If you fancy an afternoon of extreme contrast in Seoul then Jongno is a good place to go. I spent an hour or so wandering around the futuristic Dongdaemun Design Park (which only opened last year) followed by an oyster and rice soup lunch in a tiny alleyway restaurant just up the road in one of the oldest parts of the city…
My favourite architecture in Seoul still has to be The Seoul Art Centre near Nambu Bus Terminal. I love the subtle design with its nod to Korean history nestling into the mountain behind it.
But the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (which stands in place of the old baseball stadium in Dongdaemun) is growing on me too. This is a far more modern design and in a more urban setting. The last time I visited the Dongdaemun Design Park was in April last year when it had just opened and the weather was warm. Today it was chilly and the silvery shades of the spaceship-like design were almost getting lost in the white winter sky.
And this time I entered from the subway station (Dongdaemun Culture Park line 2 or 5). I think this is the best way to experience the design for maximum impact. Because as soon as you go up the steps from the subway station you are in the heart of the Design Plaza. And greeted with a background of atmospheric new age music. I just stood here for a while taking in the ‘vibes’.
I didn’t go into any of the exhibitions this time. But that’s the beauty of the Design Plaza – just wandering around the outside (for free 😉 ) feels like walking around an art exhibition. I really appreciate the attention to negative space in the design. Like this …
Eventually I happened to find myself in the visitors’ break room where several people were chilling in the seats provided. (Actually I only saw legs, as the chairs are facing away from the door. But I assume the legs were attached to people with bodies and everything) And a lady was playing the piano in the middle of the room. She played magnificently but I wonder if it was an impromptu performance. (It looks like the piano is there for anyone to play)
I like this huddle of whispering chairs. They’re almost romantic. The attention to detail in the design of the interior and exterior is one of the pleasures to savour while strolling around the Design Park.
The choice of such a futuristic design for the DDP is interesting as the Dongdaemun area itself is such an old part of the city. Old markets and shops are nearby. Kwangjang Market and Bangsan Market (aka Baking Street) are a short walk from here.
So after wandering around the DDP I walked over to an oyster restaurant called 남해 굴국밥 (nam-he gul-guk-bap) near Jongno 5 ga station that was featured in the newspaper. I’m always on the lookout for new places to eat and since winter is Oyster Season I have to fill my boots before it’s too late. 😉 The little alleys around Jongo are full of restaurants many of which have been around for a long time.
And it’s down this rather adorable little alleyway that I found the restaurant I was looking for. I planned to have the gul-guk-bap which I assume is the signature dish of the restaurant as this is also the name of the restaurant! Gul (oyster) guk (soup) bap (rice)
But the restaurant serves other dishes with oysters such as 순두부 sundubu (soft tofu and oysters in a spicy soup served with rice) and 생굴무침 seng gul muchim (raw oyster salad in a spicy sauce) 매생이국 mesengi guk (fine seaweed soup with oysters) and 굴파전 gul-pa-cheon (savoury oyster pancake).
They do some meat dishes too such as 돼지굴보쌈 tweiji gul bossam (pork and raw oysters served with various leaves to wrap them with a dipping sauce). The customers on the next table to me ordered pork which they grilled at the table. So I wouldn’t recommend this restaurant to anyone who objects to a very ‘porky’ and smoky aroma in the room. 😕
For some reason I felt too embarrassed to order a bottle of soju 😳 (since I was alone. and I am a lady. 😉 ) so I ordered a bottle of beer instead! Which of course is much better (?) I later regretted this as beer is too filling and the rice soup is filling too.
While I was waiting for my food I took in the interior decor including these advertising posters on the refrigerators. I think they are advertising soju. I knew I should have had the soju! 😉
Then came the 4 side dishes. New kimchi, mung beans with sesame oil and salt, radish kimchi, and seaweed with sesame oil. All good. Tasty but not too salty.
Apparently the owners of the restaurant have fresh oysters delivered from the coastal town of Tongyeong in the south of Korea every day. So the freshness of the oysters is guaranteed. The soup arrived at my table almost boiling over.
The dish includes chives, tofu, oysters and of course rice with an egg that cooks itself in the boiling rich oystery broth. It’s not a spicy dish and the panchan isn’t spicy either. I enjoyed it. It tasted very healthy. But I wouldn’t have minded a couple of chillies with it or at least one really spicy side dish. But that’s just me. I love chillies.