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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bukcheongol (Seoul)

To be honest, this is not my favorite place for gopchang* (small tripes and intestines), but it's the closest to home : on Gyeonghuigung 1-gil, very close to Saemunan-gil, among the first houses giving on the newly rearranged plaza in front of the Seoul Museum of History.

Not memorable, including for the atmosphere, but perfect when I need a quick fix of gopchang jeongol (stew 곱창전골) or gopchang gui (grilled 곱창구이). About 20k wons for two. Among other "massive" classics on their menu : budae jjigae.

1-151 Shinmunro 2-ga, Jongno-gu, SEOUL, ROK 110-062
Bukcheongol / 북천골 (restaurant)
Tel: +82.2.720.3550

* for gopchang gui, there's that one about to be destroyed in Wangshimni New Town, plus that minuscule shanty marvel lost in my memory not far from Dehangno

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Gogi SSam Naengmyeon (Seoul)

"Meat and cold noodle combo"... here again, the name tells it all. The price too : KRW 5,000 for the standard pack plus 500 wons for the bigger size. Cold noodles alone go for 4,500, so most people come for the pack.

In Myeong-dong more than anywhere else, restaurants cannot survive if they don't taste good. This one could increase prices by almost 30% overnight (until March 27, noodles were at 3,500) without losing its momentum : during rush hours, you may still have to queue after twenty people (about 10-20 mn should do).

Gogi Ssam Naengmyeon is so successful it opened a second restaurant down the same narrow street (even after Myeongdong's revival, the least glamorous part of the maze). I never tried that second one, which looks narrower and less comfortable, but stretches over three floors. Both have a view on the street, but more customers can enjoy it in the original - and wider - building.

Food now. Noodles come in the two usual varieties : a standard mul naengmyeon (in icy water), and a killer bibim naengmyeon ("mixed") with a mean red pepper powder you can tame with the free hot chicken feet broth. The pork is well seasoned and grilled - formatted for local taste buds, but not toooo sweet.

You pay in advance and have to help yourself to water and broth, but dishes are served at your table, which you don't have to clean afterwards.

Overall : definitely not haute cuisine, but definitely a yummy bargain in a friendly atmosphere.

Thus the success in such a demanding area. Young pairs make most of the clientele, and you often see two friends sharing one pack, but not necessarily for a question of budget : you cannot BOTH enjoy many Myeongdong street snacks AND swallow this pack.

SM 200905

Gogi SSam Naengmyeon / 고기쌈냉면 (restaurant)
no telephone / no reservation / no frills

no address either ! On the west side of Myeong-dong 2-gil, across the Savoy Hotel, at the frontier between Chungmuro 1-ga and Myeong-dong 2-ga. My best guess, after checking the map : 22-2 Chungmuro 1-ga.

see other restaurants in Seoul and Korea.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Yellow Sea For Roh Moo-hyun

Downtown submerged by a tsunami of yellow ribbons, arm bands, hair pins, hats, and balloons.

Not at the Gyeongbokgung today : the color of Roh Moo-hyun's campaigns was strictly forbidden at the site of the official ceremony.

Also forbidden : Kim Dae-jung's eulogy for his successor. This request from the family was turned down by his successor's successor... a measure of respect to other former Presidents according to Lee Myung-bak, a setback for democracy according to the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Also forbidden : Seoul Plaza, closed to mourners until today, for fear of a remake of last year's massive demonstrations. Roh sympathizers improvised the first altar just across the street, in front of Deoksugung's gate, the very morning when he died*. Local and foreign V.I.P.s waited for a more exclusive altar to be opened, a few days later, at the Seoul Museum of History. Both sites felt silent, but one did sound a little more sincere than the other.

Above, the head of the convoy on Sejongno, as it leaves Gyeongbokgung for Seoul Plaza and Roh Moo-hyun's Yellow Sea of supporters.

Right, Roh's collaborators, following the deceased and singing the song that cemented their cause for democracy.

* See "Roh Moo-hyun follows Pierre Beregovoy".

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Seoul 25 "Gu" - Seoul Map

(This clickable map links to all posts related to each district with - you can also navigate on our google powered Seoul Village map)

View Seoul Village in a larger map

From Jung-gu - the smallest - to Seocho-gu - the biggest -, Seoul boasts 25 "gu" (districts) over 605.25 km²:

Dobong-gu (도봉구) -
Created in 1949.
20.8 km² - 381,000 inhabitants - 15 administrative dong (4 main).
To name a few : Dobongsan (mountain), Yonsangunmyo...

Dongdaemun-gu (동대문구) -
Created in 1943 (initial 7 gu).
14.2 km² - 386,000 inhabitants - 26 administrative dong (10 main).
To name a few : Seoul Yangnyeonsi (traditional medicine market), antique and flea markets, Royal Joseon Tombs, Dongdaemun Design Plaza area... Note that Dongdaemun itself (Heunginjimun) is located in Jongno-gu.

Dongjak-gu (동작구) -
Created in 1980 (split from Gwanak-gu).
16.35 km² - 405,000 inhabitants - 17 administrative dong (8 main).
To name a few : Noryangjin Fish Market, National Cemetery, Boramae Park, Sayuksin Park...

Eunpyeong-gu (은평구) -
Created in 1979 (separated from Seodaemun-gu).
29.7 km² - 443,000 inhabitants (2000 - to improve dramatically with Eunpyeong New Town) - 20 administrative dong (11 main).
To name a few : Bukhansan, Bukhansanseong (fortress wall)...

Gangbuk-gu (강북구) -
Created in 1995 (another Dobong-gu spin off)
23.6 km² - 341,000 inhabitants - 18 administrative dong (9 main).
To name a few : Bukhansan...

Gangdong-gu (강동구) -
Created in 1979 (split from Gangnam-gu)
24.5 km² - 469,000 inhabitants (2007) - 18 administrative dong (9 main).
To name a few : Amsa-dong Prehistoric site...

Gangnam-gu (강남구) -
Created in 1975
39.5 km² - 557,000 inhabitants - 26 administrative dong (12 main).
To name a few : Apgujeong-dong, Cheongdam-dong, Teheranno, COEX, Solleung, Jeongneung Royal Joseon Tombs...

Gangseo-gu (강서구) -
Created in 1977 (scission from Yeongdeungpo-gu)
41.4 km² - 557,000 inhabitants - 22 administrative dong (8 main).
To name a few : Gimpo Airport, Yangcheon Hyanggyo...

Geumcheon-gu (금천구) -
Created in 1995 (split from Guro-gu).
13.0 km² - 257,000 inhabitants - 12 administrative dong (3 main).
To name a few : Samseongsan, Anyangcheon...

Guro-gu (구로구) -
Created in 1980 (split from Yeongdeungpo-gu).
20.1 km² - 416,000 inhabitants - 15 administrative dong (7 main).
To name a few : Guro Digital Industrial Complex...

Gwanak-gu (관악구) -
Created in 1973
29.57 km² - 522,000 inhabitants - 21 administrative dong (3 main).
To name a few : Seoul National University, Gwanak-san, Nakseongdae...

Gwangjin-gu (광진구) -
Created in 1995 (separated from Seongdong-gu)
17.05 km² - 381,000 inhabitants - 15 administrative dong (8 main).
To name a few : Children's Grand Park, Techno Mart, Ttukseom...

Jongno-gu (종로구) -
Created in 1943 (initial 7 gu).
23.9 km² - 180,000 inhabitants - 87 administrative dong (19 main) - see Seoul Village focus on Jongno-gu dongs.
To name a few (impossible to list all attractions of Seoul's historical center) : palaces and shrines (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung / Changgyeonggung, Jongmyo, Gyeonghuigung, Unhyungung, Sajik-dan...), museums (National Palace Museum, Seoul Museum of History, National Folk Museum of Korea, corporate museums...), art galleries (particularly near Insadong, Shinmunro, Pyeongchang-dong, Sogyeok-dong...), touristic areas (Gwanghwamun Square / Sejongno, Cheonggyecheon, Insadong, Bukchon, Samcheong-dong, Jogyesa temple...)...

Jung-gu (중구) -
Created in 1943 (initial 7 gu).
9.96 km² - 135,000 inhabitants - 74 administrative dong (15 main).
To name a few : Sungnyemun (Namdaemun gate), Deoksugung, SeMa, Namsan (and the National Theater of Korea), Namdaemun market, Myeong-dong, Shinsegae and Lotte main department stores... Shared with Yongsan-gu : Namsan (N Tower is on the Yongsan part of the mountain) and Seoul Station (the original building belongs to Jung-gu, KTX area lies on Yongsan turf).

Jungnang-gu (중랑구) -

Created in 1988 (formerly a part of Dongdaemun-gu)
18.5 km² - 441,000 inhabitants - 20 administrative dong (6 main).
To name a few : Yongmasan, Jungnangcheon...

Mapo-gu (마포구) -
Created in 1944 (from Seodaemun-gu and Yongsan-gu).
23.87 km² - 393,000 inhabitants - 24 administrative dong (16 main).
To name a few : Hongdae area, Sangam (and Seoul World Cup Stadium), Digital Media City...

Nowon-gu (노원구) -
Created in 1988 (split from Dobong-gu).
35.44 km² - 619,000 inhabitants - 24 administrative dong (5 main).
See Nowon-gu maps and this focus.To name a few : Nowon Station area, Suraksan, Buramsan, Taegangneung, Jungnangcheon and Danghyeoncheon...

Seocho-gu (서초구) -
Created in 1988 (from Yeongdeungpo-gu / Gangnam-gu)
47.1 km² - 402,000 inhabitants - 18 administrative dong (10 main).
To name a few : Seoul Art Center, Heoninneung, Express Bus Terminal, Seorae Maeul (Seorae Village or "Little France")...

Seodaemun-gu (서대문구) -
Created in 1943 (initial 7 gu).
17.6 km² - 356,000 inhabitants - 20 administrative dong (14 main).
To name a few : Seodaemun Prison and Dongnimmun (Independence Gate), Bongwonsa (temple), Yonsei University, Ewha Womens University and Sinchon...

Seongbuk-gu (성북구) -
Created in 1973 (from Dongdaemun).
24.5 km² - 470,000 inhabitants - 39 administrative dong (20 main).
To name a few : Uireung, Seongbuk-dong, Bugak skyway, Gaeunsan, Sukjeongmun (Bukmun)...

Seongdong-gu (성동구) -
Created in 1943 (initial 7 gu).
16.85 km² - 325,000 inhabitants - 20 administrative dong (17 main).
To name a few : Seoul Forest...

Songpa-gu (송파구) -
Created in 1988 (from Gangdong-gu)
33.9 km² - 650,000 inhabitants - 26 administrative dong (14 main).
To name a few : Olympic Park and Olympic Sports Complex, Lotte World and Seokchon Lake, Garak Market, Seongnaecheon...

Yangcheon-gu (양천구) -
Created in 1988 (from Gangseo-gu).
17.4 km² - 485,000 inhabitants - 18 administrative dong (3 main).
To name a few : Yongwangsan, Anyang creek...

Yeongdeungpo-gu (영등포구) -
Created in 1943 (initial 7 gu).
24.5 km² - 439,000 inhabitants - 33 administrative dong (18 main).
To name a few : Yeouido (park, National Assembly, 63 Building...), International Finance Center, Bamsom, Yeongdeungpo Park...

Yongsan-gu (용산구) -
Created in 1943 (initial 7 gu).
21.9 km² - 239,000 inhabitants - 36 administrative dong (16 main).
To name a few : National Museum of Korea and Yongsan Family Park, Itaewon, Leeum, Central Masjid (Mosque), Yongsan US Army Base (to be relocated in Pyeongtaek in 2013 and replaced by a central park), War Memorial of Korea, Namsan (and N Tower), Hyochang Park, Yongsan Electronics Market...

Map of Seoul districts : source creative commons (dxf-Data by Ralf, png by Stefan-Xp, labels by iGEL), customized with links (by Stephane MOT)


I made this short video to explain the urban core of Seoul, the original city intra muros (within its fortress walls). A dynamic map to locate key mountains and streams, landmarks, vertical and horizontal axes...

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Roh Moo-hyun follows Pierre Beregovoy

When I read this morning about the tragic fate of former President Roh Moo-hyun, I thought about Pierre Beregovoy, Francois Mitterrand's last prime minister who supposedly committed suicide while under investigation for corruption.

Suicide or not suicide, this not the issue here. Both Beregovoy and Roh came from modest backgrounds, succeeded in politics as outsiders, and ended up in a tragic fate, soon after leaving the top, their main asset, the positive image on which they built their successes, shattered to pieces.

This morning, I made this stupid dream* that Roh's final bow could wake up Korea, help it reconsider politics, put down the guns, and start a vast operation of transparence. To help talents truly motivated by change emerge from the crowd, but also to protect them as they climb to the top of this beautiful yet slippery mountain.

* see my blogule : "
Roh Moo-hyun, le promeneur du champ de mai"

Happiness according to Le Clezio

A refreshing and peaceful afternoon at Kyobo Life's headquarters, listening to Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio talking about representations of happiness in literature.

Somehow, the "happiness in literature" coming from writing or reading went without saying.

Praise The Daesan Foundation and Ewha Womens University for this moment.

PS : I feel too relaxed (and yeah, probably also a little bit too lazy) to translate the miserable blogule I spilled in my native language ("Le bonheur selon Le Clezio").

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jongno-gu dongs

Seoul's 600 year-old center, Jongno-gu, stretches over 23.9 km² and comprises 19 dong (administrative areas).

That very much matches the average: I divided Seoul's superficy (605.25 km²) and total of "dongs" (522) into 25 (the number of "gu" or districts), and got averages of 24.2 km² and 20.8 dong.

But beyond these 19 "administrative" dong (행정동) lie 87 "court" dong (법정동), most dating from the early Joseon dynasty. Many "dong" names are engraved in national history and literature. Some designate functions, because of the kind of offices or services you would find in the area.

Most dongs are simply microscopic: taking out Pyeongchang-dong (8.92 km²) leaves an average 0.17 km² for its 86 peers, and a significant portion of what's left is covered by vast mountains, parks, or royal palaces.

Regroupments, renamings, and even extensions were performed all along the XXth century, most notably:

  • on April 1, 1914: under the Japanese Occupation, redistribution and renaming of the city's 186 dongs, implementation of Japanese namings. This completed the 1910 degradation of the Capital as "Gyeongseong-bu", an almost anomymous section of Gyeonggi-do, part of the annihilation of all references to Korea's identity as an independant power. Note that when Gyeongseong was renamed Seoul on August 15th, 1948, it gained a status of "Special City" which somehow marked, beyond the independence from Gyeonggi-do, the independence from colonial rule (the final "Seoul Teukbyeolsi" label was awarded exactly one year later). Jongno-gu heads the other 6 districts : Dongdaemun-gu, Jung-gu, Seodaemun-gu, Seongdong-gu, Yeongdeungpo-gu, and Yongsan-gu.
  • on October 1, 1946: many renamings, mostly denipponification reversing changes made during the Occupation.
  • in 1949: Seongbuk-dong, now a diplomats' lair on the other side of the Samcheong Tunnel but traditionally a Beverly Hills for Chaebol owners, leaves Jongno-gu for newly formed Seongbuk-gu
  • on October 1, 1975: new city regulations ruled on September 23, 1975 extended Jongno-gu's jurisdictions well beyond the old intra muros city, most notably :
    . to the West: Muak-dong and Gyonam-dong added from Seodaemun-gu. Gyonam is on the "wrong" side of the old Dongnimmun gate and the fortress wall, but after the completion of Sajik tunnel, it obviously completed a newly formed large block around Gyeonghuigung. Incorporating Muak-dong adds the other side of Inwangsan.
    . to the East: Sungin-dong and Changsin-dong taken from Dongdaemun-gu, completing the "sadaemun" tableau (the gu now encompasses the 4 main gates)
    . to the North: Buam-dong and Pyeongchang-dong join the party, wrapping Bugaksan in the gu, and putting Cheonghwadae and Gyeongbokgung, symbols of yesterday's and today's power, in the center of the map.
FULL LIST OF JONGNO "DONG" (19 "Administrative", 87 "Court"):

Buam-dong (부암동 - 3 court dongs): Buam-dong, Hongji-dong, Sinyeong-dong.

Changsin 1-dong (창신1동 - 1/3): Changsin-dong (covers 3 administrative dongs).

Changsin 2-dong (창신2동 - 1/3): Changsin-dong (covers 3 administrative dongs).

Changsin 3-dong (창신3동 - 1/3): Changsin-dong (covers 3 administrative dongs).

Cheongun-dong (청운동 - 3): Cheongun-dong, Gungjeong-dong, Singyo-dong.
Gahoe-dong (가회동 - 4): Gahoe-dong, Jae-dong, Gye-dong, Wonseo-dong.

Gyonam-dong (교남동 - 6): Gyobuk-dong, Gyonam-dong, Haengchon-dong (Hengchon-dong), Hongpa-dong, Pyeong-dong, Songwol-dong.
Hyehwa-dong (혜화동 - 4): Hyehwa-dong, Myeongnyun-dong 1-ga, Myeongnyun-dong 2-ga, Myeongnyun-dong 4-ga.

Hyoja-dong (효자동 - 6): Changseong-dong, Hyoja-dong, Nuha-dong, Nusang-dong, Ogin-dong, Tongin-dong.
Ihwa-dong (이화동 - 3): Dongsung-dong, Ihwa-dong, Yeongeon-dong.

Jongno ga-dong (종로1.2.3.4가동 - 28): Bongik-dong, Cheongjin-dong, Doneui-dong, Gongpyeong-dong, Gwancheol-dong, Gwanhoon-dong, Gwansu-dong,
Gwonnong-dong, Gyeongun-dong, Gyeonji-dong, Hoonjeong-dong (Hunjeong-dong), Ikseon-dong, Ineui-dong, Insa-dong (Insadong), Jangsa-dong, Jongno 1-ga, Jongno 2-ga, Jongno 3-ga, Jongno 4-ga, Junghak-dong, Myo-dong, Nagwon-dong, Seolin-dong, Susong-dong, Waryong-dong, Wonnam-dong, Wooni-dong, Yoeji-dong.

Jongno 5.6 ga-dong (종로5.6가동 - 5): Chungsin-dong, Hyojoe-dong, Jongno 5-ga, Jongno 6-ga, Yeonji-dong.
Muak-dong (무악동 - 1): Muak-dong.

Myeongnyun 3-ga-dong (명륜3가동 - 1):
Myeongnyun-dong 3-ga.

Pyeongchang-dong (평창동 - 2): Gugi-dong, Pyeongchang-dong.
Sajik-dong (사직동 - 12): Chebu-dong, Dangju-dong, Doryeom-dong, Jeokseon-dong, Naeja-dong, Naesu-dong, Pilun-dong, Sajik-dong, Sejongno-dong (세종로동), Shinmunro 1-ga, Shinmunro 2-ga, Tongeui-dong (Tongui-dong).
Samcheong-dong (삼청동 - 7): Anguk-dong, Hwa-dong, Palpan-dong, Sagan-dong, Samcheong-dong, Sogyeok-dong, Songhyeon-dong.

Sungin 1-dong (숭인1동 - 1/2): Sungin-dong (covers 2 administrative dongs).

Sungin 2-dong (숭인2동 - 1/2): Sungin-dong (covers 2 administrative dongs).

Jongno-gu keeps changing very quickly, and it's getting hard not to bump into areas under redevelopment. Population should increase significantly in the years to come. There are only 180,000 inhabitants nowadays, but registered population tops 1.4 M, and 2M people live there during daytime (many office headquarters). Some dongs may disappear (ie Pyeong-dong in the future Gyonam New Town / Dongnimmun New Town).

SM 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cafe Sobahn (Seoul)

Gwanghwamun belongs to CJ Foodville : along with A Twosome Place, Coldstone, or The Place (all withing shooting distance), Cafe Sobahn is a part of a group which definitely seems to favor touristic hubs (ie new subsidiaries at Anguk Station)**.

The Officia Building itself is not a landmark, but it lies at the most strategic crossroads, and its first floor provides some year round green elements to enjoy from the other side of the window while you eat. Inside, you can also watch grains grow into ingredients for your next bibimbap in a cubic greenhouse.

I already praised the Cafe Sobahn concept, which could be summed up as a "slow fast food" restaurant with a "well being" touch, modernizing traditional Korean dishes (ie shrimp and tofu porridges for breakfast, sea cucumber or tofu bibimbap for lunch, somme innovative side orders depending on the day). More for health concious gourmets than for gluttons, but non-vegetarians can find meat (ie bulgogi).

Cafe Sobahn serves breakfast from 8 to 11, bibimbap and certain dishes after 11, plus set menu and more "a la carte" after 17. You pick up a tray and pay in advance, but hot dishes are served at your table and discarded for you. A solution for urbanites who want to escape, once in a while, the usual feeding frenzy of your friendly neighborhood Korean restaurant.

SM 2009

134-2 Shinmunro 1-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul, ROK
Cafe Sobahn (restaurant - Gwanghwamun branch*)
Tel : +82.2.730.7423

* There's another one near Seoul University
** ... and could do even more for Korean cuisine (see "
Korean Cuisine Aiming At World's Top Five. China is watching")

see other restaurants in Seoul and Korea.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jongmyo ghosts

A warm mid-may afternoon in Jongmyo. Just a few visitors, but nowhere to be seen in this deserted Jeongjeon (the main ceremonial hall).

A slight breeze, the intense smell of snowbell tree flowers, and only natural sounds : birds (magpies, sparrows, and today even a blue jay), wind in the old and tall trees that mask the city beyond. From here, the corner of your eye can only notice the brown tip of Boryung building emerging timidly from the biomass, now fully active.

Much smaller and less "urban" than its Northern neighbor Changdeokgung, devoted to the dead (Joseon royal shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage), Jongmyo provides a perfect spot for meditation.
There's even a quiet library with 20 seats (square mats on the floor), in a small hanok. Like most traditional houses in this part of the World, this one offers a broadband connection to the web. No one there today, except the clerk. From a hole torn through the paper window, I can see three adjumas sitting on the lawn, picking up the bad weeds.

I expected to meet a few elderlies, but as usual they are all outside in Jongmyo Citizens' Park, chatting or playing Xiangqi (Chinese chess) under phantom cigarette clouds. Their mass looks compact from a distance, and many lips are moving, but you can't hear those ghosts as you walk through the crowd. Just chess pieces clacking on boards.

You can follow Jongmyo's Western wall up to a recently created small triangular garden, Yulgokno, and Donhwamun... but beware : Seosulla-gil (서순라 길) is haunted.

"West Patrol Way" owes its name to the policemen who walked along it. All houses used to turn their backs on this cemetery wall, and residents would only leave their garbage there. Nearby Myo-dong owes its name to the same Myo (묘) you find in Jongmyo (종묘) : it means "grave", and by metonymy "cemetery". But the only two dongs covering Seosulla-gil are Bongik-dong (South) and Gwonnong-dong (North).

Bongik-dong remains a messy pack of cheap old restaurants feeding (upon ?) Jongmyo's chess playing ghosts.

Gwonnong-dong keeps proceeding on the way to gentrification, workshops giving way to brand new, two-story- private houses, galleries or shops opening themselves to Seosulla-gil, betting on the Donhwamun-ro extension of Insadong all the way to this charming winding road with its trees, its wall, and its phantoms.

Right now, gentrification doesn't seem that obvious : trash keep piling up against the wall, the path doesn't smell of snowbell tree flowers, and more often than not, you will come across one or two hirsute winos.

Keep your distance : to spare your nostrils, but also to show some respect for Jongmyo's third millenium ghosts.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rossini (Seoul)

Jongno-gu, Jae-dong, Seoul, ROK
Rossini (Italian restaurant)
Tel : +82.2.766.8771

You like Italian food, but Italian Italian. Neither "supersize-me" American Italian, nor "dripping kalguksu" Korean Italian. You like your pasta al dente, to feel some respect for ingredients. You want the closest thing to the real thing. And you are ready to pay for it.

This side of the Hangang, Rossini provides a quiet, not too trendy answer. Both central and remote, just a few blocks away from Anguk Station and from the hyper areas nearby (this is Gahoe-ro, but south of Bukchon-gil - right across the Constitutional Court).

Over several years I tried quite a few soups, pasta, lasagna, primi e secondi piatti, and deserts. I'd say that if they were a hitter, they'd bat a steady .300, but very steady : never below .295 and never over .305. Many hits, many runs, never a strike out... but only a few dingers, and never over the fence.

see other restaurants in Seoul and Korea.

Bongchu Jjimdak (Seoul)

Jongno-gu, Dongsung-dong 1-96, SEOUL, ROK
Bongchu Jjimdak, Dongsung-dong Branch / 봉추 찜닭 (restaurant)
Tel : +82.02.3676.6981‎

We're dealing here with a chain restaurant running many branches nationwide, including several in Jongno-gu and one on each side of Daehangno. This one, on the Western slope, must not be confused with the Daehangno branch (in Myeongnyun-dong 4-ga, 80-1). Not the East side kind of guy, I prefer to enjoy the charms of Ihwa-dong heights before their ineluctable renovation.

I once tried another Bongchu Jjimdak near Hongik University, but that one didn't taste as good. And the place was not as nice to sit and enjoy (zenish rustic chic in Dongsung - totally artificial but relaxing). I'll probably give a shot at the restaurant they have right behind Bosingak because of its exceptional view on the pavilion... and because I need to have a good joint at a walking distance.

I mean, a good Bongchu Jjimdak does taste good. Hot and spicy, granted, but yummily hot and spicy. This variety of Andong JJimdak (안동찜닭, or Andong Steamed Chicken, after the Andong city located in Gyeongsanbuk-do) is the only dish they serve, but if you have a problem with hot pepper, that's OK : you'll find legions of nice eateries in the area.

The rich and contrasted flavors come from a mix of subtle spices in the seasoning, strong dried pepper, and a not too pregnantly sweet soy sauce. Varied veggies and Chinese noodles provide comfort and harmony in a big dish simmering before your eyes. Dosage must be key : my Hongdae experience was dull because I couldn't feel the spices, and the dish tasted almost like a dakdoritang. It looked like one as well - probably a question of soy. In Dongsung-dong, the Jjimdak was drier and darker, and the spices and pepper gave it a very subtle, unique, yet somehow sichuanesque twist.

I'm drooling just thinking about it.

SM 2008

Obok Shikdang (Namhae)

Gyeongsangnam-do, Namhae-gun, Namhae-eup, ROK (NAMHAE, ROK)
Obok Shikdang / 오복식당 (restaurant)
Tel : +82.55.864.7265 (?)

Actually, I'm not sure for the phone number. I caught this one months later on the web, after browsing old pictures of that crushingly hot summer day in Namhae. The name of the restaurant appears in a corner, on the wrong side of the window. I remember putting it there on purpose, in case.

From the start, we landed in this Obok Shikdang by accident or, as it turned out, out of blind luck. Looking for a place to eat in Namhae's market, we went to the only one that accepted us that late in the afternoon.

And had the most exquisite haemul doenjang jjigae ever.

This was not your usual doenjang jjigae flavored with seafood but a completely new experience altogether. A variety of outsanding "banchan" (side dishes) confirmed this memorable lunch.

The old owner was embarrassingly kind enough to walk us back to the market... and even helped us get good quality anchovies (멸치) from a merchant who kept proposing junk for export.

Knock knock knockin' on Heaven's door...

SM 2008

Gwanghwamun Jip (Seoul)

You're looking for a great gimchi jjigae, and you don't mind eating in a crumbling brick house giving on a dark and dirty alleyway ?

That's perfectly OK, because you won't have to venture into dangerous territories : Gwanghwamun Jib lies only a few meters away from Gwanghwamun Station (exits 4 or 8 at Sejong Cultural Center, exit 7 if you prefer to come from the South), in a small path parallel to Gwanghwamun-gil. Maybe the equivalent of Pimatgol for Jongro : Gwanghwamun-gil used to be an important axis.

I don't know the name of this path but actually, it's less dark than it used to because many buildings have been destroyed in the area. Which means, unfortunately, that this old place may not survive for long. So don't waste any time, come push this sky blue painted door, and order the speciality. The stew uses more diverse ingredients than its rivals, and is served with fresh omelette.

Gwanghwamun Jip is a lively place with a special atmosphere. Maybe because gimchi jjigae is a special dish. Not glamour, but very popular and close to the heart.

Here, it's even closer to the heart of the city.


Gwanghwamun Jip / 광화문 집 (restaurant)
Dangju-dong 43, Jongno-gu, Seoul, ROK
Ttel. +82 2 739 7737.

Le Saint Ex (Seoul)

This is like teleportation : as soon as you push the door open, you're leaving Seoul for Paris. It's not the narrow world food street behind Itaewon's Hamilton Hotel you're feeling in your back, but some large, platanus dotted boulevard.

Just like in any Parisian bistro, you can enjoy a meal in a lively atmosphere (during rush hours, chances are several tables will speak French), or enjoy a coffee or tea while reading your paper on a quiet afternoon.

But unlike most Parisian bistros, Benjamin Joinau's Saint-Ex welcomes you with a collection of appetizing desserts right in front of the door. So even I, more the French cheese than the sweet tooth kind of guy, often end up inviting a cake or an ile flottante to have a chat with my café. After a full French meal.

Since Le Saint-Ex is also both un bar a vins and an exhibition space, epicureans can usually indulge with a perfect cultural alibi.

Merci Ben pour ce joli portail entre mes deux villes preferees.


Le Saint-Ex (restaurant)
119-28 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel : +82 2 795 2565.

Gongxi Myeongwan (Seoul)

I read many orthographs for this place (Gongximyeongwan, Gongxi Myonkwan, Kkongsimyongwan, Gongsi Myeongwan...) but settled for this one, in two words : the name sounds like "welcome to the noodle house" in a mix of Chinese (for the "gong xi" / welcome part) and Korean (for the "myeon gwan" / noodle fine restaurant half).

What matters, once more, is the food. And this one happens to be both fine and inexpensive. There's even a take-out booth on the first floor, so you can either pick-up a snack before strolling Myeongdong (their xiaolongbao / Shanghai dumplings are more than OK), or seat upstairs and overlook a small busy crossroads not far from the Chinese Embassy. The menu provides solutions for delicate palates, fire eaters, vegetarians, or "maneul maniacs" (ie garlic pork ribs).

Gongxi Myeongwan / 꽁시면관 (Chinese restaurant)
22-13, Chungmuro 1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel : +82.2.778.8863

SM 2008 / Seoul Village

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Namuga Ineun Jib (Seoul)

There's a tree in this house. That's the truth and the name of the restaurant located in the elbow of Gyeonghuigung-gil.

I wonder what will happen to this tree and this old wooden house - first half of the XXth century I guess, with something vaguely Western to it... In the green painted veranda, facing a small backyard and the said tree, you almost feel like in a countryside family home, maybe not far from the sea.

The restaurant will soon move to the building next door, more modern and functional, and it probably won't feel the same... but there's no reason why food should taste any worse a few meters down the street.

Because Namuga Itneun Jip proposes a fantastic experience for Korean food lovers, who will enjoy new flavors, with a focus on tofu and Gangwon-do food. And an incredible series of banchan, featuring a radish (무) to die for.

Namuga Itneun Jip / 나무가 있는 집 (restaurant)
1-209 Shinmunro 2-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel : +82.737.3888

SM 2008 / Seoul Village

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Cheonjin Poja (Seoul)

One of my favorite spots in Samcheong-dong ? Cheonjin Poja (천진포자 - or Tianjin Baozi / 天津包子).

Receipes may come from Tianjin, the founder came from Taiwan decades ago. Since she couldn't find any decent dumplings in Seoul she decided to make a job out of it.

The result is both good and cheap, which explains the success : an annex opened just meters away from the original place, and you often have to wait to get one of the happy few seats. But you never have to wait for too long : it doesn't take that much time to wolf down their treats.

The menu goes from 3 to 5,000 wons and includes 5 categories : noodles (chow mein, chow bing), fried flower bread, and dumplings : in soup (mandu guk), with meat (pork mandu), or with veggies (an amazing half open leek / buchu mandu).

Reaching this Shangri-la is quite easy. Take Gyoyuk-gil at Anguk Station (exit 3), that's the small street facing Ujeongguk-ro. You pass the schools and a few eateries and that's it, to your left, just before ArtSonje Center and Bukchon-gil.

Cheonjin Poja / 천진포자 (restaurant)
127 Sogyeok-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel : +82.2.739.6086

SM / Seoul Village 2008

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Friday, May 15, 2009


If Insa-dong changed dramatically over the past decades, Ssamziegil (쌈지길) clearly contributed as an instant hit.

March 2003 was the last time I had a yukgaejang in the restaurant that used to occupy this surprisingly empty and quiet space (just a few hanoks and trees surrounding an informal parking space) in the center of a reviving touristic hub.

When I saw the houses burnt down, my first reaction was to think : come on, this fire can't be accidental... that was the best spot available on Insadong-gil, and now they are free to build anything on it ! I braced myself for yet another art gallery quickly drawn by a bathroom designer.

When I first visited Ssamziegil in December 2004, I had a shock : hey, this is a modern style mini-Daehansan ! "Daehansan" was the knickname of a fictional landmark in a story I wrote (still now, yet to be completed) : in the new political capital of reunited Korea (on DMZ grounds), a central, cultural and monumental building-snape-shaped-street-hill covered with traditional style roofs hiding a vast indoor spherical space with a garden and village. Also knicknamed the Oriental Mont Saint Michel or The Giant Turd, Daehansan was the gift of a billionaire called Han to a city that lacked landmarks... a controversial and kistch utopia quickly adopted by the people as a central part of their lives.

A 4,000 square meter, 3 storey building covered with vegetation, Ssamziegil is basically a rectangular concrete street filled with shops, following a gentle slope up to Haneulmadang, a restaurant and terrace overlooking Insadong*, and with an underground gallery. This original boutique concept drew a clear and consistant editorial line : about 70 definitely "bobo" (bourgeois boheme) shops, restaurants or cafes, proposing Korean design, arts and crafts both traditional and modern (Anna Sui shop an exception, Ssamzie group being a partner of the brand).

Unlike Daehansan, which used to be criticized for circling around itself and lost memories, Ssamziegil is opened to its environment and its contemporaries, which makes it fun in any season. Brands come and go (ie SSBA opened an online store), and Ssamziegil established itself as a reference at the crossroads of Hongdae rebel spirit and Insadong tradition.

Ssamzie, the group behind the concept, acts a little bit like a galerist with promising talents, and also boasts Ssamzie Space more directly in the art field. They signed a MOU to open a similar Ssamziegil on Canal Walk, the original street-mall-canal concept in Songdo. A very smart choice to enliven that pivotal landmark : Canal Walk is meant to bring a very much needed disruption in that other (and much more famous) utopia.

* actually, this part of Insadong-gil is in Gwanhun-dong (38 Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu). Insa-dong includes the Southern part of the area, definitely not the nicest.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Korean Hotels Call For Help - The Fifth Star

I recently (and again) complained about the tragic lack of high end Korean restaurants in luxury hotels :

"Every 5 star hotel owned by a Korean chaebol should keep a top Korean
restaurant: that's a key element of the international image.
" (see "
Korean Cuisine Aiming At World's Top Five. China is watching" April 7th, 2009)

The JoongAng Daily just mentioned this issue*, pointing out the fact that only 4 of Seoul's 19 five-stars hosted Korean restaurants.

The newspaper even named names and quoted figures : good points for the Sheraton Walkerhill ("Ondal" restaurant, 40% of the turnover generated by foreigners.), the Lotte Hotel main ("Mungunghwa" - foreigners : 60%), or the Renaissance Seoul ("Sabiru")**... but poor score for the Westin Chosun and its peers, where you may enjoy some Korean food but not in a Korean restaurant. What to say of The Shilla ? Seoul's most prestigious hotel closed "Sorabol" a few years ago. Luckily enough, they at least maintained their fantastic sashimi master at Ariake.

I couldn't agree more with LEE Chun-sik (Sheraton) when he confirms this obvious fact : "Five-star hotels in any countries are responsible for preserving and developing local food and culture".

Why not strip of one star those who dare disagree ?

* "
Hotels ask for state help to start Korean eateries" (May 6th, 2009)
** I know, that's only 3 out of 4, but I'm too lazy to check and complete the list.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hi Seoul Festival 2009 - and beyond

When ? From May 2nd to May 10th
Where ? Five Royal Palaces, Seoul Plaza, Cheonggyecheon
What ? Concerts, exhibitions, food, performances
Questions ?

Among the good points for this edition :
- popular success : Seoulites of all Gus and nationalities, international tourists... a festive festival (even if interrupted by candle-light activists)
- organization (communication, information, staff...),
- better balance between major sites (ie Gyeonghuigung at last well exploited)
- international food festival (yum)

- weather...

Yet, there's still room for improvement :

* program : culturally less dense than previous editions. The Imperial exhibition in Deoksugung is almost embarrassing..., and Prada Transformer sums it up : a big void space inflated with hype. The event, already dilluted from once a year to once a season, suffered from the global crisis (only two editions for 2009 : Spring and Winter).

* f&b : visitors are invited to salivate at an exhibition on Korean food (Gyeonghuigung), but cannot taste any ! only refreshments available : permanent soda / coffee machines. you don't want palaces to be littered with used cups and napkins, but you must prepare something special. The international food festival is absolutely perfect, but lasts only one day.

* concept : some ingredients and key assets, but it looks as if the city struggles every season to market an event which needs to get its message clear and focus. "Spring", "May Palace", "Global Seoul"... many keywords splashed over billboards, many stimuli and operations, but the big picture remains blurred.

=> It's time to rebalance the festival, take some of the burden off the city's shoulders, and empower Seoul's citizens. After all, this used to be Seoul's Citizen Day. And beyond the city and its people, third parties must also gain visibility. Not just tourists but partners and special guests. You need a stronger concept because co-branding and partnerships can bloom only under a strong Seoul Festival umbrella.

=> Twice a year, Spring and Winter. One could prefer spring and autumn, the best seasons, when the city displays its marvels and gives its best shot for the World to see, but this is about the reality of a city and Seoul can be very cold. And furthermore, unlike in Paris, Seoul winters are very lively because Seoulites know how to cope with it and have great fun in spite of it.

=> The Soul of Seoul, at its very heart : the ancient city and its palaces host the party, but all gus play their part, and each district has a spot around Seoul Plaza, which then fully deserves its name. This is where Seoul meets, unites, shares. In all its diversity.

=> The city should focus on one question : what makes this Seoul Festival a special event everybody is waiting for months in advance ? It could be that special moment of the year when every citizen feels he or she really owns the heart of the city, when some rules change, when what uses to be closed is opened. The SFAC (Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture) obviously follows the right path, but could give more space to "citizen generated contents", beyond Cheonggyecheon. For instance, Seoulites could hold their own festival on a Sejongno closed to traffic : schools as well as individuals would expose their talents (stages for music, poetry, or dance, screens displaying movies and pictures...), and partners partly sponsor a selection of street as well as fine food...

Amsa-dong Prehistoric Settlement

During the neolitic age, people used to live in thatch roof mud huts by the Han river, facing Achasan, in what is now Amsa-dong, Gangdong-gu. They hunted, fished, and made potteries.

Compared to say Dordogne, where natural caves could preserve even more ancient traces of mankind, this site is very much exposed to natural elements. So it's a miracle that artifacts could be preserved. Actually, Amsa Prehistoric Settlement Site was uncovered following a flood (in 1925), and saved from destruction decades later, as an even more terrible catastrophe, urban redevelopment, claimed more land in the area.

The site is now a quiet park with a museum and huts for visitors to experience vintage, pre-apateu Seoul urbanism.

Amsa Prehistoric Settlement (암사선사유적지)
233 Seonsaro / 139-2 Amsa-dong, Gangdong-gu, Seoul, ROK 124-052
Tel : +82.2.3426-3857
website :

Seoul Village 2009

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