Insa-dong, Seoul, Korea: Food, cafes, arts, souvenirs (shopping, leisure, cultural)

..in continuation from my previous post: Seoul, Korea – For Shopping & Leisure: Samcheong-dong – cafes, galleries, shopping!

The route from Samcheong-dong to Insa-dong is sheltered on both sides by trees and with the mild Korean weather, it made for a very pleasant short stroll.

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Along the way there are wall murals and interesting pop-up booths which allows you to draw, write or pose for pictures. Unless you’re immune to all things endearing and cute, the walk shouldn’t be boring at all.

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If you are wondering of the differences between Samcheong-dong and Insa-dong (though the title of both of my posts would have explained it), it’s pretty simple – both are ancient yet modern streets, but Insa-dong offers more shopping for beauty and cosmetics brands and as well as traditional craft while Samcheong-dong leans more towards boutiques with local designer products (clothes, bags, jewellery) plus pretty cafes.

Insa-dong is straight road (maybe 800m) connecting Jonggak station and Anguk station. We were there early in the morning so we were spared the crowd.
I walked past it in the evening on this recent trip and trust me, it is as gay as our night markets in Malaysia.

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The main pebbled street branches out to many small lanes so there are many hidden shops in between that you might want to check out.

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Buying souvenirs is great in Insa-dong as there many shops selling all manner of Korean souvenirs; from cheap (keychains) to expensive (teapots and paintings). This is the focal point for traditional Korean culture and crafts.

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While there are more coffee cafes and stand-alone eateries in Samcheong-dong, in Insa-dong you will find stalls, kiosks and shops offering street snacks and food – ice-cream, beard candy, dumplings and pancakes.
We got distracted by this loud group of men selling dragon beard candy (ggultarae, 꿀타래). It is a familiar snack to us Malaysians (the sort you get at night markets) but the ones I bought here tasted better! Well, it must be the ingredients used.

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Sweet, nutty and melt-in-mouth strands of candy. Yums! 🙂

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Jipangyi ice cream is stick shaped puffed corn snack filled with ice cream and found uniquely at Insadong. Due to its shape, one tends to strike some rather creative poses with it! 🙂

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The novelty lies in the shape more than its taste though. Still, no harm in sharing one with your friends.

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These is another of my personal favourite Korean street snacks. Known as ho-tteok (호떡), it is a fried pancake (wheat flour, water, sugar, milk and yeast) filled with brown sugar, honey and chopped nuts (usually ground nuts and pine nuts).

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Many of the snacks here are served in paper cups or paper bags. Very few uses plastic here.
A ho-tteok costs 1000 won (RM3).

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Delicious! 🙂

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Another is the Egg Bun (gye-ran-bbang, 계란빵), also 1000 won (RM3) and typically served in a paper cup too. Topping the muffin-like bread is a runny egg. I love anything with eggs so this is a must whenever I am in Korea!

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We spotted a lane with a long queue and was curious why.  It turned out to be queue for this small hole-the-wall shop selling dumplings (mandu, 만두).

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The dumplings are freshly made and then steamed or fried. You can choose to takeaway (like I did) or to eat them in the tiny shop.

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As you can imagine, waiting for a seat is one of the reasons for the snaking queue.

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I got myself 3 to try. Each of these has a different filling – pork + kimchi, pork + chives and another one that I can’t remember. While the dumplings were good, I didn’t think the queue was justified.

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Street-food in Korea isn’t expensive so do try as many kinds as possible.
Price ranges from 1,000 to 2,000 (RM3 – RM6). Of course, once converted to RM it can be considered pricey since for RM6 we could get a bowl of noodles back in Malaysia (versus just a snack in Korea) but this is Korea after all.

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There are a few Indian restaurants here that are halal to cater to our Muslim friends. No doubt food options are limited for the Muslims but at least one can be assured there are pork-free alternatives available for Muslim travelers. 🙂

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Located along Insa-dong gil and with its “entrance” somewhere in the middle of the street (look for the 2 yellow banana-like sign as below -it’s just beside it), Ssamzie-gil was opened in 2004. It is like a small “mall” with about 80 shops and is another one-stop area for handicraft, art and souvenirs shops.

NOTE: This image was taken at night (hence it is dark) after our dinner at Insa-dong Chon, where we had the royal meal “Hanjeongsik “. You can read about the imperial meal –> HERE.

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Ssamzie-gil’s unique structure slopes up (or down depending on your walking direction) as there are no stairs. Browse from shop to shop that are located on each side of the walkway.

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Shops at the ground level sells freshly-made traditional confectionery like peanut, rice based snacks and drinks. These are great as souvenirs too.

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One stall that got my attention was this stall selling poop shaped bread “ddong-bbang, 똥빵”.  The original is a fish shaped waffle (bungeobbang, 붕어빵) with redbean paste.

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There’s even a trick-art museum in Ssamzie-gil (trick art is very popular in Korea) where there are images of optical illusions for visitors to see and take some interesting shots.

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Coming out from Ssamzie-gil’s we walked the rest of the Insa-dong Gil and shopped at the numerous beauty and cosmetic outlets on both side of the street. There are about 30 -50 beauty/cosmetic outlets so good luck to the ladies! Hold on tight to your purse/credit card! 🙂

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You can pick up the very popular snail cream skincare set in any of the shops here. Most of the Korean brands offers some variant of this snail essence.

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Getting to Insa-dong:
1. Jonggak Station (Line 1, Exit 3). Walk 300m ahead. At the 4th intersection, turn left and walk another 100m.
2. Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 6). Walk 100m and turn left.

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*Thank you Korea Tourism Board (KTO Malaysia) for both of my trips to Seoul (last October and April 2014). 🙂
Stay tuned as I’ll update more on my trip over the next few weeks.
For other travel adventures, please swing by my travel page –> http://www.rebeccasaw.com/travel/!