The streets of Yeouido in Seoul are lined with gingko trees and cherry trees. So in spring there’s a cherry blossom festival, but in autumn it’s the gingko tree’s turn to shine. I try to avoid stepping on the smelly gingko seeds though – It took me a while to realise that the strong smell of (what I thought was) sick was not caused by drunk salarymen, unable to hold their beer, but rather by these innocent looking gingko seeds. Oh the aromas of autumn.
The ground is still covered in gingkoes even after the local adjummas have been around with a plastic bag collecting the fallen seeds off the pavement to take home for dinner.
It was a glorious autumn day today so I strolled around Yeouido wanting to enjoy the last of the warm weather for this year. (that was partly the reason – and partly because the water in our apartment was off all day while the management sorted out the pipes – or something – so I couldn’t even flush the loo!)
The gingko fans are turning yellow now ready to flutter to the ground. I like this juxtaposition of old and new: Yeouido, the finance district of Seoul with its super-duper modern architecture, nestling in amongst avenues of gingko trees, the oldest trees on Earth.
I’ll call this the zig-zag building.
Having seen some rave reviews about the restaurant Congdu, specialising in Korean dishes with a modern twist, I booked a table there last weekend since I’m always on the hunt for restaurants that do great Korean food in a creative way.
Congdu is located behind Deoksugung Palace in a quiet atmospheric part of Seoul. And the restaurant has a calm and sophisticated feel too with candles and a minimalistic style in a natural toned colour scheme. The subtle dim lit restaurant was already half full with customers chatting in hushed voices when we arrived at 6pm and our expectations were high. There was a large a la carte menu to choose from with 3 set courses starting with the green menu at (I think it was) 58,000 won. We chose this menu. HOWEVER, the restaurant just didn’t live up to my expectations. Continue reading “Congdu Korean Restaurant Review” »
What could be better on a hot afternoon than a bowl of green tea pingsu – green tea flavoured shaved ice, sweet aduki bean paste, and rice cakes?
It’s still pretty hot – 27 degrees today – even though we are supposed to be in autumn. So we went to a cafe that specialises in pingsu to enjoy the cold dessert before the weather gets cold. Although it still feels hotter than a British summer, I know that winter will be here soon so this could be my last pingsu of the year!
The plastic display in the window of the cafe (below) presents what seem to be the two signature desserts of the cafe: green tea pingsu and original pingsu (served with condensed milk). The three bowls underneath are filled with raw aduki beans.
There are all kinds of bingsu available these days. Some are served with ice cream and fruit and cream and look like a fruit sundae. Anything can be added really – chocolate chips, marsh mallows … the list is endless.
Pingsu type desserts – shaved ice with fruit – have been available since the Joseon period (1392-1910). (Japanese kakigori is a very similar dessert.) Our pingsu was served in a traditional brass dish which made it feel more authentic.
We also ordered a kind of 떡 deok rice cake dessert which we were warned would take ’8 minutes’ to prepare. (the time given was very specific but I didn’t check if it actually did take exactly 8 minutes) Anyway, we agreed to wait the 8 minutes and were served this warm rice cake called injeolmi 인절미 made from glutinous rice and coated in bean flour topped with pin nuts, walnuts, almonds, jujube, and aduki. As always the dessert for two came on one plate with two forks. The warm and soft chewy rice was comforting and the toasted nuts on top gave a festive touch. Made me think it will soon be time to get the Christmas tree out!
hangeul screen in the Hangeul Museum, Jongno, Seoul
It’s Hangeul Day (October 9th) and a national holiday, so there are events going on around the city celebrating the creation of hangeul. We went into town a few years ago to watch the Hangul Day events. A lot of the action takes place near King Sejong’s statue and Gyeongbokgung Palace. It’s also a popular day to visit the Hangeul Museum.
Statue of King Sejong in Sejongno, Jongno, Seoul
I’m not a huge museum fan but the Hangeul Museum almost feels more like an art gallery than a museum. Even the furniture looks like hangeul!
The museum has a modern feel with its generally black and white colour scheme. Glass walls with hanguel painted on them separate the exhibition rooms. The glass walls together with the delicate lighting and silhouettes of other visitors add more layers to the exhibitions giving an arty atmosphere. I like it.
There’s a lot of information around the exhibitions about King Sejong’s reign and how and why Hangeul was created – King Sejong wanted a new and easy alphabet that anyone could learn to read quickly since at the time only scholars where given the time and education to learn the thousands of Chinese characters necessary to be literate.
The exhibition also houses some copies of rare early books of hangeul. This was the first book written in hangeul: Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven. (용비어천가 yongbieocheonga). It’s a collection of songs written by Confucian literati to celebrate the founding of the Joseon dynasty. The book was compiled during King Sejong’s reign. (1418-1450)
yongbieocheonga Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven – the first book written in hangeul
The Korean sageuk drama Deep Rooted Tree (2011)- the murder mystery set around the time that King Sejong and his team of scholars were working on creating hangeul – takes its title from the first words of this song (below) starting from the top right hand side of the page and written vertically in pre-modern Korean 불휘 기픈남ㄱ ㄴ (뿌리 깊은 나무 buri kipun namu, the tree with deep roots …) I suppose that is what the early Joseon leaders hoped that Joseon would become – a tree with deep roots that’s sturdy and strong.
Is it too extravagant to spend 2 million won on a Persian Rug? That’s what I was asking myself all weekend sitting in my rather bare apartment in Seoul.
We moved a couple of months ago – still in Seoul, just another location nearer the river. First of all we bought a new sofa. Bookshelves, tables, and sets of drawers have been acquired over the years with little fuss. But the floor situation has proved to be a lot more complicated. I’m glad that apartment floors in Korea are not wall-to-wall carpeted. I’m not keen on that. But with nothing on the floor the colour scheme has just got too ‘woody’ in here. We need more colours.
Another problem is that sitting on the floor at this time of year – autumn – is a bit cold without a cushion. We’re having a house warming party this weekend with the family and we will all be sitting on the floor around the table. The weather is still too warm for ondol (underfloor heating). But even if I wanted to turn on the ondol heating, I couldn’t as it is centrally controlled. (We live in an old apartment!) So all our guests will need something to sit on. And so far the options are 1) going for a traditional Korean ‘fancy mattress’, 2) sticking with the safe regular floor cushions – bangsuk, 3) splashing out on a Persian rug, or at the moment most likely option 4) getting nothing and simply making everyone put up with a cold bum.
A TRADITIONAL ‘FANCY MATTRESS’ 전통보료 jeon tong po ryu
This mattress set is on sale on the GMarket online shopping site for 900,000 won. Continue reading “A Korean Fancy Mattress, a Persian Rug, or a Cold Bum?” »
Shin Ramyun or Marmite? Which do you prefer for breakfast?
I was back in England over the summer holiday visiting my family. Over the years we’ve got a lot more adventurous with cooking. In the 70s and 80s we stuck to Scandinavian and British food. But these days the cupboards are filled with an assortment of ingredients from all over the world. And when I’m home we often make a Korean meal for dinner. But whilst exotic or spicy food is perfectly acceptable for dinner, BREAKFAST in our house HAS NOT CHANGED over the years. And I don’t think it ever will. There are some things in life that are so taken for granted, so obvious and natural, that we don’t even think about them. And when I was growing up the idea that cereal, toast with marmalade or Marmite, and bacon and eggs (on special occasions) were the only foods that any sane person should be eating for breakfast were, in my mind, FACTS. You can’t beat a thin (and I mean thin) layer of Marmite spread over a warm, buttery slice of toast.
But something must have changed. Because these days I sometimes wake up yearning for a bigger kick start to the day. I want something spicy. I want a packet of… yes, this is true… Shin Ramyun. Continue reading “Is it OK to eat 라면 Ramyun for Breakfast?” »
During his reign King Seonjo (1567-1608) had two Queens, 9 official concubines, and lots of children. But we only see three sons in the drama Jung Yi, Goddess of Fire (MBC 2013) - Gwang Hae who became the next king, his older brother, Im Hae, and his half-brother Sin Seong. The future of the three princes is uncertain at this point as the king refuses to choose who will be the next king. All three sons are born to concubines (Gwang Hae and Im Hae are sons of Gong Bin; Sin Seong is In Bin’s son) which is not ideal for a crown prince. As the oldest son, Im Hae feels that he is the obvious choice. But the drama suggests reasons why Prince Im Hae was never picked to be the future king.
Prince Im Hae (Lee Kwang Soo) Prince Gwang Hae (Lee Sang Yoon) Prince Sin Seong Continue reading “King Seonjo in the drama Jung Yi (2013) and why he chose Prince Gwang Hae to be the crown prince” »