Past and present share space in Jeong-dong
[Trendy eats]
July 06, 2011
 
   

There is an ominous urban legend among Seoulites that says that if a couple takes a stroll along the alleys surrounding Deoksu Palace in Jeong-dong, they will soon part ways. For people like Jang Ami however, a Seoul native who owns a cafe in the area, the story is nothing but a silly myth from days gone by. More than that, however, is that the area’s many charms outweigh the outside possibility of a bad breakup.

“The area has so much to offer, from historic buildings to lovely alleys lined with lush ginkgo trees – there is this mystical vibe in Jeong-dong that you can’t find anywhere else in Seoul,” she said.

Located in central Seoul’s Jung District, the area is full of history, with Deoksu Palace representing the Joseon era and some of Korea’s first modern schools and churches symbolizing the country’s drive toward modernization. And today, a string of contemporary museums, intimate galleries and lively theaters thread their way through the tree-lined streets.

This atmosphere is what draws visitors like Park Min-a, a twenty-something student who says she is weary of the hustle and bustle of more commercialized areas.

“When I walk along the serene cobblestone alleyways, a rare find in central Seoul, I can escape from all the anxieties that urban life throws at me,” Park said.

Along with the scenic backdrop, however, it is the area’s cafes and restaurants that keep the 25-year-old coming back.

A favorite destination for many Jeong-dong visitors is Daddy and Me, a take-out coffeehouse just south of Deoksu Palace. As its name indicates, it is a family business owned by Jang Ami and her father.

“Jeong-dong used to be my favorite place for a date, and that’s what compelled me to open the cafe here four years ago,” Jang said.

Since then, the cafe has won a steady stream of customers for its signature iced chocolate drink topped with vanilla ice cream as well as the desserts that are handmade by Jang, who once pursued a career as a chocolatier.

About a block west of Daddy and Me is Cafe Pine Tree. This cafe is popular for its free English classes, which are sponsored by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Winglish institute. The environment was created to facilitate language study and only English is allowed within the cafe’s walls.

For the spendy romantic in you, the area also offers upscale, open-terrace restaurants like Giljy and Urban Garden.

At Giljy, which is located inside Jeong-dong Theater, guests can savor Italian dishes while watching a short preview of the Korean musical “Miso” from the terrace, which overlooks the picturesque Chungdong First Methodist Church and Ewha Girls’ High School, Korea’s first educational institute for women.

Giljy specializes in Italian dishes made with organic ingredients and the most popular is the Aragosta pasta, topped with lobster tail.

At Urban Garden, visitors enjoy barbecue and beer on a rooftop terrace designed by landscape architect and owner, Han Sun-a.

“I wanted to create an eco-friendly space for visitors to escape from the concrete jungle once in a while,” Han said.

Its garden barbecue – which includes beef, pork, chicken, scallops, prawns and sausages – has been the best-selling item. Han said the veggies and herbs grown in the garden are used in most of the restaurant’s dishes.

Meanwhile, restaurants like Ahaabah-Braka and Deoksujung cater to visitors longing for something familiar.

Ahaabah-Braka is actually two restaurants in one. Ahaabah serves Italian dishes and at Braka, diners take a trip back in time to taste dishes that were popular way back when.

Owner Yoon Woo-sik said Braka was inspired by 70s eateries specializing in donkkaseu, deep-fried pork cutlet, and omurice, a fusion dish made with an omelet and fried rice. None of the dishes on the menu are made with salt and the donkkaseu is grilled rather than fried.

Adjacent to Ahaabah-Braka is Deoksujung, which serves up hanjeongsik, or full-course Korean meals. Opened 44 years ago, it prides itself as being one of the oldest dining establishments in Jeong-dong.

All the dishes are prepared by Lee Hwa-ja, who said the menu hasn’t changed since the restaurant opened. Maybe that’s why regular customers have been returning for decades.

“I’ve served a lot of hungry students from Ewha Girls’ High School,” Lee said. “Most of my regulars today include Ewha alumni who are returning for a piece of their past.”

She said that Deoksujung was initially run by both herself and her mother-in-law, a renowned cook from North Korea who passed her recipes on to Lee.

Noodles have become a specialty in Jeong-dong thanks to two local restaurants.

Jang Ho-sik, owner of Yoorim Noodles says that the secret to their success is that the buckwheat is brought in from Bongpyeong, Gangwon, which is renowned for the product. Bibim maemil, which is a cold dish of buckwheat noodles with chili paste and fresh vegetables, is the best-selling dish, especially in the summer.

Jeong-dong Noodles is the place to go to eat like a yangban, or Korea’s bourgeoisie. The restaurant follows traditional preparation methods and the broth is made by boiling beef leg bones for 15 hours to give it a rich taste. The most popular items are the homemade kalguksu (wheat noodles) and mandu (dumplings).

“Jeong-dong is a cultural area where you drink and eat great food, contemplate the stories of Victorian missionaries, stroll beneath kindly trees and venture into the grounds of an historic palace,” said Michael Gibb, a Hong Kong-based writer and author of “A Slow Walk through Jeong-dong.”

“Even after ten years, not even the most unscrupulous property developer or government official would green light its destruction, as killing Jeong-dong is like killing off the heart of Seoul.”

 
  Urban Garden / Daddy and Me

Urban Garden

True to its name, the terrace of this Italian restaurant could be mistaken for a lush garden with its forest of green. It was created by owner and landscape architect Han Sun-a. The serene atmosphere is complimented by tempting dishes like the garden barbecue, offering a choice of chicken, beef or pork.

Dishes range from 8,000 won ($7.50) to 60,000 won.
Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily excluding holidays
(02) 777-2254, http://www.urbangarden.co.kr

Daddy and Me

As its name indicates, this small take-out cafe is a family business and all drinks and desserts are made by Jang Ami, a former chocolatier. The best sellers are the iced chocolate topped with vanilla ice cream and the bottled cream pudding.

Drinks range from 1,500 won to 3,500 won.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday. Closed weekends.
(070) 8237-7094

 
  Giljy / Yoorim Noodles

Giljy

If you’re here at the right time, you might catch a preview of the Korean musical “Miso” in the courtyard below the terrace. The menu features a range of Italian dishes. Finish the meal with seasonal beverages such as the paprika lassi (Indian style yogurt-based drink) and nanaccino (banana latte).

Dishes range from 8,000 won to 37,000 won. Beverages range from 5,000 won to 7,000 won.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
(02) 319-7083, http://www.giljy.com

Yoorim Noodles

With its secret recipe for rich, extra chewy buckwheat noodles, Yoorim Noodles has enticed a steady stream of regulars since it opened 36 years ago.

Prices range from 7,000 won to 8,000 won.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
(02) 755-0659

 
  Jeongdong Noodles / Ahaabah-Braka

Jeongdong Noodles

This joint serves noodles the old fashioned way. The top sellers are the kalguksu (noodles), mandu (dumplings) and kongguksu (cold bean soup).

Prices range from 6,000 won to 24,000 won.
Lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner is from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
(02) 732-0114

Ahaabah-Braka

This two-in-one restaurant has Italian cuisine at Ahaabah and Korean classics such as donkkaseu (deep-fried pork cutlet) and omurice (omelet and fried rice) at Braka. None of the dishes are made with salt, lending the food a unique flavor.

Prices range from 6,900 won to 39,000 won.
Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
(02) 753-7003, http://www.ahaabah-braka.co.kr

 
  Deoksujung / Cafe Pine Tree

Deoksujung

The alumni of high schools in the area have been coming to Deoksujung for years to reminisce on the past. Since it opened, the menu hasn’t changed one bit. The favorite dish here is budae jjigae, a spicy concoction known as army base stew because it was created by soldiers with surplus food from U.S. Army bases.

Prices range from 5,000 won to 20,000 won.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
(02) 755-0180, itvplus.co.kr/home5/deoksu

Cafe Pine Tree

This cafe is known for its free English lessons and high quality coffee. The beans and brewing method is a secret but the java served here is said to be some of the best in the nation. The coffee is made by two professional baristas from the Korea Barista Association.

Drinks range from 1,700 won to 3,600 won.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
(02) 6361-3977

*Reporting by Cho Jae-eun, Chang Hae-won and Junghee Lee.
By Special Reporting Team [esyle@joongang.co.kr

Indie spirit lives on in Hongdae’s cafes and clubs – INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily.

 

Indie spirit lives on in Hongdae’s cafes and clubs
[Trendy eats]
May 25, 2011
Hongdae Donburi / Sangsang Madang Cafe

There is no shortage of places catering to chic trendsetters looking for luxury and glamour, but young, adventurous types seeking a raw slice of urban life still head out to the area near Hongik University in western Seoul. Despite a recent explosion of upmarket shops, the neighborhood’s indie spirit lives on in live music venues, underground clubs and chill cafes built on a foundation of artistic souls who have migrated here since the 1990s.

One die-hard fan of the area, known as Hongdae, is Kim Bo-reum, a 20-something who regularly spends her free time here shopping at the famous weekend flea market or having a drink with friends at an outdoor bar while watching a performance out on the street.

“Southern Seoul is high-end and ritzy and that’s nice, but Hongdae is the only place in Seoul to see outlandish fashion and wild expressions of individualism,” said Kim.

Located in Mapo District in western Seoul, and stretching from Seogyo-dong to Dongyo-dong, the area around Hongik University, which is famous for its prestigious art department, has long had a reputation as the mecca of underground club culture.

“It was the presence of Hongdae’s art students that first gave the area its artsy feel,” said Lee Geun-young a realtor at Woori Real Estate Agency near Hongik University.

According to Kim Master, an indie musician who has performed in area clubs since 2002, the quirky bars and quaint coffeehouses that now line the streets all have a singular artistic quality because of the independent artists who began calling the area home in the early 1990s.

“Thanks to the cheap rent back then, even artists from Daehangno started moving into the unique ateliers of Hongdae, which they’d later transform into intimate cafes or live music venues,” said Kim.

Today, the area boasts more than 40 underground clubs and cultural venues with shows by over 500 new indie bands a year and enjoys a reputation as the city’s prime spot for Korea’s first generation of indie musicians.

Another Hongdae-area regular is Lee Mee-so, a 23-year-old university student and an ardent art fan who can be found in Hongdae on most days of the week.

One of Lee’s favorite places is Cafe Art, ETC, a small gallery-cum-coffeehouse that exhibits works by up-and-coming local artists.

Owned by illustrator Kim Nam, who has been an active artist since 1998, the cafe aims to be a small, alternative space for local artists to showcase their works. Another similar establishment in the area, Cafe Hibi, is owned by photographer Park Kyung-ho. The cafe, whose name is Japanese for “day by day,” exhibits works by fledgling photographers.

“As an amateur photographer myself, I wanted to provide a place for young photographers to display their works where visitors could hang out,” said Park, who studied photography in Japan for three years.

He said that the time he spent in Japan inspired him to open the cafe, which is covered with magazines and trinkets he brought from that country.

Adjacent to Cafe Hibi is the underground bar Gopchang Jeongol, a throwback to the neighborhood’s old-school rock and roll charm.

Founded 10 years ago, Gopchang Jeongol is modeled after a vintage Korean dabang, or coffeehouse, and is decorated with Jung’s record collection, which numbers in the thousands. A D.J. at the bar plays Korean music from the ’70s and ’80s according to customer request.

Jung Won-young, the owner, opened the bar to give older customers a chance to reminisce about the past while also introducing younger ones to old school Korean music.

“Unexpectedly, more European expats come here nowadays,” said Jung. “They love Korean folk rock and the vintage feel.”

For light-pocketed 20-somethings looking for wine, the cafe located in Sangsang Madang, an 11-story complex with a gallery, gift shop, music venue and movie theater, is a good option. The sixth-floor cafe becomes a wine bar every week on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Hongdae’s other landmarks include its collection of underground clubs and live music venues, including Spot, which gave rise to indie rock bands like Crying Nut, No Brain.

At Spot, a small club with space for up to 40 people, music fans queue up every weekend to watch rookie indie bands strut their stuff.

Adding to the vibrant atmosphere are the area’s late-night eateries, where on most nights, you are likely to bump into a group of musicians who have just finished a set. These shops are sometimes so busy that patrons stand in long queues for the scrumptious dishes on offer.

The iconic Jopok Tteokbokki used to be a cart at a prime intersection but got so busy it had to move to its current location in a shop across the way. And at Hongdae Donburi which specializes in donburi, a Japanese rice-bowl dish, the wait is up to 30 minutes most weekends.

“Hongdae has become the epitome of youth subculture where diverse forms of art are appreciated by young people who have formed their own independent community here,” said Choi Ha-na, who works at Sangsang Madang. “Although it has become more commercial in recent years, I believe that youth culture will continue here because of the deep rooted history of the many young artists the area has produced.”

Hongdae Donburi 

This basement restaurant with space for 20 is easy to spot because of the long line outside. With hundreds of customers a day, people often wait for more than 30 minutes to eat. The best seller is the katsudon bento, which is 9,500 won ($8.70).

Lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner is 5 to 9:30 p.m.
366-18 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, (02) 3141-8398

Sangsang Madang Cafe

This cafe on the sixth floor of Sangsang Madang, a cultural complex, is famous for its wine bar that opens on Mondays and Tuesdays. The wine bar is 10,000 won per person. Side dishes are 9,800 won to 15,000 won.

Hours are 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sundays to Thursdays and 12 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
367-5 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu
(02) 330-6232, http://www.sangsangmadang.com

Jopok Tteokbokki / Cafe Art, ETC

Jopok Tteokbokki

Classic snacks such as tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), sundae (pig intestines) and tempura keep this renowned shop busy from the moment it opens. The line to order is often so long that customers are told to get a table first. Yoon Tae-myung, named best tteokbokki chef by SBS, opened the shop in 1966. Prices range from 2,000 won to 5,000 won.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 a.m.
407-21 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu
(02) 337-9933

Cafe Art, ETC 

Owned by artist and poet Kim Nam, this cafe and gallery is a gathering place for artists, where conversations about art flow as freely as the coffee. The most popular item is the fresh lemonade and focaccia chicken breast sandwich.

Drinks range from 4,000 won to 9,000 won. Sandwich sets range from 13,000 won to 15,000 won.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesdays to Sundays.
121-180 Dangin-Dong, Mapo-gu
(02) 3142-1429, http://www.artetc.org

Spot / Cafe Ohoo

Spot 

This club has been promoting bands since 2005. Second Saturdays each month are popular because from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. drinks are unlimited for 15,000 won. Concert tickets range from 12,000 won to 30,000 won. Hours vary, but are usually 7:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays.

358-34 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu
(02) 322-5956 or 010-8955-7957 for English (Yang Jung-ah)
http://cafe.daum.net/clubspot

Cafe Ohoo 

With a large feather painting and photos on the walls, Ohoo feels like an art gallery, and artists display their works upon request. The affogato is the most popular dessert but side dishes like salmon salad and honey cinnamon toast are also available. Drinks start at 4,000 won and side dishes range from 4,000 won to 15,000 won.

Hours are 12 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays to Thursdays and 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
121-836 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu
(02) 335-7730, http://cafe.naver.com/cafeohoo

Gopchang Jeongol / Cafe Hibi

Gopchang Jeongol

This bar plays vintage records and offers Korean drinks such as makgeolli, or unrefined rice wine, and side dishes. Drinks start at 4,000 won and side dishes are 13,000 won to 15,000 won.

Hours are 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. on weekdays and 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Saturdays.
327-17, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu
(02) 3143-2284

Cafe Hibi 

This Japanese cafe and gallery is owned by chef Park Kyung-ho, who brought his secret curry recipe to Korea from Japan. Drinks start from 4,000 won and meal sets range from 12,000 won to 15,000 won. Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It’s closed every first Tuesday of the month.

337-1 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu
(02) 337-1029
http://blog.naver.com/cafehibi

*Reporting by Cho Jae-eun, Chang Hae-won and Junghee Lee.

By Special Reporting Team [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

Slippery, slimy salve for a holiday hangover – INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily.

Slippery, slimy salve for a holiday hangover
[FOOD & KOREA] Gomchiguk, Samcheok, Gangwon
December 09, 2010
Gomchiguk (moray eel soup) Provided by the Korea Tourism Organization

During the winter months, when the numerous year-end parties often result in seemingly incurable hangovers, Koreans resort to one of the classic hangover soups – gomchiguk, or moray eel soup.

The fish was first found in Korea about 50 years ago in the East Sea. The fish was about 1 meter (3.28 feet) long, and it was very plump and dark-colored, which reminded fishermen of a bear. So they named the fish “gomchi,” which means “like a bear” in Korean.

Gomchi wasn’t used as an ingredient for cooking until recently.

In the past, fishermen would throw the fish back into the water as soon as they were brought ashore because of their gruesome appearance and slimy skin. Gomchi was considered a useless, inedible fish – until fishermen started making soup with it.

For many fishermen, who constantly wrestle with the ocean waves, alcohol often helps keep them warm. So the fishermen would cook soup with the leftover gomchi that they didn’t sell to ease their hangovers after a night of drinking. Once boiled, the slimy skin of the fish makes the broth of the soup smooth, which is said to calm an upset stomach.

It was not long before word about the soup’s ability to ease hangovers got around.

Although its appearance is ugly and dull, gomchi is used in steamed dishes, broth and even as sliced raw fish fillet.

The recipe for gomchiguk varies from region to region, but one of the most famous places for the soup is Samcheok, Gangwon.

Samcheok gomchiguk is cooked with thoroughly fermented kimchi and has a spicy and refreshing taste.

The freshness of the fish is another bonus. Samcheok, which is located on the East Sea, offers fresh fish caught by fishermen daily.

The Sajik Bungae market is one of the most popular dawn markets that sells fresh fish caught in the neighboring harbor and Jeongra Port for a relatively low price. It is called the Bungae (“lightning”) market because it opens and closes like lightning, or from before 6 a.m. to about 9 a.m. The market is located in Sajik-dong, Samcheok.

By Junghee Lee Contributing writer [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

Amuse-bouches in Seoul’s French Quarter – INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily.

Amuse-bouches in Seoul’s French Quarter
[Trendy eats]
April 27, 2011

Seorae Village’s claim to fame is a bit out of the ordinary, to put it mildly.

According to Lim Young-ja, owner of the restaurant La Popolarita, the area – in Banpo-dong, southern Seoul – had been a well-kept secret until a horrific murder of twin infants by their French parents in 2006.

“Ironically enough, with the sudden media attention on the neighborhood, a few French bistros [on Seorae Village’s main street] turned the area into a hip ‘it’ place for Seoulites, and it has grown considerably in size ever since,” Lim said.

In the midst of the tragedy five years ago, the area started gaining recognition as Seoul’s French Quarter. Today, over 40 restaurants, wineries and cafes stand along its main street.

Long before then, however, Seorae Village had steadily been evolving as a place for quality cuisine.

Park Jin, a realtor at Daesung agency, which has been in the village for 22 years, says that French expats started flocking to Seorae Village two decades ago, when major French businesses opened branches in Korea. A big group of French expats residing in Seorae Village at the time were employed by TGV and helped set up the KTX high-speed train service in Korea.

“The French school [Lycee Francais de Seoul] that moved to Seorae-ro in 1985 enticed more French expats to come here,” Park said.

According to experts in the area, this expat community, with its posh European villas and access to the nearby national library, also helped bring wealthy Koreans to the area.

These days, the area is popular with trendy Seoulites in their 20s and 30s looking for European-style restaurants, brunch places or dessert cafes with a laid-back atmosphere.

Kim Ji-min, a self-proclaimed Francophile from Seocho-dong, says that it is this international feel that has brought her to Seorae Village again and again.

“Watching French families casually strolling along a sidewalk patterned after the French flag, right here in Seoul, was a unique experience for me,” said Kim, who first visited two years ago.

One of Kim’s favorite restaurants is La Popolarita, which specializes in both French and Italian cuisine.

Opened in 1996, La Popolarita is owned by Lim Young-ja and her husband. The restaurant prides itself as being one of the oldest establishments in an area where fledgling eateries come and go quickly, many within one or two years.

Lim says all the pizzas she serves are made in the restaurant and that she uses chlorella (a kind of algae) dough.

“Believe it or not, I have known some of my customers for over ten years,” Lim said.

If La Popularita is a reminder of Seorae Village’s past, restaurants like July aim for a more contemporary clientele by serving modern French cuisine with a twist.

The restaurant, which opened in 2007, is currently run by owner and chef Se Deok-oh, who says he studied French cooking in New York for two years. Se’s creation “Foie gras two ways,” made with Jeju orange chocolate sauce, became an instant hit among regulars

“My regulars come here to taste dishes they can’t find anywhere else,” said Se.

With Seorae Village increasingly attracting younger visitors, the area has seen a handful of brunch cafes open in recent years, including Cafe Haru, Kitchen Flo and Stove.

Cafe Haru, near the Seoul Palace Hotel, serves up a continental-style weekend brunch. During the summer months, the restaurant’s terrace seats are coveted by visitors and its open-air design is reminiscent of Europe.

“I figured that opening a brunch cafe similar to the ones in Europe would be a pleasant surprise for the European expat population here,” said Hyun Hae, one of the three sisters who manages the cafe.

Along with brunch cafes, the area’s wineries have become some of the most popular in southern Seoul among twentysomethings – contrary to the initial predictions of Choi Hun, the owner of wine bar Tour De Vin.

“When we first opened [in 1999] wine was quite expensive in Korea, so most of our customers were in their 30s and 40s,” said Choi. “Since wine has become more accessible to the general public in recent years, our customer base has expanded to include people in their mid-20s.”

Choi is also the founder of the Korean Academy of Wine, a private institution that trains sommeliers. Hence, all of Tour De Vin’s employees are either sommeliers who have graduated from the academy or are students there.

Another wine bar in the area, WineNara, has made a name for itself with major wine sales in April and December. During sales, wine is offered at discounts of up to 90 percent.

At Italian restaurant and wine bar Arte, customers can enjoy Mediterranean-style pasta and pizza with a glass of wine on an open patio with persimmon and pine trees.

In addition to the area’s wineries and restaurants, authentic European patisseries, such as L’Ecole Douce and its sister store Hotel Douce, have been a draw for visitors.

According to the owner, Jung Hong-yeon, the former head chef at Rihga Royal Hotel Tokyo’s bakery, L’Ecole Douce is a baking academy and cafe, teaching students how to bake over 120 classic French desserts.

“Since all of our staff speak fluent French and English, our academy has had a lot of French students,” said Jung.

Hotel Douce, located down the block from L’Ecole Douce, sells classic French desserts baked in the academy.

The newly opened patisserie Comme de Patisserie might be small in size, with space for only two tables, but its French pastries, including grapefruit tarts and green pea chiffon cakes, have paved the way to success for its owner.

“Seorae Village used to be a chiefly residential neighborhood where only a few office workers stopped by to dine or have an espresso. But it has become rather overcrowded,” said Kim Suk-kyu, who was an employee at the Seoul Palace Hotel for 12 years. “Still, I believe that it won’t morph into one of those commercialized areas like Samcheong-dong or Insa-dong as long as the French residents are here.”

Arte / La Popolarita

Arte 

Opened in 2007, Arte offers delectable Italian dishes, including Napoli style brick-oven pizza and Gorgonzola spaghetti, at affordable prices. Customers can eat inside or opt for a seat on the patio, draped in lush persimmon and pine trees.

Lunch sets are priced from 19,000 won ($17.54) to 30,000 won while a la carte dishes range from 5,000 won to 42,000 won.

Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily.
105-12 Seocho District, Banpo-dong
(02) 532-0990

La Popolarita 

With its oak furniture and homey atmosphere, this French-Italian restaurant prides itself on its seven types of pizza and 16 pasta dishes. Its specialty is escargot.

Lunch sets are 19,000 won, and dinner sets range from 38,000 won to 79,000 won.

Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily.
96-1 Seocho District, Banpo-dong
(02) 593-2340, blog.naver.com/popolarita

Comme de Patisserie / WineNara

Comme de Patisserie

Inspired by renowned Japanese patisserie Lilien Berg, this congenial patisserie is bathed in vibrant reds and blues and is managed by two patissiers who studied in France and Japan. It offers baked goods from croissants and baguettes to fruit tarts and quiche.

Prices range from 1,700 won to 6,000 won.

Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays.
170-88 Seocho District, Banpo-dong
(02) 594-4211

WineNara

WineNara holds promotional events from April to December with discounts of up to 80 or 90 percent. The interior of the adjacent wine bar has the feel of a European merchant shop from the 1800s.

Wine starts at 20,000 won, and appetizers range from 13,000 won to 25,000 won.

Store hours are 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily, and wine bar hours are 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.
92-12 Seocho District, Banpo-dong
(02) 592-9035, http://www.winenara.com

Cafe Haru / Tour du Vin

Cafe Haru 

This European cafe becomes an open-air cafe in the spring. It is known for its global brunch sets: American (pancakes and sausage), English (eggs, bacon and toast) and Belgian (waffles and sausage).

Brunch sets are 14,000 won to 15,000 won.

Hours are 10 a.m. to midnight daily.
74-11 Seocho District, Banpo-dong
(02) 534-7972

Tour du Vin

Owned by Choi Hun, who is also the founder of the Korean Academy of Wines, Tour du Vin employs a team of sommeliers who will gladly recommend one of the more than 400 wines on the menu.

Wine prices range from 30,000 won to 40,000 won. Appetizers range from 9,000 won to 36,000 won.

Hours are 12 p.m. to 1 a.m. from Mondays to Saturdays.
96-7 Seocho District, Banpo-dong
(02) 595-1846, http://blog.naver.com/tourduvin

July / L’Ecole Douce and Hotel Douce

July 

Opened in 2007, July features modern French cuisine and original dishes created by owner and chef Se Deuk-oh. One of his best-selling creations, “Foie gras two ways,” is made with Jeju orange chocolate sauce.

Lunch sets range from 23,000 won to 60,000 won and dinner sets range from 65,000 won to 85,000 won.

Lunch is from 12 to 2 p.m., and dinner is from 6 to 10 p.m. daily.
577-20 Seocho District, Banpo-dong
(02) 534-9544~5, http://www.julyrestaurant.org

L’Ecole Douce and Hotel Douce 

L’Ecole Douce offers over 120 classic French desserts. Hotel Douce sells desserts baked at the school. Prices range from 1,000 won to 40,000 won.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.
104-1 Seocho District, Banpo-dong
(02) 6084-5705, http://www.lecole-douce.co.kr

*Reporting by Cho Jae-eun, Junghee Lee, Chang Hae-won.

By Special Reporting Team [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

Daehangno: Tasty food with a touch of art – INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily.

Daehangno: Tasty food with a touch of art
[Trendy Eats]
January 27, 2011
Illustration by Park Jae-won

It’s an area in Seoul that historically has a unique, off-beat – if a bit faded – appeal. A neighborhood in western Seoul known as Arko Town in Daehangno, embraces 16 universities and stands for what youth is all about.

“What makes Daehangno unique is its unbounded sense of liberty, which other areas cannot emulate,” said Jeong Ju-ri, a 21-year-old woman with braids like Pippi Longstocking.

And Jeong is not biased; the area has more than 130 theaters and performing art centers in every nook and cranny, oozing ardent spirit.

But there is something else that distinguishes this area.

Daehangno cafes, restaurants and bars are making themselves distinctive by adding an artistic personality to their business.

“The future of eateries here lies in specialization with a unique concept,” said Song Yeon-sang of the Neighbor Daehangno real estate agency.

In the 1960s and 70s, the area was the heart of the resistance movement against the military dictatorship, where writers gathered to share their views. In the 70s, when the government even cracked down on men’s hair length and women’s skirts, Daehangno served as a way out for the young, who sang for the zeitgeist of the times with an acoustic guitar. During the 80s, it was the stage for a plethora of Korean rock bands that emulated Led Zeppelin.

“Until the mid-90s, Daehangno experienced its heyday,” said Song. “It is true that the buzz has quieted down.”

But what might have saved the area is the fact that it has also long been known as a mecca of performing arts.

“People come [to Daehangno] because they know that it is a home for clowns and theater folk,” said Kim Cheol-min, a red-haired, maverick comedian who gives performances in front of the Arko Arts Theater, the bedrock of the neighborhood that opened in 1981 and provides the area’s namesake.

And now, restaurants are relying on Daehangno’s unique atmosphere to help revitalize the area, some holding onto a long tradition of offering food amid street theater, with others coming into the scene with fresh, new ideas.

A few dabang, or Korean coffeehouses, remain as relics of the past. One is Hakrim coffee shop, a stubborn establishment that still operates the same way it did in 1956 when it opened.

“Time cannot be deliberately forged,” said Lee Chung-yeol, owner of Hakrim coffee.

The sky is the limit in the art world and with this concept in mind, creativity was the basis for the birth of some out-of-the-ordinary restaurants.

There are cafes called Planting Trees in the Moon and B2 Project. Both are gallery cafes where customers can view an art exhibition while sipping an espresso or splurging on a Belgian waffle.

“The purpose is for people to look at art and have a discussion about it together like an art club,” said Kim Jung-hee, owner of Planting Trees in the Moon.

B2 Project, opened in October 2009, is a multiple-use space of design and art, accommodating a gallery in the basement, a cafe on the first floor and an art studio on the second. Every three to five months, the gallery offers a new art exhibit featuring a budding artist. The purpose of the gallery, director Byun Jae-hee says, is “to promote and support new amateur artists who have talent by introducing their work to the customers visiting the cafe.”

GinoVino is a wine bar extraordinaire. The owner, Kim Jin-ho, designs and manufactures furniture. At this newly launched bar, which opened about a month ago, Kim’s works are displayed for anyone to purchase if they wish. Visitors can also find a table that Kim made as a first assignment for renowned architect Seung Hyo-sang.

For art buffs, there is art-book cafe called Taschen Classic 1812. The cafe’s close relationship with German art publisher Taschen means it can hang a tile photo of Marilyn Monroe on the wall and display Taschen books all over the cafe. Lee Sang-man, the president of Taschen, started the cafe to promote modern art and music. Taschen Classic 1812 also offers live classical performances by Korean professionals.

If the four cafes above captivate the eyes, Suda cafe uses the sense of touch. It is a felt-art cafe. The entire interior is designed with felt, even down to the tables.

“My goal is to expose felt art to Korea and make it the next art industry boom,” said Kim Yu-jeong, owner of the cafe.

There are also other places that allow people to use their sense of hearing. In a crowded field of standard Italian fare, Di Matteo mixes things up for food from the Mediterranean country. Pizza is cooked in a brick oven, and the restaurant performs a play every Wednesday and Friday on their theater stage.

Jazz Story offers three live jazz performances every evening, and while you might think the place looks like a junk house – complete with a bicycle hanging from the ceiling. But owner Im Ae-gyun likes this, taking unwanted and recycled items and decorating the place with them. And once the moon rises and the jazz band starts playing, customers start tapping their feet and swaying to the beat. A regular customer, Lee J.H., who works for the Seoul Theater Association, said, “The facilities here may not be the best in the nation, but you can feel an irreplaceable artistic soul.”

Eateries in Daehangno may not be palatable to those of high-brow tastes. Rather, its culture is more experimental and kitsch. But for those who dare to enjoy the experimental spirit of art, the cultural sphere offers a plethora of spectacles that incorporate art not under the sway of pure commercialism.

“Even ‘fresh-comers’ soon become fascinated by the charms once they visit,” said the comedian Kim.

Uncle Dollsye’s / Doenjang Art

Uncle Dollsye’s

This kitschy artistic-looking restaurant decorated with cartoonish pictures is a hip place among those in their teens and 20s. Uncle Dollsye’s is also famous for its cheese tteokbokki and pizza.

Cheese tteokbokki costs 6,500 won ($6). Pizza ranges from 11,000 to 16,500 won.

Dollsye’s set menu includes cheese tteokbokki, an omelette and desert, and costs 13,900 won.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday to Saturday.
Myungryun 4-ga, Jongno-gu, 23
(02) 765-7399

Doenjang Art

This restaurant specializes in kang doenjang (bean paste) and makes bibim doenjang (mixed doenjang) that is less salty but still has a tangy spicy taste.

Prices range from 8,000 won to 45,000 won. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. from Monday to Sunday. Myungryun 4-ga, Jongno-gu, 103-8, (02) 745-4516

Jeon Gwang-su Coffee House / Hakrim, since 1956

Jeon Gwang-su Coffee House

Run by students of the Jeon Gwang-su coffee academy. Jeon learned how to make coffee from a Salvadorian.

Coffee prices range from 3,500 won to 6,500 won. Hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Monday to Sunday.

Myungryun 4-ga, Jongno-gu
(02) 3672-0233
http://www.jeonscoffee.co.kr

Hakrim, since 1956

This landmark cafe opened in front of Seoul National University College of Liberal Arts in 1956 and houses more than a thousand LP records. Coffee price ranges from 4,500 won to 7,000 won. Homemade cheesecake is 5,000 won.

Hours are Monday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Myungryun-dong, Jongro-gu, 94-2
(02)742-2877
http://www.hakrim.pe.kr

Taschen Classic 1812 (left) / Planting Trees in the Moon / Suda

Taschen Classic 1812

Taschen Classic 1812 is a huge two-story art-book cafe where customers can enjoy live music performances while munching on food and sipping wine.

The Taschen chicken sandwich is 8,000 won. Dinner prices range from 15,000 won to 35,000 won. Coffee prices range from 5,000 won to 6,000 won.

Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. from Tuesday to Sunday.
Dongsung-dong, Jongno-gu, 1-81
(02) 3673-4115 http://www.taschencafe.com/book_taschen

Planting Trees in the Moon

This unique cafe offers art exhibitions and even works that people can purchase, all while enjoying coffee and dessert.

Coffee prices ranges from 4,000 won to 6,500 won.

Hours are 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. from Monday to Friday and 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the weekends
Dongsung-dong, Jongro-gu, 128-5
02) 763-1204, http://blog.daum.net/dalna

Suda

Enjoy coffee, tea or wine in this felt-art studio and cafe. Felt-art lessons are 50,000 won per session for anyone interested in learning the craft. The instructor, who learned about felt art in England, is also Suda cafe’s owner.

Drink prices range from 4,500 won to 5,500 won.

Hours are 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday
Dongsung-dong, Jongno-gu, 128-12
(02) 762-7565, http://www.cafesuda.com

B2 Project / GinoVino (left) / Jazz Story (right)

B2 Project

B2 Project has a basement art gallery, first-floor cafe and a space for artists to rent out on the second floor. The cafe has tasty Belgian waffles at prices ranging from 9,000 won to 17,000 won for a set.

Drink prices range from 4,500 won to 7,000 won.

Hours are 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. from. Tuesday to Sunday
Dongsung-dong, Jongno-gu, 130 1-1
(02) 747-5435
http://www.b2project.co.kr

GinoVino

A wine bar with furniture for sale, GinoVino’s unusual juxtaposition actually creates quite a good combination with a touch of chic and a cozy atmosphere. The owner, Kim Jin-ho, designs and manufactures furniture. Wine prices range from 30,000 won to 300,000 won a bottle. A glass of house wine costs 7,000 won. Hours for the furniture display are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the bar is open from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.

Dongsung-dong, Jongno-gu, 1-152
(02) 765-2660

Jazz Story

Jazz Story’s house band, No Name Band, performs live every night.

Cocktail prices ranges from 9,000 won to 11,000 won. Beer is available from 7,000 won to 15,000 won. The performance is 5,000 won. Hours are 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. from Monday to Sunday

Daehakro 12-gil 86, Jongno-gu
(02) 747-6537, http://www.jazzstory.co.kr

By Yoo Sun-young, Lee Jung-hee [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

Entertainer breaks awards record with KBS award – INSIDE JoongAng Daily.

Entertainer breaks awards record with KBS award
[TALK OF THE TOWN]
December 28, 2010

Lee Kyung Kyu, 51, of the “A Man’s Worth” segment of “Happy Sunday,” won the 2010 KBS Entertainment Award on Saturday to break the Korean record for the most television awards won in a career.

Lee won seven awards from KBS, MBC and SBS and broke comedian Yoo Jae-suk’s record of six awards.

Lee debuted in 1981 on KBS’s “Gag Concert” but became famous in the 1990s as an M.C. on MBC’s “Hidden Camera.”

By Lee Jung-hee Contributing writer

JYP Entertainment becomes J. Tune’s biggest shareholder – INSIDE JoongAng Daily.

JYP Entertainment becomes J. Tune’s biggest shareholder
[TALK OF THE TOWN]
December 30, 2010

Rain and Park Jin-young are back in business again.

Rain’s official Web site said Tuesday that JYP Entertainment, which is run by Park Jin-young, has become the largest shareholder in J. Tune Entertainment, Rain’s entertainment company.

Rain got his start with JYP Entertainment but left the company in 2007 to start J. Tune. “I’m not affiliated with JYP Entertainment,” Rain said, adding that the agreement represents a strategic alliance between the two companies. “Also I’m only an entertainer affiliated with J. Tune Entertainment and don’t have any authority over the company nor do I have shares in it.”

Rain, whose real name is Jung Ji-hoon, added that he felt obligated to work with Park before he starts his mandatory military service because Park helped him become famous.

Rain was recently quoted in a local newspaper saying he would start his military service next year.

By Junghee Lee Contributing writer

Ssamziegil brings spark to Insa-dong streets – INSIDE JoongAng Daily.

 

Miss Lee Cafe

After Ssamziegil opened in the middle of Insa-dong in 2004, the area was never the same. The quirky four-story complex, complete with a spiral staircase, brought an edgy, youthful energy to the tourist-heavy neighborhood. But in contrast to the traditional teahouses, temple food restaurants and souvenir shops in the neighborhood, Ssamziegil, and the area around it, offers a fresh alternative for tourists and Koreans alike. It contains more than 70 shops offering everything from whimsical handicrafts made by young designers to vintage clothing and souvenirs. There is also a handful of galleries with works by emerging artists and a variety of restaurants.

Ssamziegil’s identity stems from Ssamzie Co. Ltd., the company that opened the complex to support young, talented Korean artists. Although Ssamziegil declared bankruptcy this year and was bought by Eunsan Group, Ssamzie Co. paved the way for Korea’s subculture through various cultural programs on top of its main fashion business.

One of the main projects that Ssamzie created is the annual Ssamzie Sound Festival, now in its 11th year, which brings together local indie musicians to perform.

Ssamziegil carries on the spirit of the music festival by giving selected up-and-coming designers space to open shops within the complex.

“We can’t dwell on the past. We have to hold on to the traditional values while following the current flow in the art industry,” said Jung Jae-ho, vice president of Eunsan Group, which now owns Ssamziegil. “We want Ssamziegil to continue to be a bridge between the past and present. To do that, we have to support new artists.”

The restaurants and shops in the alleyways around Ssamziegil cater to this alternative, youthful spirit yet add their own individual touches.

Two establishments that bridge the neighborhood’s traditional and modern elements are Caring Ms. Hyun-ja and Miss Lee Cafe, which are both located near the complex.

Stepping into Caring Ms. Hyun-ja is like traveling back in time to 1960s or 1970s Korea. The restaurant, complete with vintage fonts on the menu and period furniture, serves popular Korean dishes like kimchi stew and potato pancakes in a retro-chic atmosphere.

Miss Lee Cafe, which is down the street from Caring Ms. Hyun-ja, echoes the cafe’s retro vibe in its decor, which is punctuated with kitschy, vintage furniture, a Bruce Lee poster and a paper map for Korean dice games that used to be popular with children in the 1980s.

“The restaurant has things that I haven’t seen in years, like the Wonder Woman poster,” said Bu Si, a trading company employer who was dining there.

For those looking to experience traditional Korean cuisine, the area near Ssamziegil is also home to restaurants that serve classic dishes including temple food.

One of these is Sanchon, which has been making Korean temple food for visitors for the past 13 years. The restaurant’s set menus are served with namul (assorted seasoned vegetables) and japchae (a mixture of glass noodles, vegetables and sliced beef or pork), which are essential to temple cuisine.

“What shocked me was the flavoring of each of the namul dishes, which all looked the same but had different colors and textures,” said Heather Spence, a tourist from England visiting the neighborhood.

Restaurant Yeojaman, another establishment near Ssamziegil, offers a dish that is rare in Seoul. Its signature dish of kkomak (clams), cooked South Jeolla-style, draws numerous customers to the restaurant every day. Yeojaman is the name of a gulf in South Jeolla.

The restaurant’s owner, Lee Mi-rye, was a film director in the 1980s. She said that back then she had many business meetings in Seoul but couldn’t find the right place to meet clients because she was unimpressed with the food. That inspired her to open Yeojaman.

Restaurants in the area near Ssamziegil also specialize in other traditional Korean foods, including the now globally popular bibimbap, or rice with mixed vegetables. Gogung, another restaurant in the neighborhood, cooks the dish in the traditional way. Its main branch is located in Jeonju, North Jeolla, which is famous for Jeonju bibimbap.

“Customers can ask and learn about the history of bibimbap from our employees because they have all been trained to know the information,” said Nam Sun-mi, the manager of Gogung in Insa-dong. “This allows customers to learn about the culture of bibimbap while enjoying the dish.”

Reflecting the mixture of tradition and modernity that coexist in the area, the alleys near Ssamziegil also contain two fusion Italian restaurants.

The Italian restaurant Ahndamiro, housed in a four-story wooden building, has been in the area for six years.

“Many people ask why we decided to open in Insa-dong instead of in places like Gangnam or Apgujeong [where there is a larger market for Italian cuisine] but we feel special in Insa-dong,” said Teddy Kim, the manager.

Farther down from Ahndamiro is Apple Tree, whose exterior looks like a residential home. Inside, however, the place is an Italian pub with a cocktail bar in the back, three kegs of draft beer in the corners, and a rack of wine bottles on the wall. Here, the definition of fusion takes on a whole new meaning. The dishes are based on Korean cuisine, but with a Western twist. Its chicken dalbap, or cooked chicken wings, is served with apple sauce and potatoes.

The area in the vicinity of Ssamziegil often plays host to a variety of street performances.

But none is quite like the one at Kkul Tare, where young men in chef outfits make kkul tare, a traditional Korean court cake, in an improvised performance for the crowds of visitors who gather in front of the shop. They turn white dough into silky strands of candy-like cake while entertaining audiences with a song – sung alternately in Korean, Japanese and English – that tells the history of the cake and how it’s made.

The lively spirit of Ssamziegil and the restaurants around it has not only infused the streets and alleyways with a mixture of traditional and modern values, it has also inspired local residents to take a new interest in the area.

“Only in Insa-dong can you see unique venues like Miss Lee Cafe, where you can eat a lunch that comes in a metal lunchbox circa 1960s Korea,” said Kim So-yeon, an employee at City Hall, who was visiting the neighborhood.

Miss Lee Cafe

This cafe has the feel of a coffee house from the 1960s and 1970s. The menu is also a tribute to that time with a lunch special that is served in a traditional metal lunchbox like the ones children used to carry to school. The lunchbox comes with rice, a fried egg, sausages and fried kimchee sprinkled with roasted seaweed and sesame seeds.

The lunch box is 5,000 won.
Hours are Monday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 11p.m.
Gwanhun-dong Jongno-gu 144-2nd floor
(02)739-0939, http://www.missleecafe.com

Apple Tree / Caring Ms. Hyun-ja

Apple Tree

Apple Tree is an Italian-Korean fusion restaurant whose most popular menu item is dalbap (cooked chicken wings with apple sauce and potatoes).

But the main attraction here is the courtyard, which has wooden tables and two bare trees, now decorated with a string of paper apples.

Prices range from 6,500 won to 23,000 won. Hours are Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Gwanhun-dong Jongro-gu 84-5
(02)722-5051

Caring Ms. Hyun-ja

A handwritten menu and hwatu (go) cards numbering the tables decorate this restaurant, where the specialty is grilled mackerel.

Set menus are priced at 45,000 won, a la carte items range from 5,000 won to 20,000 won. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Gwanhun-dong Jongno-gu 110-330
(02)725-7360

Sanchon

Sanchon

Sanchon is located down a narrow alleyway in Insa-dong, but don’t let that scare you away. The Korean temple cuisine featured is delicious. There is a performance of traditional Korean dance during dinner at 8 p.m.

The lunch set is 22,000 won, and the dinner set is 39,000 won.
Hours are 12 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Sunday.
Gwanhun-dong Jongno District 14
(02) 735-0312, http://www.sanchon.com

Gogung / Yeojaman /Ahndamiro

Gogung

This restaurant makes its specialty known with an oversized bowl of bibimbap (mixed rice) placed right in front of the entrance. The menu features seven different types of bibimbap, including Jeonju bibimbap, its most famous.

Bibimbap is priced at 8,000 won to 15,000 won.
Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Sunday.
Gwanhun-dong Jongno District 38
(02) 736-3211, http://www.gogung.co.kr

Yeojaman

This restaurant is legendary for its South Jeolla-style kkomak (clams) and other dishes from the region that are hard to find in Seoul. Owner and film director Lee Mi-rae (of 1991’s “This is the Beginning of Love”) opened the restaurant as a space for meetings and also to showcase South Jeolla cuisine.

The restaurant’s name means “women only” in Korean, but is also the name of a gulf in South Jeolla.

Prices range from 7,000 won to 30,000 won.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday to Sunday.
Gwanhun-dong Jongno District 1-1
(02) 725-9829

Ahndamiro

This restaurant shines with silver decorations and butterfly figurines scattered throughout. The third floor terrace is closed in the winter, but it’s a good spot for people-watching in the warmer months. The fusion menu includes shrimp and spinach linguine and grilled lamb ribs with rosemary sauce.

Lunch prices range from 32,500 won to 58,500 won; dinner prices range from 37,500 won to 50,000 won.
Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. Monday to Sunday. Gwanhun-dong Jongno District 15-2
(02) 730-5777, http://www.ahndamiro.com

By Junghee Lee [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

Comme des Garcons Street: Rising star in Hannam-dong – INSIDE JoongAng Daily.

Comme des Garcons Street: Rising star in Hannam-dong
[Trendy eats]
December 02, 2010
Illustration by Park Jae-won

Over the years, Itaewon has undergone an eyebrow-raising transformation from a seedy, unsafe neighborhood to become one of the main hangouts in Seoul. The trendy restaurants, swanky bars and high-end boutiques that have opened there during the last decade have elevated its status and made it fashionable.

And the opening of the local flagship store of Japanese luxury brand Comme des Garcons in August has given the area an even more elegant atmosphere.

Often referred to as “Comme des Garcons Street,” the area stretches out in a 700-meter radius from the headquarters of Cheil Worldwide, one of Korea’s biggest advertising and marketing companies, and extends to Hangangjin Station on subway line No. 6.

The buzz about the street started with a simple rumor, according to Michelle Shim, director of Global Real Estate, a local realtor.

“As a small number of wealthy folks started buying out property three years ago, there was talk that the neighborhood would soon blossom into the next Garosugil [a trendy street in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul],” Shim said. “The rumor started to be true when high-end shops such as Andre Kim Jewelry and others moved in two years ago.”

The real commotion began with the opening of the Comme des Garcons store, which has since become a neighborhood landmark.

Shin Min, the brand manager for Comme des Garcons, said they chose the neighborhood because of its reputation for culture and for its high concentration of foreign residents.

“This place has a different atmosphere than even the most luxurious parts of southern Seoul,” Shin said. “With the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, along with the large number of foreign residents, we thought Hannam-dong would become an attractive and unique multicultural zone.”

Itaewon and the adjacent Hannam-dong neighborhoods are indeed home to a lively mix of cultures, with an abundant number of Indian, Thai and Middle Eastern restaurants serving an equally diverse population.

Restaurants like The Spice, established by world-renowned chef Edward Kwon, and Passion 5, a five-story dessert cafe established by SPC Group, owner of bakery giant Paris Croissant, helped create the trendy vibe that now characterizes the street.

“I chose this spot because of the large number of tourists who come here, and I also wanted to be a pioneer in making the area a new hot spot for restaurants,” Spice owner Kwon said.

And he’s succeeded, according to Kim Sun-hee, 35, a furniture designer and frequent visitor to the street.

“I first came here because my friends said Passion 5 is a must-visit place,” she said. “I have to admit, the street is really worth checking out because there is so much variety.”

A few doors down from Comme des Garcons is a vintage pub called Virgin.“We combined the idea of a bar and a contemporary art museum to create a cultural entity that is unique to Virgin,” said Kang Yoe-wool, Virgin’s creative director. “We hope to contribute to the eclectic atmosphere of art and fine dining the area projects.”

The bar serves beer and liquor from Belgium and the Netherlands and is decorated with contemporary art pieces created especially for the bar by three Dutch artists.

Another new spot is Nishiki, an izakaya with a very different look from other Japanese-style pubs in the area.

“With a large selection of sake and udon recreated for the fine dining experience, we are targeting sophisticated people that know good food and drink,” said Pyo Jung-min, the owner of Nishiki. “A lot of our regulars are in the higher part of the social stratum and I believe that is because of our modern take on the traditional izakaya, which is too boisterous for some.”

Some restaurants are turning heads with their experimental menus. Kyotofu, a dessert parlor that uses tofu as its key ingredient, is one of them.

“Our target customers were Korean women in their late 20s to 30s because this is the first time Korea has had a tofu dessert,” said Kim Chan-hee, the associate manager. “But now we have a wide variety of customers including expats, tourists and people who work in the area.”

With so many new restaurants, the competition is stiff, but that doesn’t faze Seong Hyeon-mo, the manager of the cafe Coco Bruni.

“Although there is a lot of competition in this area, we are confident about our coffee,” Seong said. “And I think we are doing alright because we have about 300 customers a day.”

Smaller restaurants like B_Kitchen, which opened in April, survive by offering original and creative menus.

“Since we are an organic bistro, our menu changes every season,” said Kim Tae-sung, the manager.

Many visitors are glad that the street is still somewhat undiscovered, which has helped restaurants and cafes retain their distinct character, but they are happy for the variety.

“I’m glad more restaurants are opening in this area because there was once a limited number of places serving lunch,” said Kim Tae-hyun, 33, an employee at Cheil Worldwide. “But now it’s more diverse,”

By Hannah Kim, Junghee Lee Contributing writers [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

Virgin / The Spice

Virgin

This pub has the ambience of a rustic European cafe. Inside, each area has something special – from the centerpieces on the tables to the sculptures hanging from the ceiling. The works are all one-of-a-kind pieces made especially for the pub by Dutch and Belgian artists.

The food and drinks are in sync with the unique atmosphere. The Dutch and Belgian beers and liquor served here cannot be found anywhere else in Korea. Also, all 13 dishes on the menu were created by Chef Im Gi-hak, the head chef at the French bistro L’Espoir in Cheongdam-dong.

Beer prices range from 11,000 ($9.56) to 15,000, and liquor is 8,000 won to 22,000 per shot. Entrees range from 24,000 won to 52,000 won.

The restaurant is open Sundays to Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Fridays to Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

739-6 Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 790-1471

The Spice

Edward Kwon, the former head chef at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, creates a casual dining experience in the European style – all for an affordable price. The menu changes every three months.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and on Sundays. On Fridays and Saturdays, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to midnight.

729-45 Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 749-2596

B_Kitchen

With the lego figure standing guard in front of the white A-frame exterior and the long, narrow lane leading to the entrance, getting to B_Kitchen feels like a trip down a secret passageway. The bistro serves a fusion of organic Italian and Korean food with a menu that changes by the season. B_Kitchen’s menus are devised by owner Yoo Ehwa, who worked in collaboration with an Italian chef.

Prices range from 20,000 to 30,000 won for prix fixe lunch and from 18,000 to 30,000 won for prix fixe dinner. A la carte options are also available for lunch and dinner. Hours are Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and from 6 to 10 p.m. for dinner. On Saturday, lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and dinner is 6 to 9:30 p.m. Valet parking available.

739-4 Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 3445-4511

Kyotofu / Passion 5

Kyotofu

Kyotofu is a modern dessert cafe and restaurant where the main ingredient is tofu. But with its purple, blue and red lights glowing on the wall, the interior looks less like a dessert cafe and more like a hip Japanese bar.

Its name has two meanings. “Kyo” means today in Japanese, so in one sense Kyotofu means “today’s tofu.” Kyoto is also where Kyotofu gets its tofu.

The top sellers are the Signature Sweet Tofu and Yuja Tofu Cheese Tarts. Both are made daily with fresh tofu. The Signature Sweet Tofu is a tasty blend of tofu with a side of organic kuro syrup, which is made from sugarcane extract.

Dessert prices range from 9,000 won to 15,000 won, and entrees range from 20,000 won to 30,000 won.

Hours are Mondays to Thursdays from 8:30 to 12 a.m., Fridays from 8:30 to 12:30 a.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 to 12:30 a.m.

682-1 1F Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 749-1488

Passion 5

With various desserts from macaroons to simple apple pie, Passion 5 has all the desserts that you are craving.

On the outside, a grand chandelier hangs in the middle of a tall building that looks like a key.

Inside, there are five floors of sweetness.

The first floor houses a cafe, the second is a bakery, the third is a patisserie and the fourth is a chocolatier.

Passion 5 is an affiliate of SPC Group, which owns Paris Croissant and other bakery brands.

Prices range from 5,000 to 30,000 won. Hours are Mondays to Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

729-74 Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 2071-9505

Coco Bruni

With a patio and take-out window out front, Coco Bruni looks like an American pub. But it is actually a cafe. Coco Bruni specializes in coffee and has a menu of cakes to match. It also offers a selection of breakfast sets and sandwiches.

The best-sellers are the Sweet Potato Tart with an Americano and the Choco Tart with Espresso. Other popular items include the Omelet Brunch Set – with French toast, bacon and a vegetable mozzarella cheese omelet – and the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, which is made with tender chicken and vegetables on Ciabatta.

Prices range from 4,000 won to 10,000 won. Hours are Sundays to Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 9 to 12 a.m. Valet parking available.

140-892 Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, (02) 790-187

A lively twist on a classic folktale – INSIDE JoongAng Daily.

A lively twist on a classic folktale
‘This story is like a Korean ‘Romeo and Juliet’ because everyone grew up hearing it.’
November 29, 2010
 
  The fool Ondal, second from left, and Princess Pyeonggang, march together in a new version of the musical “Princess Pyeonggang and the Fool Ondal” by MBC Madang Nori. The production celebrates MBC Madang Nori’s 30th anniversary and takes place at Jangchung Gymnasium in central Seoul.Provided by MBC Madang Nori

Galileo once said, “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him discover it in himself.” The quotation could be the moral of the beloved Korean folktale “Princess Pyeonggang and the Fool Ondal.”

You can see this story brought to life at Jangchung Gymnasium, where it is being presented to celebrate the 30th anniversary of MBC’s Madang Nori.

A “madang nori” is a musical in the traditional Korean style, in which the performers sing and act while interacting with the audience. Audience members participate in the show by clapping to the beat, singing along and sometimes even going on stage. According to MBC producer Oh Jae-min, MBC created its version of Madang Nori in 1981 to help keep Korean traditional performing arts alive.

They chose to recreate Pyeonggang and the Fool Ondal for their anniversary because they thought it would have a broad appeal.

“This story is like a Korean ‘Romeo and Juliet’ because everyone grew up hearing it,” Oh said. “Usually, only people from the ages of 40 to 60 like Madang Nori, but we wanted to attract the younger generation as well because it is part of our culture.”

Princess Pyeonggang and the Fool Ondal is a traditional love story that takes place during the Goguryeo Dynasty (37 B.C. ? 668).

The story starts with a beautiful princess named Pyeonggang who cries all the time. To try to get the princess to stop crying, the king tells her that he will marry her off to the fool Ondal if she doesn’t stop. The king isn’t serious about the threat but the princess takes him at his word and leaves the kingdom to marry Ondal. To her surprise, she discovers that Ondal is actually not a fool and she decides to help him become a skilled warrior. One day, Goguryeo’s enemies attack and Ondal leads his village into battle and wins. Through this, the king acknowledges Ondal as his son-in-law and takes his daughter back into the kingdom.

Although this version is based on the original story, the MBC version contains a few hilarious plot twists that keep the audience laughing.

In one scene, Pyeonggang hires the narrator to train Ondal as a soldier. The narrator has Ondal carry out four tasks: do push-ups, carry a tombstone, chop a piece of wood in half with his bare hands and learn how to use a sword. Unfortunately, Ondal is much better at the tasks than the narrator is.

When I first stepped foot into Jangchung Gymnasium, it didn’t feel like I’d come to watch a musical. It felt more like storytime at a library, where the librarian reads a book in the middle of the room and the children gather around her. In the gymnasium, there are chairs surrounding the stage in a circle and the cast performs in the middle. This setup helps the performers interact with the audience.

In one scene, Pyeonggang’s stepmother talks about how much she wants her good-for-nothing son to be king and asked a woman in the audience, “Isn’t your son like mine?” The woman answered as if on cue, “Nope. My son is way better than yours.”

But the best part came toward the end of the performance when the audience was invited on stage with the king to celebrate the return of Princess Pyeonggang and Ondal. A samulnori (Korean percussion ensemble) group played and everyone danced and sang. With actors and audience members putting their arms around each other, it was a touching and memorable moment.

The musical is directed by Min Bok-gi, who directed musicals such as “Hello Francesca.” He added some of the twists in the musical.

“The original story is very vague and short, but we wanted to make the story more memorable by imagining Ondal and Pyeonggang meeting through fate and by including the evil stepmother,” Oh said.

And it is memorable, thanks to engaging performances by the talented cast, which includes stars from Korean dramas, musicals and movies.

Actor Won Ki-jun, who played Jumong’s evil half-brother Prince Yeongpo in the television drama “Jumong” (2006), plays the fool Ondal. Although he was a strong antagonist as Yeongpo, his Ondal is a sweet and innocent fool who becomes a charismatic warrior.

Princess Pyeonggang is played by Korea’s queen of musical theater, Ahn Yu-jin, who was in the musical “Daejangeum.” Ahn is funny as a princess who is poised and perfect one moment and comically human the next.

But the person who steals the show is comedian Kang Sung-bum, who plays the narrator. Famously known as “Suda [talkative] man” in the entertainment industry, he had the audience rolling on the floor with his jokes. He is also key in connecting the audience with the performers.

*The performance runs until Dec. 21 at Jangchung Gymnasium. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. from Tuesday to Thursday, at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 and 6 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets range from 30,000 won ($26) to 45,000 won. Go to Dongguk University Station, line No. 3, exit 5. For details, call (02) 368-1515.

By Lee Jung-hee Contributing writer [estyle@joongang.co.kr]