A couple of weeks ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon in Insadong, a hub of traditional Korean art and craft within Seoul. The main street, Insadong-gil, is lined with endless antique, hanbok (traditional Korean dress), hanji (traditional Korean paper), souvenir, and art shops, among others. It’s a must-see for anyone who appreciates craftsmanship. But, do be prepared to thin out your wallet.
There are also countless street stands that sell everything from snacks to handbags to personalized stamps. I had heard that the rice crackers at Insadong were a must-try, so I stopped at this stand to pick up some freshly made goodies for later.
One of Insadong’s main attractions is Ssamziegil, a rectangular-shaped, open-air shopping center. It’s four floors spiral upward, and a number of restaurants and cafes are housed at the top. There are more clothing stores within Ssamziegil than on the main street, but that’s pretty much the only difference.
The walls of the stairwells are also covered in creative and often-hilarious graffiti…not that I know what it means.
I took my time strolling and window shopping as I headed back down Insadong-gil (away from Anguk Station, the closest subway stop). As I reached the end of the main road, I happened across a demonstration of Taekkyeon, a traditional Korean martial art form. I got there just as it was starting, and hopped up onto a stone bench to get a good view. The motions are incredibly fluid and rhythmic, making it seem almost like a dance. Until one of them receives a kick to the head, that is.
After the demonstration concluded, I headed over to the park across the street to take a break. There was a large pagoda under which a bunch of grandpas and a few tourists were resting, so I found myself a shady spot to sit down and write for a bit. It was a great little park — quiet (but for the cicadas, which are loud and inescapable in Korea), shady, full of trees, and close to the public restrooms (which were really clean and air conditioned!). I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Insadong and need a break from the crowds.
After I had my fill of sitting, I embarked on my mission to find Insadong Sujebi, a restaurant I had discovered earlier that day while surfing on the web. Sujebi is essentially a soup with hand-pulled dough flakes. It’s really hard to explain (just scroll down for a picture), and it’s one of my favorite Korean foods. (“One” being the key word there. There are many.) Anyways, along the way, I passed this traditional Korean ensemble performing. The woman in the hanbok (traditional Korean dress) was singing as well.
I got to the restaurant on the earlier side for dinner, so it wasn’t too crowded yet. I chose to sit on the floor. Ordering was all too easy — as soon as I sat down, the waitress simply asked me if I wanted sujebi, and I said yes. Done and done. (There are other things on the menu, though. A popular choice for groups of 2 or more was the 해물전, or seafood pancake, which looked really good.)
A minute or two later I had a pot of kimchi and a side of mulkimchi (non-spicy radish kimchi) in front of me, and not long after that my clay pot of sujebi was served.
The meal was so satisfying — it was the perfect end to my afternoon in Insadong. I doubt I’ll be back (there are just too many other places to try!), but I sure am tempted. Chewy (but not too chewy) dough flakes, light broth, and good kimchi…who can resist? The point is, if you find yourself in Insadong, try it! It’s so worth it.
And that was my trip to Insadong.