The Seoul leg of the Asia trip begins now (click here for Vietnam and here for Japan)! Once we landed and settled in to my aunt's apartment, we went out to explore and to give our legs a stretch. My dad was born in the Mapo region of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. It's next to Hongdae, a popular arts district. Both Mapo and Hongdae are extremely fun, and have so many restaurants and shops to visit.
FIRST MEAL IN SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
We ate at Wondang Gamjatang Mapo for our first meal and ordered an assortment of spicy dishes from nakji-bokkeum (spicy stir-fried octopus) to dwaejigogi-bokkeum (spicy stir-fried pork) that came with so many side dishes like gyeranjjim (Korean steamed eggs) and doenjang-jjigae (fermented soybean paste stew). Since it was raining that day, we also washed the meal down with makgeolli (traditional Korean fermented alcoholic beverage brewed from rice) since it's traditional to have some during this weather.
ASIAN NAIL ART
After lunch, we had some time to kill so we decided to get our nails done. You all know that my preference for anything style, beauty or aesthetics will always be timeless and classic, but I had to experience the asian nail art. I decided to pick something neutral and in brown tones to go with the fall vibes, plus I had a plaid dress that I was wearing the next day that matched the design, so I was happy to get this style of nail art while in Asia.
KOREAN CAFE CULTURE
Stay Well Cafe was the first of many cafe's that we visited while in Korea. Bakery culture is huge in Asia (click here for a gorgeous juice shop we visited in Japan), but cafe culture is especially popular in Korea. After every meal, we would go to a cafe and have a whole new set of drinks and desserts while enjoying the beautiful architecture and scenery of the cafe and/or garden(s). I got a passion fruit tea, inspired by the Vietnam leg of our trip, while my parents both got iced Americano's. It was so refreshing and the perfect drink to revive us after our first stroll through Korea.
FAMILY DINNER: SASHIMI
We ended our first night with dinner at my aunt and grandmother's house. The white fish is a mixture of halibut, flatfish, and rock cod, the most popular sashimi in Korea due to its subtle flavor but amazing texture. We also had different cuts of tuna from tuna belly to fatty tuna. Wrapping a raw piece of fish with a couple sprouts and gim (roasted seaweed, and then dipping it in soy sauce is truly one of the best bites you can experience. I didn't even want to have any rice with this meal because I just wanted to taste the fish. We also had fresh soup made from the extra fish bones, kimchi and pickles that my aunt made and it was the perfect first dinner in Korea. I also thought it was hilarious how my grandmother had a full glass of beer that was larger than anyone else's at the table.
MEETING SHARON IN HONGDAE
One of the reasons why I wanted to go on this Asia trip was because I knew one of my best friends, Sharon, was going to be in Korea at the same time! Once our plans got finalized, we realized we could only meet on one day since we were traveling with other people, so we met each other on the day she was leaving. We got lunch at Jen Bang Jib Hongdae, a local Korean barbecue restaurant serving various cuts of meats and so many side dishes and soups. We ordered galbisal (beef rib fingers), kimchi jigae (kimchi stew), and dengjang jigae (soy bean paste stew) and it was the best meal to catch up with her over!
SHOPPING & SNACKS IN HONGDAE
Once I said bye to Sharon, I met back up with my parents in Hongdae to do a little shopping. I remember the last time I was here after college graduation, I bought so many clothes that I wanted to be mindful of what I was going to bring back with me. Nonetheless, I ended up doing some damage so I had to buy another carry-on later in Japan so I could bring everything home with me. I just love the Korean fashion, especially during the fall with the sweaters and coats.
Fall is one of the best if not the absolute best time to visit Korea in my opinion. Everywhere I turned, nature was taking its course and turning the leaves into the most gorgeous colors. The air also had that autumn crispness to it that I was craving. While I appreciate the warmer weather in Southern California, there's something to be said about a crisp autumn breeze. It was getting so chilly that I decided to throw on one of the new sweaters that I just bought from Hongdae a few minutes earlier.
FAMILY DINNER: BOSAM
The second night's dinner was prepared by my aunt again; this time it was bosam (boiled pork belly). I love enjoying Korean meals like this where you eat your bite in a ssam, or lettuce wrap. I''ve also notoriously been an anti-soup-person during dinner, but lately on this Asia trip I have been loving all of the soups here. My family said it has something to do with the water...? Anyhow, I had so many servings of my aunt's bean sprout soup, spicy noodles, and homemade celery pickles that I know I need to make them for myself at home soon.
I started this morning with a Nutella mango waffle from Crowaffle and taste testing all three milk flavors of the famous Korean brand, Binggrae. The banana, strawberry and melon flavored milks were all delicious and truly tasted like each of their flavor profiles. The banana was so creamy and rich, while the strawberry tasted just like a strawberry ice cream. Similarly for the melon flavor, it tasted just like a melted Korean melona ice cream bar. It was definitely a sugar overload but still a delicious start to the day.
LUNCH AT SAN SARANG
It was the weekend, which meant we could go on a family excursion. My aunt, cousin, grandmother, mom, dad and I went to the outskirts of Seoul to San Sarang. This is a restaurant, garden, and farmer's market style establishment all wrapped up in to one beautiful place for patrons to enjoy. Many of the banchan (side dishes) that are included in the meal set are made with the seasonal produce, such as the green tomatoes, eggplant, and radishes. You can have your meal in the restaurant, then tour the gardens before enjoying complimentary makgeolli (traditional Korean fermented alcoholic beverage brewed from rice) and then heading home with fresh fruits and vegetables grown right on premises. I was so inspired by the pickled green tomatoes that was one of the side dishes that I am definitely going to make it at home and share it with you all so stay tuned!
Like I stated earlier, the ending of every meal means it's time to visit a cute cafe! I had a cold peach tea with a basque cheesecake while enjoying the lovely view of the gardens and the cute dog resting outside.
FAMILY DINNER AT MASAN AGU JJIM
For dinner, my grandmother wanted to treat us to one of my mom's favorite dishes, agujjim. Masan Agujjim is a popular restaurant that serves this fish dish, and it was the longest wait we experienced even with reservations because it was so busy. Agujjim is a sweet and spicy fish dish that cooked on the bone and with a lot of bean sprouts, so it's super flavorful. They also take a couple ladle-fulls of the sauce towards the end of the meal and make bokkeumbap (fried rice) with it for you to enjoy. I love the multi-course style of eating where there are always carbs at the end to soak up all the sauce (or alcohol...) that you enjoyed throughout the meal.
LUNCH WITH COUSINS AT OLBARUN SUSHI
Sunday was fun because I got to spend the whole day with my cousins! First. we met for lunch at Olbarun Sushi, which served ganjang shrimp (marinated raw shrimp) as a nigiri style sushi over rice. This has almost become a tradition to have once I'm in Korea since I fell in love with this version the last time I hung out in Korea with my cousin. I just love the texture of the raw shrimp and the intensity of the marinade. The rest of the meal from the udon to the salad and pickles were also so delicious...I'm craving this meal already!
Another tradition we said we'd continue is going to take cute photo booth pictures (click here to check out the last time I visited my cousin in Korea). This is one of my favorite things to do when I'm in Korea because it's a tangible and affordable activity that also provides an easily packable souvenir that won't take up any space in your luggage or bags.
CHEONG SU DANG CAFE
Cheong Su Dang was one of my favorites in Korea because it is completely my vibe: modern design mixed with nature and natural elements. We ordered drinks (tangerine tea, matcha latte, americano) and dessert (strawberry souffle cake) per usual and relaxed next to a gorgeous waterfall and persimmon tree.
(MORE) SHOPPING & SNACKS IN HONGDAE
Next we had tanghulu (rock sugar-coated fruits on a bamboo skewer), a traditional Chinese New Year's snack that is gaining popularity with the younger crowd of Hongdae, Seoul. It was incredibly sweet, but also a refreshing bite to wake us up before walking around and shopping some more throughout Hongdae. There are so many streets filled with different snack vendors and clothing stores, so you can spend all day (and night if you want to have dinner and drinks later on too) just in the Hongdae area of Seoul. Some of my favorite purchases were scrunchies and hair clips from this store that my cousins like that reminded me of an accessories bookstore, and a small brown suede purse - all of which I wore through the rest of the Asia trip.
The Hyundai Seoul Department Store
We stopped by The Hyundai Seoul Department Store to do some eye shopping and enjoy the peculiar architecture inside the building. From the outside, it looks like another corporate office in the financial district of Seoul. Once you enter inside, you realize it's a luxury department store that blends modern architecture with natural aspects like full grown trees. The aesthetics inside were impeccable and it was almost dizzying with how many brands they had on each floor. Walking through the building also bought us some time so we could order fried chicken for dinner.
Hangang Park by the Han River
Having a fried chicken and beer picnic at Hangang Park is one of the must-do things while in Seoul, so my cousins wanted to end our night there since we did it the last time I was in Korea. You also must purchase an instant ramen at a nearby 7 Eleven and cook it on one of those outdoor ramen-making machines for the ultimate Han River experience. You can also rent a picnic table and mat so you can eat comfortably, and return it at the stand's closing time. We went on a great day because right as we sat down, a fireworks show started erupting from a nearby yacht. It was the perfect way to conclude the first part of the Korea trip (see the vlog here). Next we went to Japan (see the vlog here) before we came back to Korea for the last portion of the Asia trip.
Family Dinner After Returning back to Korea from Japan
On the day we returned back to Korea from Japan, my aunt prepared an at-home Korean bbq set-up with pork belly and duck. We had our grilled meat and vegetables wrapped in ssam (fresh lettuce leaves), dengjang (fermented soy bean paste), and homemade pickles. Grilled kimchi is a must for me whenever I have Korean bbq, and it's one of my top favorite flavor profiles and textures of all time. After dinner, we went to a local jjimjilbang (literally means "heated rooms") and got a full body scrub. The bath house grandma bathes you a la nude like a baby, tapping you to flip over so she can scrub the other side of your body and even conditions your hair after shampooing. They use exfoliating mats to vigorously scrub the dead skin cells off of your body, and let me just tell you...no crevice is left neglected. We ended the night with some traditional jjimjilbang snacks like baked eggs and sikhye (Korean sweet rice drink) before returning back home for the night.
The official Last leg of the Asia trip
Even though we were only gone for about three days in Japan (see the vlog here), the leaves already changed into these gorgeous deep fall hues. I noticed the change immediately as I stepped outside the apartment doors this morning, which made the commute to our destination an even more scenic one. We also saw the cutest little preschoolers on their way to school, so I had to snap a picture because they looked like they were going to topple over at any given moment and it was just too adorable.
Even though I knew it was a long shot, I wanted to try to find the old lock that I placed the last time I visited the Namsan Tower nearly seven years ago. Namsan Tower is a popular tourist spot because it's one of the best lookout spots where you can see the entire city. As we were searching for the lock, we were realized it would be nearly impossible since we only had the one picture I posted on my old travel blog for reference. We decided to give up that mission and reward ourselves with a drink. I had to recreate my previous moment with another bottle of the melon milk drink. I was basically trying to do the things I did last time again like (unsuccessfully) finding the lock, taking a picture by the traditional building, and getting a melon milk after. All the views were stunning here, and I felt like I was in a wholesome holiday movie with all the cozy fall leaves and colors.
Lunch at Gimbap Cheonguk
The last time I came to Korea was seven years ago during a post-college backpacking trip, but before that I came with my family seven years before that (so a total of fourteen years prior) and first tried this dish. I've tried tonkatsu before, but the wang tonkatsu (jumbo-sized, round pork cutlet) from Gimbap Cheonguk has been on my mind ever since I first tried it. The sweet gravy that is poured on top of the crispy pork with a drizzle of Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise over top of everything is just the ultimate comfort food. We got the combination set with jjolmyeon (spicy cold noodles) and gimbap (Korean seaweed rice roll). Let's just say I was doing the happy dance throughout this entire meal! My mom also wanted to show me a sign she noticed during a morning walk my parents went on earlier that day that had a funny mistranslation so I had to show you guys. A for effort, right?
Traditional Korean Street Markets
We also wanted to stop by the traditional street markets for our last minute souvenirs. We went to Namdaemun Market for some clothes and accessories like satin scarves and then Mangwon-dong World Cup Market for local ingredients like gochugaru (red chili flakes), kelp, dried seaweed, anchovies, sesame seeds, and dried squid for cooking. We also picked up some gejang (marinated crab) and hongeo-hoe (spicy fermented fish) for dinner the next day. I'll be shooting an Asia Haul video with everything that I'm bringing with me from this entire trip, so make sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel and press the notification bell so you don't miss an upload.
Family Dinner at KYUNG BOK KUNG Black
My mother-in-law wanted to treat my family in Korea to a nice dinner one night, so we made reservations at Kyung Bok Kung Black Korean Grill. They offer Korean course menus, bbq courses, a la carte items, special barbecue, wagyu items, boxed meals, traditional entrees, and noodles. We had so much food including the impeccably plated banchan's (side dishes), gorgeous sushi platters (check out the vlog for footage), beef short rib barbecue, cooked and fried items, and a frozen yogurt dessert to finish off the meal. My grandmother doesn't eat very much nowadays so we were all in such a great mood when she ate so much of the food that night, especially the beef short rib barbecue!
For my last full day in Korea, my aunt wanted to treat me to Korean facial treatments and a day at Ayu Space. Ayu Space is owned by a close acquaintance of my aunt, so we got to experience a private tour of their rooftop grounds above the main building and cafe. Located right by the Bukhangang River, the property hosts a cafe, garden, restaurant, and gallery for patrons to enjoy. In the restrooms, they offer soaps and beauty products that are made by the brand for patrons to use. They also rent out the space for special events and have many plans for future installations, so I can't wait to see what new developments occur at Ayu Space. Once we were once with our tour, we enjoyed a homemade spread of salt bread, burrata salad, and salmon croissant with iced Americano's and a passion fruit iced tea (the choice to get the passion fruit tea was inspired by the Vietnam leg of the Asia trip of course). Everything was fresh since it was made on property, and so delicious too since it was all meticulously made.
LUNCH AT BORI BAB
Before our beauty treatments, we decided to stop for lunch at a local restaurant that specialized in vegetarian mixed rice. I was craving a spicy seafood dish so ordered nakji bokkeum (spicy chopped octopus and vegetables) again and MY GOODNESS this was one of the best things I ate on the entire trip. I couldn't decide if the actual octopus or the pieces of cabbage that cooked down with the sauce were the best part.
ULTHERAPY K-BEAUTY TREATMENT
You can't visit South Korea without experiencing at least one K-beauty treatment, which was always the plan for my final day. I got the ultherapy treatment, which a non-invasive treatment that goes deep into the skin's layers to stimulate production of your body’s own collagen and elastin for natural-looking results without surgery or downtime. This treatment is not painful, but I experienced a warm sensation beneath the surface of my skin due to collagen stimulation. My skin is also sensitive so it appeared flushed at first, but the redness disappeared after a few hours. According to some light research, 95% of ultherapy patients reporting witnessing tighter and firmer skin after one year of having their treatment; the results also tend to last around two years but can last longer if you take steps to boost your collagen production and keep your existing collagen healthy. Many A-list celebrities have begun using ultherapy as a skin perfecting solution including Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, and Christie Brinkley!
FAMILY DINNER: RAW MARINATED CRABS
Our last family dinner for this Asia trip was the raw marinated crab that we picked up from the markets the day before. I was looking forward to this meal since the moment we picked it up, so I couldn't wait to dig in to this Korean delicacy. The raw crab meat is marinated for a couple days in a spicy sauce, allowing the crab's natural sweetness to really shine. I love squeezing some of the crab meat out of the shell on to a spoonful of rice, and eating that bite with a piece of gim (roasted seaweed). We also had hongeo-hoe (spicy fermented fish) as well and it was the perfect addition to our raw seafood feast.
BREAKFAST AT MCDONALD'S
I started my last few hours in Korea with a good old breakfast from McDonald's, except I wanted to try some of the regional items like the sausage snack wrap, Sichuan chicken snack wrap, BLT McMuffin, and seasonal plum smoothie. Everything was delicious and items that I wish we had in the US.
KOREAN REST STOP
My aunt wanted me to experience a local Korean past time right before I left, which is to visit a rest stop before traveling to your next destination on a trip. I picked up some Korean beauty patches at a Korean beauty store, Olive Young, and then enjoyed a last-minute snack of tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), Korean hot dog, potato spiral, and Milkis (sweet and creamy Korean soft drink) before heading to the Incheon International Airport for my flight back home.
FLIGHT BACK HOME
My flight back home would have been uneventful, but I had to include pictures of my meals coming back home from Korea. I chose ssam bab (fresh lettuce wrap rice) for dinner and juk (Korean rice porridge) for breakfast and they were the best airline meals I've ever had! I was floored that there was fresh lettuce on an international flight, and the meal was absolutely top tier because of it. I've had worse quality meals at actual restaurants, so this was such a great experience. Juk is also one of my favorite comfort foods, so I was happy to enjoy a warm bowl the first thing when I woke up. I was going to end the blog content there, but I also had to include the cute welcome treat that Wes got me. I apparently walked right past him by the Coffee Bean as he was trying to surprise me and while I was trying to find my way out of the airport. Luckily, it helped with the surprise element because as I was on the phone with him trying to meet up, he "magically" appeared behind me with my favorite peach tea and salted chocolate chip cookie.
And...that wraps up the Korea leg of the Asia trip!
Have you been to any of the places I went to, or where else would you go? Let's talk below in the comments section!
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