20 May 2014

Seoul by findingmomo

5/11

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Annual pilgrimage to Vatos. Back in 2012 they were at a third of their current seating capacity and operating in a stacked shophouse style diner across the road from where they are now. We waited 1.5 hours for a table then.

Since they've opened a second outlet in Apgujeong the crowd at Itaewon is now manageable. The food here is as good as I remember it to be. Prices are steep - KRW9,000 for three tiny tacos, but it's hard to find quality Mexican food in Korea.

I return always for the kimchi carnitas fries. Every mouthful of cooked kimchi, tender pulled pork and crispy fries is pure heaven.

I didn't eat as much as I should have because I was feeling a little under the weather (that'll teach me to eat instant noodles at 3 a.m. and go to bed at 5 a.m.).

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I've been a reader of a baking-centered blog called Alien's Day Out for a while now. When I learnt a few months ago that its author, Mipa, had set up a little cafe called Plant in Itaewon, I made a mental note to visit the cafe the next time I was in Korea.

After we were done with lunch at Vatos we made our way across the road and through some winding alleys toward Plant. It turned out to be closed! The sign didn't say why, but we could guess from the mess in the shop that it was probably for renovations. Meh.

The quiet neighborhood made for some nice pictures nevertheless.

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Itaewon is not my favorite place in Seoul to hang out. It has a sizeable expatriate population due to its proximity to the U.S. army base, and it's for this reason perhaps that this area has a garish and somewhat seedy vibe. It is however flanked by two awesome stations, Noksapyeong and Hangangjin. So many great cafes and restaurants.

We headed down Itaewon road in the direction of Hannam-dong, which is served by Hangangjin station. It's about a 20 minute long stroll and the weather was starting to get uncomfortably warm, but there were many interesting sights along the way.

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As you can see, this cafe has an adorable interior. We tried sitting on the roof which has giant umbrellas and artificial carpet grass, but it got too hot so we moved to the second storey.

I also like that they have seasonal drinks on offer. Last year there was an iced strawberry latte that was awesome, and this year they have iced fruit teas.

It's not all perfect though. The cakes here are pretty but on the dry and crumbly side. To be honest they're quite unremarkable, and I wouldn't return for the cakes alone. Their wifi connection is patchy enough to be memorable as well.

In the late spring afternoons the windows on the second storey are left open and a lovely, cool breeze fills the room. I find myself drifting off to sleep.

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There's a glass building near Hangangjin station that houses an acclaimed bakery/cafe called Passion 5. They have a strict no-photo policy, which was the main reason why I ended up at Glamorous Penguin instead when I first visited them last year.

Charlotte got excited at the mention of famous bread, so we decided to buy some for our excursion out of Seoul the next day. The selection in there is mind-boggling, but to help you out the top 10 breads (by popularity) have signs next to them indicating their rank.

Took us a long time to find their number 1 item, which was the Green Olive Boomerang. It's hard not to giggle childishly when you're looking at what closely resembles a tray of little weenies.

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Because it was the number one ranked item and because we are Singaporeans, we had all bought a Green Olive Boomerang each in addition to an assortment of baked goodies.

Outside of Passion 5, we bit into the bread expectantly.

Uh. It literally was just very salty bread. At first we exchanged uncertain and incredulous looks, and once it was clear that we all hated it we started laughing uncontrollably. My stomach was hurting by the time we were done.

On the bright side we were across the road from Hangangjin Park, which was very pretty.

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Had rice cakes at Mukshidonna again, only this time we were at the original outlet in Samcheongdong. I swear I'll never tire of this.

Bonus took the form of a fine gyopo at the next table. The combination of a (hot) guy in a business shirt with rolled up sleeves cooking a rice cake stew is so... hot. Sorry, not sharing the pictures we took of him in secret. #creepers

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Walked slowly to the main drag of Samcheongdong. This area used to be the number one dating spot in Korea before tourists found out about it (oopz) and it's not hard to see why. Quaint little brick shophouses and tea cafes line the streets. If you're looking to buy trinkets there are a few shops selling really pretty ones, though for clothes you'd do far better at the university areas.

When we got tired - didn't take long - we sat down at a spanking new three-storey O'Sulloc outlet to have tea. We got a table overlooking the street so we could people watch.

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Later that evening we made our way back to Anguk station. By the high stone walls near the entrance to Samcheongdong there was a man who was playing the guitar and singing Coldplay songs in a gentle, haunting voice. His face was partially obscured by the darkness and the whole scene had a mesmerizing quality to it. We sat on a bench nearby and listened to him in silence.

It's when you find yourself in situations like these that repressed emotions tend to surface. Sad how you have to struggle for so long to bottle your feelings up yet all it takes is a trigger, something entirely outside your control, for everything to escape. I couldn't help but feel a twinge of longing for things to be different.

Video here: instagram.com/p/oObDWJoVR_/?modal=true