It was obvious upon arrival in Seoul that food and drink would play a major part in our 48-hour whirlwind trip. So, I aimlessly tried to document all of the local specialties. The thing that first struck me upon arriving downtown was the sheer amount of coffee shops. I’m used to coffee shops on every block in DC, but this put the district to serious shame. Not only were coffee shops located one right next to the other, but they were open 24 hours and patrons were sipping happily at 11pm.

Similar to most of Asia, there were lots of snack stalls around. The vendors in the Hongik University area were mostly selling different types of omelet-style foods that consisted of various vegetables and meats fried together with egg. Our first night we tried a “Japanese pancake” that was really dough covered in mayonnaise, A-1 sauce and some type of paper-thin seafood topping. I found it pretty disgusting, but was hungry enough to take a few bites. After the meal, David was happy to visit his first Taco Bell in quite a while.

In the tourist spots like the DMZ and Insadong we found rare delicacies like fried fish skin pancakes and corn on a stick, and on quite a few occasions we saw vats of steaming bugs that looked like mini silk worms and conch shells. The DMZ shops were also packed with their own unique goods like beer from North Korea, chocolate-covered soy beans (loved these) and a porridge mixture that soldiers would often eat for their daily dose of heartiness.

The food at the HeySoul Festival was awesome. About 50 vendors representing different countries sold everything from baklava to tacos. My favorites were the El Salvadorian fried bananas and Paraguayan ceviche.

On many streets we were delighted by Turkish ice cream vendors, who used their sticky ice cream to play tricks with customers. Kids especially got a kick out of their act, which included jokes centered around making the ice cream “disappear” by skillfully using a long metal pole and some quick hands. There were vendors who steamed dough in deep vats, and others who sang clever songs as they wound long strands of thin sugar into candy.

We ate traditional Korean BBQ, which consists of frying lots of ingredients on a cast-iron pan in the middle of the table. The dish often includes really thick noodles, veggies and meat, and everything is cooked in a reddish, sweet, bbq-like sauce.

We also had a lunch of Bibimbap at an authentic Korean restaurant where we sat on the floor and ordered one of three options. The food wasn’t anything special, (Kimchi with noodles, miso soup, an egg, vegetables and rice, servied in a cast-iron bowl) but the ambience was nice and quaint.

Despite the fact that there’s a good amount of variety in Korean food, I didn’t necessarily love any of it. My favorite meals were the International food at the HeySoul festival and an Indian-Nepalese feast we ate in a fabulously adorned basement restaurant after meeting up with another former Tangshan English teacher.

I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of great, unique teas in Seoul as well. I sampled the naturally sweet, “Sweet Dew” and paid a small fortunate in Insadong to take some home. It tastes like honey and is just amazing! I also bought a brown rice and green tea mixture, and sampled another to-die-for iced cinnamon tea from the Bizeun rice treats shop in the airport on the way home.

We also ran into some local celebrities on our last night in Hongjik. First up was the huge dog that has accompanied his cotton-candy selling owner for years, and is a laid back component to this buzzing university bar area. We were also beckoned by the comical calls of the local traveling rice-wine salesman, so we sampled his goods and took some hilarious photos.

We didn’t have time to stop at a “Cat Café” on this trip, but were sufficiently amused at the trend of having cafes full of friendly cats to play with while sipping a drink! It’s actually a great idea, as most of these cats were abandoned and now have loving patrons who are constantly visiting. Perhaps next time!

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