A week of eating in Seoul: April

Have you ever wondered what a moderately healthy, average white Australian girl eats in a week living in Seoul, South Korea? NO? You haven’t thought about that? Well. You don’t need to think about it ever again because once you’re through with THIS here post, you’ll have all of the answers you didn’t know you weren’t looking for! Actually, scratch ALL of what I just said because this is not a week’s worth of eating in Seoul. This is actually all of the food I took pictures of in April…so, let’s revise the title of this blog post… hmm how about ‘A sporadic month of some food I ate this month ft. zero rhyme or reason’. Here we go!

To kick things off, here are some picnic snacks by the Han River in Yeouido. We also ordered pizza and had no regrets because it was cherry blossom season and we were both sick.

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Salmon and rice at our local Japanese restaurant!

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Here is some homemade Jjimtak (steamed chicken), salad and kimchi!

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Here is a kimchi pancake situation with eggy tofu, pork and salad. Please excuse our dishes drying on the floor in the background.

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Naughty ramen nights with raw eggs. Don’t knock it until you fry it!

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KIMCHI

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Jo So Ko K-Drama Club – What to watch on Netflix (AU & KR)

So, you’ve heard through the Korean-grapevine that K-Dramas are all the rage. You want to get into some Korean shows or movies but you’re not quite sure where to start? Well, before you get K-razy and lose sleep to your fave Korean characters, let’s quickly discuss the terms and conditions of becoming a K-drama-watcher.

Rule #1

You can’t just “watch” a K-drama every now and then, go away, come back to it; dropping in and out as you please like its your neighbour’s lasagna night. This is less of a rule and more of a warning. K-dramas are so addictive, one simply cannot be half-heartedly committed. If you’ve succeeded otherwise, do share your tips.

Rule #2

The plot points, twists, unrequited relationships, political corruption, murder and every unrealistic aspect of a Korean drama is entirely exaggerated. People who watch K-dramas are very aware of this. If you find that you cannot be apart of the K-drama world, please do not criticise others for indulging in these fairytales. Don’t burst our K-bubbles.

Rule #3

That’s it! Now, let’s talk about where to begin. Also, I’m warning you that each time you see a character eating instant ramen, you too will want to eat instant ramen. Resist. It’s terrible for you.

Strong Woman Bong Soon

힘쎈여자 도봉순

Who is it for? Someone who appreciates a strong female lead even though because it’s a K-drama you know the strong female lead will ultimately be weakened by the love of her life, contradicting any superhuman strength she may have.

Why should I watch it? The characters are beautiful and hilarious with great chemistry. The kidnapping plot is really messed up and gives the lead character’s perfect romance a bit of balance. It can’t always be sunshine and mansions, we need a bit of a sinister hostage situation thrown in the mix to snap us back into the real world.

How long will it take me to watch? It will take over 16 hours to finish this one so buckle in and get your instant ramen ready!

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Stranger

비밀의 숲

Who is it for? Someone who loves waiting for 16 episodes to find out who is behind a string of murders. For those who are truly interested in South Korean government corruption (it’s exciting when it’s “fictitious”).

Why should I watch it? I mean, who am I to tell you what to watch. Figure this one out for yourself. It’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s also highly addictive.

How long will it take me to watch? This one is also about 16 hours long (most K-dramas have 16 episodes). You may want to eat udon and drink soju while you watch? Maybe that’s just me?

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Hello, My Twenties

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Who is it for? Anyone who loves Korean culture and is in the age range of 16 – 25. This show is about a group of girls at a Korean university just going through the motions of Korean life but there is a weird supernatural twist thrown in there that never really amounts to anything?? Also, one of the main characters changed at the beginning of Season 2 which is kind of odd.

Why should I watch it? Because you’re still reading this blog post which means you’re obviously trying to find the perfect K-drama to spend your weekend cosying up with.

How long will it take me to watch? This is a rare K-drama that has not 1, but 2 seasons. There are 12 episodes in season 1 and 14 episodes in season 2. At 60-65 minutes per episode, you can do the math on this one…

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My Love from the Star

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Who is it for? Hopeless romantics who also have a side interest in extraterrestrial activity on Earth. This is an older drama but it’s one that you have to see if you want to consider yourself a K-drama lover. Not really, nobody cares, just live your life.

Why should I watch it? Okay, I think at this point, I’m a terrible TV reviewer and you should just try these shows for yourself. If you’re at all interested in Korean culture or the Korean language, you should consider watching some of these shows!

How long will it take me to watch? Because it has taken me so long to write and publish this blog post, I don’t think this show is available in Korea anymore on Netflix. It should take you the usual 16, 1-hour episodes amount of time to finish this bad boy.

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Romance is a Bonus Book

로맨스는 별책부록

Who is it for? Book lovers, fashion lovers, Korean culture lovers, romance lovers and cheesy/predictable storylines.

Why should I watch it? For a PLETHORA of reasons, some of which include; because it’s adorable and you’ll feel like the characters are your own friends. While I personally thought this storyline was quite weak, I really loved the characters and the tone of the show. Also, this show has about 17,000 commercials embedded within it that are trying SO hard to look natural and relevant to the plot but they can often break up the flow of the story. I would love to see an edited version of the show that just tells a story without the unnecessary Subway and Samsung ads thrown in the middle.

How long will it take me to watch? Again, 16 episodes at 1 hour each will take you approximately all of your spare time to finish this one.

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Bonus Round: Korean Movies

The Beauty Inside

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Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds

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Assassination

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How To: Visa Run in Fukuoka

If you’re a regular reader of this very important blog, you’ll know that my travelling ‘how-to’s’ are more like ‘loose suggestions’ or ‘visual prompts’ rather than informative guides. This post is no exception. In keeping with who I am as an amateur hobby blogger, I’ll keep this ‘how-to’ guide pretty visual and non-descriptive. Truth be told, when you go to a new city, you’re allowed to do whatever the fridge you want. Who am I to tell you how to spend your precious travel hours? The best way to explore any new city is with a pair of legs and/or your eyeballs.

Last week I had to spend some time in Fukuoka while I was waiting for my Korean visa to process. It was my sixth visit to Japan so I was happy to just enjoy the warm air and the Japanese language around me. Here’s what I found on my expedition, categorised in the following order: water, flora, buildings and signage.

Water

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Flora

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I took the above image because I could just picture 4 chubby little Teletubbies rolling around on the grass or the characters from ‘In the Night Garden’ doing whatever it is they do in that show. I mean, what? I don’t watch kids shows? I’m 23? Haha I just heard about these shows, in great detail, from a friend who has multiple children???

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Buildings

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Signage

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There you have it, folks, Jo So Ko’s exclusive, comprehensive ‘How-to’ guide for getting a Korean visa in Fukoka. Also, Fukuoka ramen and udon is pretty famous according to my taxi driver on the way to the airport during my final hours of the trip. I can’t tell you how great it is to get a local’s travel advice on your way to the airport. So helpful. At least I was able to practice my Japanese again. Maybe it wasn’t travel advice, maybe he was complaining about Fukuoka and I completely overestimated my language skills. Oh well. Guess I’ll never know.

Pasta, Popcorn and Korean Pancakes

I recently wrote about a hip, hop, happnin’ area of Seoul called Sharosugil. In said post, I wrote that while we were there we needed to ‘take mental notes for future date plans so we can come back every single week for the foreseeable future’. Sure enough, we went back exactly one week later for another too-adorable-for-words date. I was in a pizza/pasta or hardcore Korean set meal mood after work. I guess that’s a very vague hunger mood to be in, isn’t it? I was too afraid to rule out any tasty possibilities we may have stumbled upon so I came prepared with back-up hunger cravings.

Wandering down a small street in the university town, we saw this gorgeous little restaurant that we could have almost mistaken for an indoor plant shop and walked right past. When we sat down, we realised that it was, in fact, a risoteria and not a pasta restaurant. Never fear, according to the waitress, the chef can whip you up just about any pasta dish your hunger mood can concoct.  The name of this place is Marcus and you can click the link to find out where it is and what they sell because this Jo So Ko blog isn’t intended to be very informative or useful, it’s a hobby. I must add, the service was amazing and if Korea were a tipping country and I had a job that afforded me the luxury to be able to tip, I would have probably considered tipping them. Enjoy the pictures, the food, the neighbourhood, your life, the vibe etc.

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So, you’ve got yourself a hole in the wall? No worries, shove some corks in it! What hole?

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They should probably rename their restaurant ‘al dente AF’ because that’s exactly what this carbonara was. So good.

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Seafoody, tomatoey risotto!

Meanwhile, on the (narrow) streets of Sharosugil:

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Have you been to this area of Seoul? Which restaurants should we try next? Have the best day!

Sunday Morning in Beijing or Seoul?

Here are some photographs from my Sunday morning in my neighbourhood. I loved waking up early, buying an okay-tasting coffee and walking around taking photographs. I later regretted buying the coffee because it’s not fun changing camera settings and fiddling around to pretend I know how to use a camera in the freezing cold with one hand. I live in a predominantly Chinese area so it’s confusing as to which city I am currently living in: Seoul or Beijing? It’s a great place to live for food and people watching. There’s not much point to this post, I just wanted to share some pictures. The process of walking around an area, taking photos, putting them onto my computer, editing them ever so slightly, organising them and writing silly words about them here is one I cherish dearly.

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It’s a date! 샤로수길에서는 데이트!

Over the weekend, we decided to go on a lavish date and live our lives as though we had all the time and money in the world. By that, I mean we ate three different meals within the space of about 3.5 hours with a heartfelt session of karaoke in between meals one and two to settle our appetites. The date location: Sharosugil (샤로수길) which is located near Seoul National University Entrance station on line 2. I just googled this neighbourhood to see how it was spelled in English and found out how trendy and new this it is. I am NEVER a cool and trendy person. I’m always miles behind the times but secretly think I am super trendy in my middle-age-woman-inside-a-twenty-two-year-old state of mind. This time, it’s no secret.

First order of date business: wandering the ‘hood to take mental notes for future date plans so we can come back here every single week for the foreseeable future. This is an important step when in Seoul because most eating establishments you visit are ones you only find out about from walking by and sneakily trying to see what people have on their plates through the window.

The name of this cafe we walked past translates to ‘Your small table’. How sweet is that? I love that they are so up front about the small table size. Don’t worry, I wasn’t expecting a large table, I’d barely fit through the door.

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We were on the hunt for a burger restaurant named ‘9 Ounces’ only to find they had stopped selling burgers by the time we reached the restaurant. We weren’t about to sit in a burger restaurant and sip on cokes while our tummies grumbled, so we walked back to another ‘Burger Joint’ that we passed along the way. It was literally called ‘Burger Joint’ which was a weird name to read in a non-English speaking country. We ordered 2 cheese burgers and a side of tasty fries. The result… well, see for yourself below. I really enjoyed eating a burger that didn’t taste like it was made 4 weeks ago (*Lotteria*). Burger Joint Review: Good burgers, good vibes, good times. My feet were slightly cold but that was not the burger’s fault.

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Second order of business: Karoke. There’s no better way to clear space in your stomach for two post-lunch meals than singing a round of songs in a Korean coin karaoke room. My personal favourite noraebang tune for clearing space is Disney’s ‘Let it Go’. That wasn’t a pun, by the way, I just love Frozen. We then went to a dessert cafe which had a crucial typo in its name and ate strawberry cake and coffees. Be warned, instagram influencers and opportunistic photographers, cafes in Seoul are hella cute and serve up tasty spreads but they’re also hella expensive. Why I regularly pay 5,000 won for a latte is BEYOND me. Here is that cafe now.

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After gorging on a whole cake (which wasn’t really Ju’s style so he had extra room in his stomach) we stumbled upon possibly the best street food ‘pajeon’ ever. Pajeon or ‘Jeon’ are Korean pancakes and they’re often served with ‘Makkeoli’ which is Korean rice wine. We ordered the squid pancake and OH MA G it was hella tasty. We’re already planning to go back there this week for round 2. Lastly, to put into perspective just how expensive coffee is in Korea, this giant plate of squid pancake cost the same amount as my latte from the previous cafe. I’m still a young spring chicken so I should probably stop complaining about the cost of everyday, mundane things. I’ve got my golden years to do that.

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Korean squid pancake and pickled radish

What do you do for dates in Seoul? Let me know! Let’s Skype about it or get our nails done.

Lost in Fruit

Yesterday, as a gust of clean Seoul air swam its way through the dusty cocktail Saturday left behind, I meandered through the back streets of my neighbourhood to go to the local fruit and veg market. To set the scene, let me just say that the back streets near my house would be the perfect place to film an (on-foot) small scale burglary chase or, I don’t know, shoot a catalogue for an elderly women’s fashion movement. It just has that kind of edgy but practical kind of feel to it. Anyway. So, off I trot to the market feeling all empowered and not at all anxious about being the only western person within a 200km radius. I wander up to the bright fruit stall opposite the equally bright fruit stall I usually go to because I thought it would be nice to shake things up a bit. I point to what looks like a basket of juicy mandarins and say (in my best Korean) ‘please give me these mandarins’. The vendor did not correct my attempt to order what was in fact not a basket of mandarins. As she piled the unfamiliar looking mandarins into a black plastic bag, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. Much to my not at all surprise, I did not protest the above average ($10) price tag for so few “mandarins” (for that matter, I would never protest anything in a second language unless encouraged by alcohol). Instead, I held my head high, faking the aura a person who just purchased exactly what they wanted might possess. I strolled on home, back through the narrow grandma/gangster back streets, past the old men smoking in their pyjama pants outside their homes and into the safety of my home that does not speak to me in Korean. The way I feel when attempting to do anything in a foreign language by myself is crippling and liberating, making any situation where speaking is required quite awkward. My brain wants to shout out random phrases I’ve memorised like ‘happy new year’ or ‘thank you for the food’, but my body just wants to pretend I’m travelling on business and therefore far too important to learn the local language. The result of these conflicting feelings is me just kind of making weird grunting noises with robot arms while I somehow simultaneously nod and shake my head when given any opportunity to speak another language. It’s very sexy.

After one month of living in Seoul, I’m hoping that from here it will get easier. I hope to come home with the right fruit next weekend feeling accomplished and slightly less like an alien. To be fair to myself, the fruits did all look the same, hence this illustration that I decided to draw and share with you all. I hope you enjoyed this anecdote. If you didn’t enjoy it, that’s okay too. It wasn’t meant to change your life or challenge your understanding of fruit and the earth. Have a great day and don’t forget to ‘eat your fruits and juice your vegetables’ according to that annoying guy in the movie ‘Her’. Does anybody know what I’m talking about? I guess I lost you long before that reference and needn’t worry. Annyeong!

Illustration and words by Johanna Quinn. All rights reserved. Image must not be distributed or used without artist’s consent. 2019.

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Highway Rest Stops, Korean Style

I wanted to use this powerful blogging platform to share with you one of my favourite tourist attractions in South Korea: the humble highway rest stop. I don’t know if it’s because of the relief from getting out of a car during a long trip to stretch your legs or the delicious offerings that they have but somewhere in the middle is sweet, sweet paradise. In Korean, these little pockets of roadtrip heaven are called a ‘Hyugeso’ or 휴게소 in Korean!

You can only really access these stops if you’re heading out of town. Most bus trips that are long enough will take a 15 minute rest at one of these places. My face literally lit up when I heard the announcement that we were about to pull into a Hyugeso over the weekend. We travelled from Yeosu to Seoul which is about a four hour drive so a stop for hotdogs and walnut cakes was a necessity! However, the short allotted time period will make you feel like you’re on a reality game show where you have to see how much street food you can consume in 15 minutes with a toilet break thrown in somewhere. Continue reading to see the rest stops in all of their glory.

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It is widely known that when the sun starts to set in the mountains, it is time to stop at a ‘Hyugeso’ and eat until your heart’s content. It’s a very famous proverb first used during the Goreyo dynasty. That’s a ‘chicken or egg’, ‘car or rest stop’ question we don’t have time to answer here today and I am obviosly joking.

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So, let me introduce you to the main reason I love Hyugeso’s: walnut cakes. In Korean they’re called ‘hodu gwaja’ which translates to walnut snacks. (The word ‘cracker’ really undersells the soft pockets of heaven that you will find in your $3 bag that you will inevitably buy after reading such an influential blog post as this). The walnut cakes are filled with sweet and silky red bean paste and are best served hot, fresh from the Ajumma selling them to you. These are tricky to find beyond the confines of a Korean highway rest area but, in my not so humble opinion, it’s worth organising a quick bus/car getaway to try them out. Or even worth an impromptu South Korea trip you didn’t know you needed. Not really. But really.

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Have you tried anything at a Korean highway rest stop? Let me know what your favourite snacks are and I’ll be sure to give them a try! Leave a comment below!