, buttery pound cakes that go perfectly well with a cup of coffee! I know I can’t.20140729-144155-52915140.jpg

Tom & Tom’s Coffee, Seoul

Several years ago when Tom & Tom’s Coffee first came to Singapore, I was fairly excited, because yay to new cafes in Singapore! Now there are a dime and dozen new cafes sprouting up all the time, but these new ones are of a different breed. The new cafes these days are independent coffee joints set up by aspiring cafe-owners who perhaps harbour a love for caffeine and all things associated with it, tired of corporate life and have the capital to invest in a business. Running a cafe is tough, even if personally I have not done it. I mean, how easy can it be to have to keep your P&L in the black and healthily, while fierce intense competition rages on constantly?

Anyway Tom & Tom’s first opened way back… I can’t remember when, and there was this outlet in Far East Plaza, where a Starbucks used to stand (eons ago), that then became Burger King (or vice versa, honestly, my memory is growing fuzzy). There might have been other tenants but Tom & Tom’s occupied that space for a while, and when they just started, they really went all out with the Korean experience, playing Korean songs, staffing their counters with Korean-speaking crew (possibly Koreans studying in Singapore who became part-timers to the cafe)… it was pretty good. But probably not sustainable. They opened several outlets that then also closed, but as of now I think they only have a couple of outlets left. I know with certainty of the outlet that still stands in Tanjong Pagar, Icon Village, but I’m not so sure if the Vivocity outlet still remains, with the high turnover of eateries and restaurants that mushroom in that mall all the time.

I popped into one when I visited Seoul, just to check out what they have, because in the Singapore branch(es), it always seem like everything is unavailable.20140722-070642-25602362.jpg

So I found out that in Seoul, their cafes really provide a good selection of menu items, evident from the length of time I spent mulling over what I should order for breakfast. Everything just sounded and felt appealing or perhaps I was just feeling ravenous. I settled for a very boring choice, which was their signature Original Pretzel set. They are supposedly known for their pretzels, or rather this is one of their main sell. Original, because I always believe in trying the original to see if something is good, first. Just like donuts, I usually prefer original types rather than fanciful ones. We could always try the other flavours subsequently.

The original in this case didn’t mean plain. Their version of original pretzel was salted, and I think there is a plain version, but salted gave it a hint of taste, otherwise it will really be almost tasteless lest you want to enjoy and savour the sauce/dip that comes along with the pretzel (the dip comes with it, i.e. not charged).

20140722-070642-25602260.jpgAt first glance the pretzel looks huge, and probably to many it may appear to be so as well, but I’m a lover of dough, and it just looks big, but doesn’t fill up that much space due to its shape. I asked for a garlic dip and it complemented the slight saltiness of the pretzel well, I think. I enjoyed it and the pretzel didn’t feel too heavy or dry. But the dip helps of course, otherwise it might have been too plain and boring to keep on just munching on it.20140722-070642-25602315.jpg

I didn’t get a second chance to try other things on that trip, but I was thinking of giving the outlet in Singapore another chance one of these days, to find out just exactly what they have available in the food department!