Day 1 Nine Tree Hotel Myeongdong, Gwangjang/Bangsan/Chungbu Markets, N Seoul Tower
Day 2 Hanbok, Gyeongbokgung, Tosokchon, Samcheongdong, Bukchon Hanok Village, Myeong-dong
Day 3 Namdaemun Market, Ewha Women's University, Hongdae Free Market / Hongik University Street
Day 4 - Gwanghawmun Square / King Sejong Statue > Jihwaja Royal Cuisine Restaurant (lunch) > Insadong / Traditional tea house > Cheonggyecheon Stream (Seoul lantern festival) > Myeong-dong (dinner)
We had an easy morning on Day 4 waking up late and relaxing till 11+am before heading out for the planned itinerary for the day.
First stop, King Sejong Statue (세종대왕 동상) located in the centre of Gwanghwamun Square (광화문광장)
King Sejong was the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea and is best remembered as the inventor of Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Before the invention of Hangul, Korean people used Hanja (Chinese characters) but Hanja was much more complex and took years of study to learn and average citizens didn't have the means or resources to learn. To establish a cultural identity through script for his people, he published the 28 letter alphabet Hangul in 1466 which could be easily picked after few hours of study.
During his reign, he consolidated the basis for ruling the Joseon Dynasty by incorporating Confucian philosophy of politics. Furthermore, he led the nation's great strides in agriculture, literature, science and technology.
We didn't have much time to visit the nearby museum; so merely took a few photos before hailing a cab for our next destination as I made a reservation at 12 noon.
Jihwaja 지화자 (http://jihwajafood.co.kr/) is one of the 7 restaurants certified by the Korean Tourism Organization to experience Korean Royal Cuisine, it's located towards the northwest of Gyeongbokgung and about 10 mins' cab ride away (from Gwanghwamun Square).
Prior to the trip, I thought about trying Korean Royal Cuisine because I've watched a few kdrama showing royal cuisine and very intrigued by it. After going through the restaurants' websites, Jihwaja appeals the most to me because the website is very comprehensive with detailed menu and appealing photos; moreover it's location is fairly accessible. The restaurant also has several accolades like Michelin Guide 2017 Seoul, Blue Ribbon Restaurants of Seoul 2017 etc.
Top - First course, Pumpkin Porridge and Special Soup with Watery Kimchi
Bottom - Second course, Seasonal Vegetable Delight
The pumpkin porridge was very soothing to the palate; creamy and slightly thickened with subtle flavours of sweet pumpkin and sweet rice.
The Watery Kimchi on the other hand was served cold and very appetising with slightly tangy and sweet flavours. The white kimchi was so crunchy and just a little tangy and sweet. Love it.
The Seasonal Vegetable Delight was something like a salad, a mix of six vegetables/herbs tossed with a slightly tangy and sweet sauce. Very refreshing as well, with different textures and tastes.
Right - Seasonal Vegetable Delight (described above)
The pancake wraps were soft and actually not much flavour, therefore a flavourful sauce which was slightly tangy, salty and sweet was accompanied. The vegetables wrapped inside the pancakes offered varied textures and tastes and overall a delightful dish both pretty to look at and nice to eat.
Left - Fourth course, Assorted Pan-fried Delicacies
Right - Fifth course, Glass Noodles with Sauteed Vegetables
The pan-fried dish was interesting, the first piece with black sesame seeds was actually cabbage, the second piece was shrimp and the third felt like Haemul Pajeon or seafood pancake with some green onion and small bits of squid.
I love the glass noodle which was super flavourful, lots of onions, mushroom, black fungus and vegetables, and most surprisingly the julienne Korean pear added offered a refreshing contrast and balance to dish. Once in a while, I will cook japchae too, so next time I'm also going to add some julienne pear!
Left - Sixth course, the HIGHLIGHT of this meal, Braised Abalone in Soy Sauce
Right - Seventh course, Roast Pork with ginseng, and Vegetable Salad
I super love the abalone!! Who doesn't right? The abalone had just the right texture, slightly chewy but not tough; sweet and juicy with the slightly salty seafood sauce. The accompanied chestnut, ginkgo nut, wild yam and mushroom went very well with sauce too!
Top - Eighth course, Seasonal Delicacies and Rice with Soybean Paste Stew
Bottom - Ninth course, Dessert and Ginseng Tea
And lastly the rice with side dishes, my favourite Korean soup, Doenjang Jjigae, as well as dessert, persimmon fruit which was in season and a energising cup of sweet ginseng tea.
Overall, the meal was exquisite and well-presented, giving us a glimpse of what Korean royal cuisine looks like. Next time when we have the chance and more people joining us, perhaps we could go for the Full Royal Cuisine Course :)
On the way, we passed by this Tongin Market 통인시장 (http://tonginmarket.co.kr/mall/image/tourmap.jpg, http://tonginmarket.co.kr/mall/index.php). It looks like a food street with a number of grocery sand vegetable stalls.
We saw a small crowd gathered at the entrance to the market, and a guy giving out empty food trays and a bunch of traditional brass coins. I only found out after coming back that this market runs a Dosirak (도시락) “Cafe” concept, where people pay 5000 won in exchange for an empty lunchbox tray and 10 brass coins. Then using the brass coins, go into the Tong-in Market to buy different types of food to fill up the tray. Thereafter, can go to the community centre nearby to purchase rice (stalls don't sell rice) and enjoy the food there.
Next stop, Insa-dong (인사동) http://www.insainfo.or.kr/
One of the must visit place at Insadong, Ssamziegil (쌈지길) http://www.ssamzigil.com/
After shopping at Ssamziegil, I tried to find a traditional tea house and very lucky to chance upon one in a lovely garden setting.
Gamip-cha (Persimmon Leaf tea). Also tried the Yugwa (유과) (Honey rice cookie/Deep fried sweet rice cake), which is a traditional Korean confectionery made from kneading rice, fried and then dusted with bean flour. The Yugwa was surprisingly very light and slightly crispy and sweet. Very nice snack to go with tea :)
Cheongyecheon Stream 청계천 (http://www.sisul.or.kr/grobal/cheonggye/eng/WebContent/index.html)
Visitors could purchase Floating Wishing Lanterns, write blessings or wishes on the lantern and release the lanterns onto the stream.
Alternatively, purchase Wishing lantern that would be hung on the underside of Gwanggyo Bridge throughout the Seoul Lantern Festival.
Dinner was at Myeongdong Kyoja (명동교자) (http://www.mdkj.co.kr/en/) which is highly recommended by friends as well as many bloggers. So try we must!
There are only four items on the menu which are three types of noodles served in chicken broth, hot sauce and cold soup, and Mandu (dumpling).
We ordered one Kalguksu which is soft noodle served in a thick chicken broth with some small mandu and garnish, and one serving of Mandu made using pork, vegetables, leek and sesame oil wrapped in a thin dumpling skin.
The noodle and dumpling were very delicious indeed! I was afraid that the Mandu might be too meaty and heavy on the palate but surprisingly, it didn't taste too overwhelming, and the flavour was just nice. The noodle was slightly chewy and soft, and the broth was soothing. We approve this restaurant!
With that, we went back to the hotel for a good night's rest as we had to wake up very early to catch a train to Gapyeong for Nami Island!
Stay tuned for the next post on Nami Island and Noryangjin Fisheries Whole Sale Market.