The Soul of Seoul


Ok, I admit that the title sounds a bit big, huge even – and all-embracing, but I couldn’t resist.

Seoul is a city both quirky and cute. Fascinating, bustling, vast. A megacity of contrasts. And very much about taking a lot of pictures.

Spicy kimchi; the extremely busy Gwangjang market offering everything you could ever think of from black bean pancakes to electronics; shopping malls that are open 24/7; underground shopping malls; nightly food stands that serve late night shoppers; photobooths that are ubiquitous. So many cozy cafes, offering a wide range of imaginative coffee drinks (both hot and cold), such as sweet potato lattes. And divine egg tarts. It is funny that despite the fact that there is a café in every corner, many of them still attract a queue. Like did the 2D Café we visited in Yeonnam-dong 223-14: a hotspot for those who want the perfect IG shot in a cartoon-like setting. Try the red velvet cake: it was juicy and delicious.

I love to observe street fashion and I spotted a very popular trend on the streets of Seoul – and what makes this slightly peculiar was that it was in late December: a long padded jacket (either black or white) paired together with flipflops. No scarf, no mittens, no hat and above all, no socks!

Another unique dressing sight is the hanbok, the traditional Korean dress worn mostly at traditional occasions. It is characterized by vibrant colors and a bell-shaped form. We spotted young people dressed in it at the Changdeokgung palace area and in the Bukchon Hanok Village. There are also plenty of hanbok rental shops, especially near the famous sights, in case you want to try on traditional Korean style for yourself.


What else, what else? Seoul is safe, super safe one could say. We were sitting in a coffee shop (when in Korea…) and a young man left his wallet on the corner of a table when he went to the men’s room. And there it was, exactly in the same spot where he left it, when he returned.

And the food is purely delicious: Kimchi, tofu, Korean bbq, hot pots, the list goes on. I love Korean food.

Seoul is a fascinating combo of history, culture, Korean cuisine, pulsating energy, endless shopping opportunities, cute details and cuter cafes.

Kitchen experiments: Kimchi

Kimchi. Must say, it wasn’t love at first bite.

Kimchi is a traditional Korean fermented dish, made for example of cabbage or other vegetables. I tried kimchi for the first time on my first trip to South Korea about four years ago. And, as I had it almost on every meal for several days I not only started to like it but I even began to miss it. It’s quite addictive. There are of course various varieties of kimchi and I bet that many family recipes are carefully kept secrets.

After a lot of kimchi talk, we decided to prepare it ourselves. We followed the recipe found in Helsingin Sanomat with the distinction that we made a double size portion and used two different cabbages, napa cabbage and white cabbage.

What you need for a big portion with one cabbage type is:

1 kg napa cabbage
5 scallions
1 tsp. salt

The pickle:
3 tbsp. sea salt
8 dl water

Spices:
1 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. red chili powder
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. sugar

And this is how it goes:

Detach the cabbage leaves and rinse them. Cut the biggest ones into two or three parts. Chop the onions into thin slices. Soak the salt in lukewarm water and let the water cool. Pour the salted water on top of the cabbage and the onion. Put a plate as a weight and lift the container in the fridge (or as we did, outside) for the night.

Pour the salted water away and rinse the vegetables. Mix the spices in a big bowl (emphasis on big, there will be a lot of the mixture). Add the cabbage and the onion and stir well. Sprinkle salt on top and cover the mix with cabbage leaves. Spread plastic wrap on top and again place a plate as a weight.

Let the kimchi ferment and become spiced for two or three days in the fridge. We put the containers outside again.

And then, enjoy! Welcome the new addiction.

At the point when we had three big containers filled with raw cabbage and onion I might have felt a slight feeling of doubt anticipation, but kimchi clearly is a patience dish. And the verdict: it did taste like kimchi. A cabbage dish with attitude. Not the best kimchi of my life but since I’ve had some excellent ones I wasn’t even expecting that from the first experiment.  As a side dish for example with meat and rice it works well.

And some pictures. Respect to food photographers, not always an easy task. But here are a few snapshots.

IMG_7341

IMG_7338

IMG_7333

I’ll finish this time with a restaurant recommendation: Danji in New York (346 West 52nd Street). It’s a modern Korean tapas place, a rather small one, but to our luck there was place for two at the time of our visit a bit more than a year ago. We learned that the name Danji refers to the clay pots in which kimchi is made. We had both excellent kimchi and the softest and richest tofu I’ve ever tasted (the friendly waiter promised this with superlatives and he didn’t lie). Danji was an unforgettable food adventure of Korean flavors in midtown New York.