Asia Day 47: Seoul (Gangnam – Dance Class in Korea)

Asia Day 47: Seoul (Gangnam – Dance Class in Korea)

Photo of the day: 1 Million Dance Studio.

It was finally time to head over to the infamous Gangnam district of Seoul. It’s about time and this is why. One of my goals for this trip was to take a dance class in Korea. I’ve always been very impressed by Korean dancers and really love their interpretation of dance whether it is modern, jazz or hip hop. Their “music video” or “k-pop” style dance can also be very girly, which is a style that I really like. I found a few dance studios in Seoul, which are more foreigner-friendly, and the ones I was most interested in had their studios in Gangnam. I originally decided on 1 Million Studios. It was a top-notch studio, with millions of YouTube subscribers (myself included), and past contracts with entertainment companies. for those interested, this was the first of their videos that I watched a while ago that really impressed me. I’ve read/watched some reviews on people’s experiences there, which made me change my mind. I got very intimidated. It sounded like a very intense class with many students lining up 30 minutes to 1 hour before class just to get into the class, hoping to impress their instructor/idol. I also read that even the beginner’s classes were still quite difficult to follow. I just wanted to have fun and all this did not sound too fun, so I’ve been putting this off.

Instead, I chose Def Dance School. They also offer vocal and modelling training as well and appeared to be quite a professional performing arts school. They also supposedly had English-speaking staff and instructors. The studio was located near Seolleung station, so we got off there instead of the more central Gangnam station. We walked around for a bit and found a nice, cozy restaurant serving Japanese food called Yurikamome. I did not want to overeat before dancing so I just had a fish-cake udon. Aaron had the lunch set menu with Tonkatsu and a mini-udon as well as other side dishes. I was pleasantly surprised that I got a couple pickled side dishes too with my udon. One can always expect to find side dishes with their meals in South Korea. The broth was very tasty and peppery, perfect for a cold winter day. The Tonkatsu was delicious and the portion-size was huge! This is a trend we have noticed. The meals here are definitely North American-sized, compared to the smaller portion-sizes found in Thailand and Vietnam. It was a nice simple meal and before long, I had to get walking to the studio.

Fish cake udon @ Yurikamome.
Fish cake udon @ Yurikamome.

Tonkatsu meal @ Yurikamome. Photo credit: Aaron.
Tonkatsu meal @ Yurikamome. Photo credit: Aaron.

One thing I noticed about the fashion here is that people don’t wear boots. I’ve only seen foreigners wearing them. I did not understand because in Canada, almost everyone wears boots in the winter. Today, I finally saw people wearing boots and it was because it was snowing earlier today. It makes perfect sense now. In Canada, where it was always raining (Vancouver) or snowing (Ottawa), we needed to wear boots to keep our feet dry. Here, there is not as much precipitation, so it was not necessary! Well apparently my boots are not that waterproof because it was now raining and my socks were soaked. That is not a problem because you can get cute socks for 1000 KRW almost anywhere in Seoul.
I finally found the studio and was super excited! I walked up and checked with the front desk where the girl k-pop class was happening. The staff did not speak that much English but I got my point across and she asked me to go upstairs to register. I went upstairs to their main office and filled out a form, got my picture taken and then paid. I was asked to go back downstairs for the class. I was introduced to the instructor downstairs. That was when I found out that it is the end of the month and they were at the end of their choreographies. I wouldn’t really be able to catch up with all that has been taught already, so she said it was up to me whether I could just watch or I can just cancel the transaction. Again, that took a while to get through since she did not speak any English. So I went back upstairs to get my class refunded. They were happy to do so initially but later explained that because I used a foreign credit card, it would be more difficult for me to get a refund and they do not know how long it will take. They again offered that I can watch the class instead. I insisted I preferred a refund since it’s really no fun just watching a dance class and they said they will apply for it. So I am not sure if I will get the refund but we will see. So, as you can probably tell, I was pretty disappointed. I wish I knew I wouldn’t be able to participate in the class before registering and paying.

The weather matched my mood as I strolled through the rain to meet up with Aaron at The Bean Brothers near Gangnam station. It was a really nice coffee shop with lots of space for working. There was plenty of seating by the window and really fast wifi. The only downside is the price of the drinks! I should expect that in Seoul, coffee and tea at a nice cafe should cost 6000 KRW (~$6.90 CAD) and up.

Coffee @ The Bean Brothers - for the serious coffee drinkers. Photo credit: Aaron.
Coffee @ The Bean Brothers – for the serious coffee drinkers. Photo credit: Aaron.

I quickly got to work on blogging, but in the back of my mind, I still haven’t given up on dancing. I was no longer dissuaded by the intimidation and decided to go try 1 Million Dance Studios. It was quite a few stations away, so I took the subway. It was rush hour so I got to experience what it was like to be packed into the subway like sardines. You would think there was no longer any space but you are then pushed further and further in to make room for more and more people. It was quite impressive actually. Impressive, but not comfortable.

It took me around 30 minutes to get to the studio by subway, which tells you how big Gangnam really is, since it’s still in the same neighbourhood. It was only 30 minutes away from the class start time now and I was crossing my fingers that there I would make it in the class. I was pleasantly surprised that there were no crowds in front of the studio. This was probably because I was taking the beginner’s class with a newer instructor – Minyoung. I did see the crowd downstairs for the popular Mina Myoung’s class. You can take a look here to watch her more advanced choreography. The staff spoke English very well and she helped me process my payment right away. I got my photo taken just like with Def Dance and then had to set up a code for me to use when I attend any classes. It’s more relevant for people who paid for several classes to prove their identity. I was told to go upstairs to place my belongings on this huge shelf. I returned to the studio downstairs and then was told to enter my code while waiting in line. The instructor was practicing inside the studio and we were only allowed in right at the start of class. The instructor teaching this class was Minyoung, who apparently is a student-turned-teacher. I have seen her choreographies previously and liked her style. You can watch it here. The instruction was all in Korean, which is not a problem because dance is more about following movements than listening. The experience was really not that intense! I really liked the 90 minutes of class compared to the usual 60 minutes that I get in Canada. It gives us a lot of time to repeat the choreography to cement it to our memory. Like most dance classes, the last 8-count of choreography did not get as much love and was not given as much time. The class ended with the instructor splitting us up into group of 3’s to perform in front of everyone else. This is when many people pulled out their phones to film the instructor or ask others to film themselves. If you performed particularly well during the class, you were asked to dance with the instructor as the last group, concluding the class. I was pretty relieved today was not a filming day, so you will not be seeing me on YouTube. Overall, I had a very pleasant experience and it definitely wasn’t as intimidating as I originally thought it would be. I enjoyed the choreography, although it wasn’t as k-popish or girly as I hoped. It has definitely resparked my interest to try to take dance classes more regularly again. I did catch a glimpse of Mina Myoung’s class downstairs though and that class was packed with people and there was a lot of floor choreo with some butt waving going on, so I would probably not have survived that. Feeling very content, I head back to Gangnam station to meet up with Aaron for dinner.

Minyoung, our instructor, marking the steps on the side as a group was performing.
Minyoung, our instructor, marking the steps on the side as a group was performing.

We finally got to walk around the Gangnam station area a bit and found a very attractive  Dakgalbi restaurant on one of the side streets called Happy Yoongane. We originally were heading to a Nolboo for some Budae Jjigae but we could not say no to such temptations. We ordered 2 servings of the original chicken Galbi with a side of cheese and rice. They also had an option with a whole outer ring of cheese but we figured that was too intense. If there is one thing Koreans like, we discovered, it was cheese. They add it in everything – even lattes! A huge pan was placed in front of us, then some marinaded chicken and rice cakes were placed in the pan for us. They placed a huge metal fence around the pan to prevent splatter. The server would come by every few minutes to help us cook, eventually adding the cabbage and cheese to the mixture. Then finally she removed the metal barricade and it was time to eat. First bite was amazing! What was even more amazing what as when I added the rice in to soak up all the sauce. The sweet and salty taste of the chicken, fresh sweetness of the cabbage, stringy cheese and softness of the rice, was the perfect combination for a happy belly. They had a self-serve side dishes station, where there was a delicious creamy macaroni salad, in case you wanted to add more comfort to this comfort meal.

Dakgalbi @ Happy Yoogane. Look at that cheese.
Dakgalbi @ Happy Yoogane. Look at that cheese!

We decided we could not come to Gangnam without checking out the nightlife here so we found a cozy bar called 알콜패밀리, full of locals, to try some Korean rice wine (Makgeolli). The menu was all in Korean so I just asked for some Makgeolli. Apparently there were many flavours. Google Translate saved us as the server used it to explain what the different flavours were. We asked him which is the most popular one and he suggested the chestnut-flavoured Makgeolli. He gave us these metal bowls to drink out of which was interesting. It came in quite a large bottle, so I am glad he stopped me from ordering 2 at once. It looked quite milky and smelled sweet. The taste was quite sweet and very easy to drink. You can taste a little bit of the nuttiness and it was nice. Apparently, it originally appealed only to farmers and older people but now it has gained more popularity amongst younger people, especially Korean rappers (see source here). 

 Makgeolli @ 알콜패밀리.
Makgeolli @ 알콜패밀리.

We would’ve loved to enjoy the bustling Gangnam some more but we had to catch the last train at midnight. Despite the little hiccup at the beginning of the day, we quite enjoyed our time here in Gangnam. We definitely need to come back to check out this glitzy neighbourhood.

Glitzy Gangnam. Photo credit: Aaron.
Glitzy Gangnam. Photo credit: Aaron.
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Asia Day 46: Seoul (Gwangjang Market – N Seoul Tower)

Asia Day 46: Seoul (Gwangjang Market – N Seoul Tower)

Photo of the day: Panoramic view of Seoul from Jamdoobong Photo Island on our walk up to N Seoul Tower.

This morning, I had a craving for some Korean convenience store food for breakfast, so before Aaron was even up, I went downstairs to grab a triangular Gimbap and a normal Gimbap and brought it upstairs to eat with Aaron. There were some locals at the store, eating ramyun, which is always a favourite, but I figured I shouldn’t be having that for breakfast. I was very interested in the triangular Gimbap, since I have never had it before. I could not read the wrapping at all and the mystery flavour I got was chicken curry. It was not what I was expecting and it really was mostly full of rice. I enjoyed the regular Gimbap a lot more. This one had English on it and I chose the spicy pork one, which was very tasty and the pickled vegetables inside complemented the nicely marinated pork very well. 

My convenience store breakfast.
My convenience store breakfast.

The inside of the Gimbap.
The inside of the Gimbap.

I spent my morning doing research AKA watching YouTube videos and decided it is time that we check out Gwangjang Market. When we arrived, I felt like we were back at Chatuchak Market again. It was so lively and the food stalls were everywhere! Most of the stalls had seats in front of them so it allowed them to sell more than just street food, which you have to carry around with you. I really wanted Bibimbap today since Mina Oh  had it here and it looked so good. It was a while before we could find the stalls selling Bibimbap though because there were so many other food stalls to distract us. It was interesting that the food stalls were grouped by category here. We first encountered a bunch of mung bean pancake stalls, which we wanted but there were no seats. Aaron got this mochi cake thing with some kind of powdering mung bean filling. Sorry, no idea what this was but here is a picture.

Mystery street food. Does anyone know the name of this? Photo credit: Aaron.
Mystery street food. Does anyone know the name of this? Photo credit: Aaron.

I finally found a stall selling Sikhye (sweet rice drink). It was very refreshing and would be perfect for a hot summer day, but still tasty for a cold winter day. 

Sikhye @ Gwangjang Market. Photo credit: Aaron.
Sikhye @ Gwangjang Market. Photo credit: Aaron.

Finally, we found a Bibimbap stall with big bowls of veggies. We quickly sat down the the remaining 2 seats and I ordered one Bibimbap right away. Aaron wanted something different and ordered the spicy noodle. She went over to the big bowls of veggies and started putting stuff into a big bowl for me. She placed it in front of me then put on a disposable plastic glove and gestured if I wanted for her to mix it. I said yes so she mixed it all up for me. I took my first bite and it was spectacular. It was just so favourful and there were so many different textures from the soft rice to the crunch veggies. I was in love. It also came with a nice and hot seaweed soup as well as some kimchi. The lovely lady working at the stall was like a mother. She handed Aaron a spoon so he can share my rice, while waiting for his food. While she was making his, she pointed and said “Massiseoyo!”, which meant it was going to be delicious. I’m glad I am picking up Korean from the YouTube videos I’m watching. Then when his noodles came, she gave me a small plate and asked Aaron to give some to me. The noodles were surprising served cold with similar ingredients as my Bibimbap but with more spice. The portion sizes here were huge and Aaron and I were having problems finishing all the food. Later on in the meal, she asked me in Mandarin whether the food was good and I said yes. It appears that the locals here can speak Chinese more fluently than they can speak English. I’ve heard salespeople speaking fluent Chinese to some customers, whereas their English are broken when they speak to me. On leaving, we overpaid and she was so honest to give us back the extra money we gave her. I really enjoyed my delicious lunch and felt really looked after. We really wanted to try more food here but we were too stuffed, so we headed back on the subway to Myeongdong station.

The bibimbap stall we ate at. Look at the mounds of vegetables and Mandoo!
The bibimbap stall we ate at. Look at the mounds of vegetables and Mandoo!

Bibimbap @ Gwangjang Market. Photo credit: Aaron.
Bibimbap @ Gwangjang Market. Photo credit: Aaron.

Spicy noodles - pre-mixing. Photo credit: Aaron.
Spicy noodles – pre-mixing. Photo credit: Aaron.

Spicy noodles - post-mixing. Photo credit: Aaron.
Spicy noodles – post-mixing. Photo credit: Aaron.

We were at Myeongdong station once again, but not to shop or eat street food. We wanted to see the N Seoul Tower today. According to our research, there were a few ways to get up:

  1. by bus, which can take who knows how long
  2. by cable car, at 8000 KRW (~$9 CAD) return trip per person, but not the most enjoyable because apparently they stuff as many people as they can each trip and the line ups can be long, especially in the afternoon
  3.  by foot, our preferred method

I was worried about hiking up a mountain during winter time at first but it turns out it was more of a leisurely walk up a fully paved path with no snow on the ground. We couldn’t find good directions for the trail as we did with Doi Suthep but this is what we did. We got out of exit #3 at Myeongdong station, and walked towards the 7-11. There should be signs pointing towards Namsan Park so we continued in that direction up the hill. We arrived at the cable car lower station and walked across the street and found a trail entrance, which was not the right one. We just followed the signs which pointed to N Seoul Tower! Easy Peasy! 

We got some of these small custard-filled goodies to warm up before our hike. They were amazing! Photo credit: Aaron.
We got some of these small custard-filled goodies to warm up before our hike. They were amazing! Photo credit: Aaron.

Almost at the lower station for the Namsan Cable Car.
Almost at the lower station for the Namsan Cable Car.

Staircase across from cable car station. You would think that is the way up but it's not.
Staircase across from cable car station. You would think that is the way up but it’s not.

You need to turn right.
You need to turn right.

Until you get here - the stairs leading up to the N Seoul Tower.
Until you get here – the stairs leading up to the N Seoul Tower.

It was a very nice walk with just a few other people doing it a well, ranging from solo elderly ladies, to group of elderly men with their buddies, to young ladies in heels on a date with their partners. Every once in a while, I will turn around to look at the city and the views get more and more amazing as we walked up. I was impressed by the fully equipped outdoor gym and multiple washroom stops available. The thing I appreciated the most was the “photo island”, which was basically a beautiful lookout point allowing you to see panoramic views of the city (see featured image). We went around sunset and it was amazing! It took us only around 30 minutes to reach the top, even with our frequent stops to enjoy the view. Once up there, we joined the crowds to enjoy the views from the observatory. There was also an option to go up the tower for a fee but we figured we got pretty amazing views during our walk and at the observatory already. Another sight here were the hundreds of thousands of locks on the railings everywhere. Apparently, there was a scene in a popular Korean soap opera where a couple put up a lock here and now it’s become a huge date spot. Of course, you can buy your lock up there if you’ve forgotten to get one before your journey here. Otherwise, apparently it’s also a thing to hang up your cellphone covers as well. 

Sunset from base of N Seoul Tower.
Sunset from base of N Seoul Tower.

Love locks galore.
Love locks galore.

Cell phone cases is a common find along with locks.
Cell phone cases is a common find along with locks.

We then walked around the 5 floor plaza with sticker picture booths, 3D and 4D experiences, arcade games and more. I got some strawberry earl grey tea latte from GongCha to warm up. I couldn’t really taste the tea. I could only taste the sugary strawberry component. It was like hot strawberry-flavoured milk. There were some places to get food from convenience stores to fancy Italian restaurants with a nice view, but we decided to go down the mountain to find some more local eats. 

By now, it was dark and we got to enjoy another perspective of Seoul on the way down – the night view. We decided to take the Namsan Ormi Elevator (sideways elevator) just for fun for around 100m from the base of the cable car, bringing us only that much closer to Myeongdong station.

Night view of Seoul from Mount Namsan. Photo credit: Aaron.
Night view of Seoul from Mount Namsan. Photo credit: Aaron.

Namsan Ormi Elevator next to lower cable car station.
Namsan Ormi Elevator next to lower cable car station.

It turns out we ended up at Hoehyeon station, so we decided to try our luck again at Namdaemun market. The market is even more dead at this time of day. Mark Wiens did mention that there were good restaurants on the side alleys of Namdemun, so we decided to look around. It turns out we found the same restaurant that he went to for some oxtail soup called Jinjujip (watch here), so we walked in. It was apparently famous with posters of it’s several TV appearances plastered on the walls. There was no English menu, so we showed them a picture on the phone. They still seemed confused so I gestured a tail wagging behind me and then they understood. I asked them which one is it on the menu on the wall and they pointed to one of the items with the 尾 (tail) Kanji under it. There were a few items with that character, so I’m glad she understood which one we wanted. The soup was very comforting and the oxtail was pretty tasty. You could add more to the taste by dipping it in the soya sauce/chives mixture before eating. Overall, the food was not bad but we did not think it was worth the 23,000 KRW (~$26 CAD) per serving price tag. It was probably overpriced due to their fame. 

Oxtail soup @ Jinjujip.
Oxtail soup @ Jinjujip.

I really enjoyed our day today. Gwangjang Market is probably my favourite market for food so far. We have not been visiting too many tourist attractions but I would highly recommend the N Seoul Tower for its amazing views and as a romantic date spot.

Asia Day 45: Seoul (Sinchon)

Asia Day 45: Seoul (Sinchon)

Photo of the day: Bingsoo @ Meal Top. Photo credit: Aaron.

Our neighbourhood of choice today is Sinchon, another university district. For lunch, we found a cafeteria closeby called Our Home, filled with office workers, so we decided to join them. There were 2 menu options: A and B. The description was all in Korean, so we just got one of each. Turns out menu A was a fish stew with fried fish on the side, along with rice and a super flavourful acorn jelly salad. The stew was on the sour side but tasted pretty healthy. The fish was a bit dry and had a lot of bones. Menu B was for meat lovers. The main dish was a deliciously marinaded stir-fried pork, served with a side of octopus and fried chicken cutlet! It also came with rice. There is also a side dish station, where you can get your own additional sides dishes to complement your meal. There was a choice of regular salad, pickled daikon, this other leafy red side dish and shrimp chips. The prices here were quite reasonable and it was a good amount of food.

Fish stew with fried wish lunch set @ Our Home.
Fish stew with fried wish lunch set @ Our Home.

 Marinaded stir-fried pork, with fried chicken cutlet lunch set @ Our Home. Photo credit: Aaron.
Marinaded stir-fried pork, with fried chicken cutlet lunch set @ Our Home. Photo credit: Aaron.

Unfortunately, we were having problems locating the entrance to the GJ line from Seoul station or it looked like they were fixing the gate, so we just took the Airport line and got off Hongik station and walked over. It turned out to be a nice walk because we came across the Gyeongui Line Book Street, which used to be an active railroad built by the Japanese.

Gyeongui Line Book Street.
Gyeongui Line Book Street.

We arrived in Sinchon around 3pm and the streets were still quiet. I’ve been craving Bingsoo even though it’s -2 C outside, so went to the Hyundai Department Store for some. Walking through the store, it reminded me of a more upscale and much larger version of The Bay. We finally reached the 10th floor, where Meal Top was – apparently serving Bingsoo for 30 years now. The demographics of the clientele consisted of mostly older ladies, probably just taking a break from their shopping. We sat down anyway and ordered their green tea and red bean Bingsoo. It was time to dig in! The bottom layer is green tea shaved ice, concentrated with green tea flavour. On top is some red bean, my new favourite ingredient in my desserts. It is topped with some gooey cake, which did not really have a distinct taste. The taste was pretty good, although, not much different than the ones I’ve had in Vancouver.

Having satisfied my craving, we were ready to get to work. Aaron found a coffee place called 독수리다방. It had a lot of comfortable seating to do work both indoor and outdoors (although not appropriate during this time of year), as well as private meeting spaces. The prices of the coffee and tea were definitely very high (around 6000 KRW = ~6.90 CAD), but it did have really nice views.

Sunset from 독수리다방.
Sunset from 독수리다방.

We were getting hungry, so we went over to Tong Tong Dwaeji around the corner, as recommended by Trazy.com. It was a small place and luckily wasn’t busy when we arrived. It did fill up quickly as the night progressed. We ordered one serving of the Samgyeopsal (pork belly) and a serving of Jummulock (seasoned pork). Just like our previous BBQ experiences, as soon as we ordered, a huge selection of dishes will appear on our table. Because the place wasn’t large, we saw the butcher chopping up our meat for us. It was brought over by metal plates and they placed the Samgyeopsal down on the grill first and left the Jummulock for later cooking. The old lady serving us did not speak any English but she kept a close eye on our food the whole time to make sure we are cooking it properly. She came over every couple minutes to teach us how to cook it. Eventually, she even showed us how to eat the cooked meat, by first dipping it in a condiments provided (soy sauce and some brown powder), placing it on the lettuce, add on their special spicy salad, and finally a glove of cooked garlic from the grill. Fermented bean paste was optional. She even fed me a piece of the meat for me to taste the meat by itself. It was an intimidating but fun experience. I can tell she is just very eager to help and to make sure we were enjoying the food she has prepared properly. The food itself was super delicious. The meat is great but combined with the spicy salad and the garlic, it was amazing. Then we had the Jummulock, which was supposed to be dipped in different condiments, salt and oil. I actually loved the Jummulock even more! It was even more delicious. The meal only gets better because after we were done cooking our meats, she brought over a little pot of stew. She even gestured that we use a spoon to drink it, in case we did not know what it was for. We must have looked really clueless. I was expecting just a normal kimchi stew but it was this delicious pork stew, reminding me of a tasty version of Gamjatang. This was probably one of my favourite meals in Seoul so far.

Samgyeopsal @ Tong Tong Dwaeji. Photo credit: Aaron.
Samgyeopsal @ Tong Tong Dwaeji. Photo credit: Aaron.
The pretty streets of Sinchon at night. Photo credit: Aaron.
The pretty streets of Sinchon at night. Photo credit: Aaron.

Aaron’s computer was having issues so we headed over to Yongsan to get him a external hard drive to back up his files. Unfortunately, it took us longer to get there than expected and everything was closed by the time we arrived at the station. Note to self: The GJ line trains do not come very often. We haven’t had much luck with this line today! Instead, we headed back to Seoul station to test our luck at Lotte Mart. It was supposedly the Walmart of Korea, so they should have everything and they do. They had a whole electronics and appliances section. We even got the immediate tax refund on it, which still made it cost a little more than what we would’ve paid in Canada. I was going to check out the skin care counters hoping that I would be able to shop more freely now that I am in a department store instead of the actually cosmetic store. I was wrong. The counter area was even smaller with a higher salespeople to customer ratio and it made browsing even more awkward. I think the key here is to know what you want and just pick it up. Browsing is ok if you’re ok with having someone follow you around the whole time.

Asia Day 44: Seoul (Namdaemun Market – Myeongdong)

Asia Day 44: Seoul (Namdaemun Market – Myeongdong)

Photo of the day:  Sunrise in Seoul. I fell back asleep shortly after this shot. 

I think we are still running on Thailand time, as we have been sleeping in everyday since we got here. I decided it was ok to be a little lazy since it is Sunday and we have been traveling for 40+ days now. Our laziness is limited by our foodie instincts, so we headed out to Namdaemun Market, hoping to find some good street food. I have been watching a lot of Sweet and Tasty YouTube videos lately and saw that she had such a good time at Namdaemun Market, so I knew we had to go. It was a simple 1 stop subway ride there, which made me wonder if we should’ve walked. The problem is we cannot use Google Maps to tell us how long of a walk it would’ve been to help us decide whether it is a reasonable option. The market was not too big and we covered the whole market in no time. We were disappointed to see that the street food options were more limited during this time of the year. We first tried the donuts with glutinous filling. Some came with red bean and another was winter melon I believe. I really liked the red bean one. The crunch outside and the soft inside was just perfect. Then we got some Ddeokbokki (Korean rice cakes), it was ok but too sweet and saucy. We also got some Dakkochi (chicken skewers) at the same stall. The chicken was alternating with sweet onion, drenched with delicious BBQ sauce. It was very tasty. We ended with some Busan-style Hotteok (sweet Korean pancakes), which was Aaron’s favourite. It was filled with oozing brown sugar syrup and peanuts.

Ddeokbokki in Namdaemun Market. Photo credit: Aaron.
Ddeokbokki in Namdaemun Market. Photo credit: Aaron.

Dakkochi in Namdaemun Market. Photo credit: Aaron.
Dakkochi in Namdaemun Market. Photo credit: Aaron.

Hotteok in Namdaemun Market. Photo credit: Aaron.
Hotteok in Namdaemun Market. Photo credit: Aaron.

Feeling not completely satisfied, we walked down the Hyeondong Underground Shopping Mall to see if there was anything interesting to eat down there. While there, we found out that it led to Myeongdong, so we followed the path to Myeongdong – the shopping and street food paradise that we discovered on the first day we were here. Aaron got to pay another visit to the largest Uniqlo in Seoul, but did not purchase as many things as he originally wanted to. He found out most things were cheaper in Japan, which we will be heading to next. Here, we were finally able to get the immediate tax refund that has been advertised. They simply just scanned our passport, then we were given a discount on the bill. Interestingly, they did not refund the entire VAT amount (10%). It was only a portion of that amount due to a handling fee by the refund company. 

A friend of a friend of ours who lives in Korea, suggested that we go to a noodle place in Myeongdong called Myeongdong Gyoja (명동 교자). It took us some time to find as we were playing match the Korean Characters again! Luckily, they also listed a Chinese name (明洞餃子), which I was able to recognize. It was a pretty full place but we managed to get a spot right away. The menu was simple with only 4 dishes. As we walked to our seats, I noticed most couples would order 1 noodle bowl along with extra dumplings on the side, so that’s what we did. The service was very efficient and we were asked to pay upfront when ordering, which actually makes more sense because you don’t have to wave the server down to pay later. Our food arrived in no time. Placed in front of us was one huge bowl of noodles with a whole steam basket of dumplings. I was excited. The dumplings reminded me of the Northern Chinese Xiao Long Bao. It was soupy inside and was filled with veggies and meat. The wrapper was perfectly soft and not too doughy. The knife cut noodles again remind me of a very Northern Chinese dish. The shredded meat placed on top was the highlight of that dish. There were small dumplings in the noodle soups but it wasn’t as plump and delicious as dumplings from the other dish. We got some pretty spicy kimchi on the side as well, which was refilled as we ate from this lovely lady with a small thermos of kimchi. 

Dumplings and noodles @ Myeongdong Gyoja.
Dumplings and noodles @ Myeongdong Gyoja.

We did some more window shopping around the area and I was finally overwhelmed with the sales efforts here, so decided to call it an early day. If you are like me, and enjoying taking my time when shopping and do not like to be bothered by hard-selling techniques, this is not the place for you. As soon as you walk into a store, the salesperson would follow right behind you and start promoting products. I appreciate their helpfulness but even when I say, “it’s ok, I’ll just look around”, they would continue following me. There was one salesperson who was trying really hard to make me buy a 20 pack of snail masks that she started offering me 20 more masks and some other snail cream as well. I tried to explain that I have no room or weight allowances in my little carry-on but she insisted I get them. I was almost pressured into getting it since she spent so much time on me but I eventually said no thank you and walked away. Now, I can see why so many people are carrying suitcases with them to come here shopping. You would need it if you end up buying everything they sell you and all these extra gifts they offer.

There was a street stall that was selling teriyaki steak, which smelled so good, so we picked up some to fill our tummies for the day. Aaron enjoyed the croissant Taiyaki so much from the other day that we had to grab another one to wrap up the evening.

Steak in Myeongdong. Photo credit: Aaron.
Steak in Myeongdong. Photo credit: Aaron.

Asia Day 43: Seoul (Hongdae)

Asia Day 43: Seoul (Hongdae)

Photo of the day: Budae Jjigae @ Simpson Tang. Photo credit: Aaron.

Today we are going to explore Hongdae! This is the area around the Hongik University that is great for shopping and hanging out with younger locals. As soon as we got out of the subway station, we saw a long line-up for something. It was quite impressive and went on for quite a few blocks. Aware of the craze of k-pop culture, I assumed it was for some celebrity event. Aaron’s saw someone in a red shirt with “tourist information” on it and asked what the line up was for. My assumption was confirmed and it appears they are handing out little stuffies of this local boy band. That was not the only line up we saw that day. 

 Line up in Hongdae. Photo credit: Aaron.
Line up in Hongdae. Photo credit: Aaron.

For lunch, we went to Simpson Tang, a restaurant specializing in Budae Jjigae (army base stew), one of my favourite Korean dishes. Foursquare and Google reviews is not too useful for finding good restaurants here, so I found this place on a trazy.com. Apparently this place is owned by a Korean singer Hwangbo and the television set in the restaurant was her eating Budae Jjigae. The wall had several signatures posted up, which I assumed was of famous celebrities who visited this restaurant. We ordered 2 people’s servings of the original stew and it came with rice as well. I assumed there was instant noodles included but apparently there was none in the stew so I had to order extra! The stew is not complete without it! On each table was a gas burner and then a huge pot would be brought over with the stew. After around 15 minutes, you can dig in! There was raw garlic and butter found on the side of our table. They also provided a mincer, so curious Aaron minced some garlic into the stew. The ingredients of the stew were quite typical of Budae Jjigae, consisting of sausages, spam, cabbage and slices of processed cheese on top. This was supposedly a stew eaten after the war, when food sources was scarce, where they made a stew out of the simple left over American ingredients. With such ingredients, you can really not go wrong with taste. It’s just such a great comfort meal. Aaron later wanted to experiment with the butter too and just added a little bit to the stew which pushed it over the edge for me. The whole stew tasted like butter. Yes, it is possible to have a little too much butter. Overall, it was a good meal from a specialized restaurant, although it just did not give me the same mind-blowing effect as the first time I had it in Vancouver. This was Aaron’s first time eating it and he loved it. 

Budae Jjigae @ Simpson Tang. Photo credit: Aaron.
Budae Jjigae @ Simpson Tang. Photo credit: Aaron.
After lunch, we just did some work at a coffee shop called Coffee Be and Aaron stayed there for a while, so I went out exploring on my own and did some shopping in the area. The prices here were supposed to be lower than the prices in Myeongdong to cater to the more money-conscious university students. Looking around, the fashion scene here is very uniform. The female here wore short skirts with beige or black tights, either with sneakers or black heels; or a looser fitting sweatshirt with jeans and sneakers. They all had super fair foundation on with a bright red lip. There were multiple branches of the same cosmetic stores and they all had some sale going on. A lot of the stores here, whether it be cosmetic or clothing stores, had a tax refund sign meaning you could get some of the VAT refunded if you spent 30,000 KRW or more. It was a great way to get people to buy more at their store to reach that threshold. Some of these stores were packed, mostly of young ladies trying to get the newest skin care product or the hottest newest shade of lip tint. I am definitely not a girly girl but it did take a lot of self-control to prevent myself from buying everything in this lively shopping environment. The funniest part was when I tried on a cc cream on the back of my hand and I kept rubbing and rubbing but it just wouldn’t blend! To be fair, I probably put too much but again, it was also probably 10 shades lighter than my sun-kissed skin. The sales person who was watching this was probably trying hard not to burst out laughing at this ridiculous scene. 

It was Saturday, so the streets are pretty lively with street performances everywhere ranging from k-pop dance groups to solo/duet singers, some with huge crowds around them. I was quite impressed with the level of talent of these performers. There were some street food stalls here and there but nothing compared to Myeongdong. 

The crowd waiting for a performance to start.
The crowd waiting for a performance to start.

Aaron was craving some Bulgogi and found a place specializing in it on another travel blog. It was getting really chilly, so we decided to take the subway for one stop. Let me digress and talk about the Korean subway system for a bit. I am not only very impressed by their extensive network but the facilities available. There is usually an underground shopping mall attached for you to do some shopping. You can expect to find washrooms (clean too!), nursing rooms and lockers as well. I especially love that there are clean washrooms because that is one of my fears when travelling – not knowing when I will have access to a bathroom in case of emergencies. Aaron also noticed there were repeaters throughout the station, so you will not have problems with reception.

It hasn’t been the most straightforward to find points of interest here since Google Maps does not really work here and our Korean character reading skills are as good as our Thai reading skills. We eventually found the restaurant (옛맛서울불고기) and ended up walking through the back entrance because we did not know any better. The place was crowded but we clued in that we needed to take a number and just wait. Again, the wait was not terrible as most people were finishing up their meals. Looking around, I think we were the only foreigners there. We were given a large plastic bag to stuff our jackets and belongings in and just placed it on the floor. There was no menu, so we just asked for Bulgogi for 2 people and a bottle of soju using hand gestures and single words. Then we just sat back and let the magic happen. First a man came over to put down the charcoal base. Then a lady came by and dropped off all our side dishes and raw goods (beef, glass noodles and veggies, such as enoki mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, green onion, and sweet onion). Before leaving, she helped us place a hefty serving of beef onto the grill and some onion in the ring around the grill filled with broth. There was so much on the table we did not know where to start. There were normal side dishes like marinated daikon and kimchi but were in huge pieces we had to cut with scissors. Then there were 2 soup-like mixtures. One was like kimchi water and another was green onion water. We also had some lettuce to wrap our meet, the fermented bean paste and the ubiquitous Korean chilli sauce. Our beef cooked in no time and we got our first taste. It was less saucy than the Bulgogi we’ve had in Canada but the taste is more complex, with the different marinade soaked into the beef, the onions overlying the beef and the charcoal flare. We experimented dipping it in various pastes, and soups and wrapping it up with lettuce. It was really fun. I also really enjoyed the enoki mushrooms, which I usually do not like. We think it was because it was soaked in the delicious broth placed on the ring around the grill. This was our first soju on this trip and I haven’t had much soju in the past. It’s been described to be like Korean vodka but less strong. It was actually very sweet and easy to drink – much better than straight up vodka. We subway’d home feeling pretty good with our food finds so far on this trip!

Bulgogi @ 옛맛서울불고기. Photo credit: Aaron.
Bulgogi @ 옛맛서울불고기. Photo credit: Aaron.

Asia Day 42: Seoul (Myeongdong)

Asia Day 42: Seoul (Myeongdong)

Photo of the day: Flaming scallops in Myeongdong. Photo credit Aaron.

Either sleep-deprived from travelling or due to the 2 hour time difference, we both ended up sleeping in today. We started the day grabbing some coffee/tea and a sandwich at a coffee shop downstairs.

There were many neighbourhoods in Seoul to explore, each with their own character. Today, we wanted to explore the nearby Myeongdong. Aaron still needed a jacket and it’s -1 C today, so our first stop was to Uniqlo. We found out about the immediate tax refund available at a lot of stores here, Uniqlo being one of them, but because we did not have our original passports, we were not able to claim it. There was a way to get it at the airport but it’s really annoying involving lots of lining up and showing them the purchased goods as well as the receipts.

Myeongdong. Photo credit: Aaron.
Myeongdong. Photo credit: Aaron.

The streets were full of clothing and skin care stores, with the latter handing out free samples. I walked in to a few of them, feeling bad for taking the samples and was feeling very uncomfortable with the sales people following me around. We were more interested in checking out the street food. We sampled various items, starting with the egg bread (Gyeran-Bbang). This was a small single serving pound cake with a full egg baked inside of it. It was not bad. The stall was also selling deep fried shrimp and crabs, so we tried some of that too. You would choose which you wanted, then they would re-fry it for you. The prawn was amazing. The crab was ok.

 Gyeran-Bbang in Myeongdong. Photo credit: Aaron.
Gyeran-Bbang in Myeongdong. Photo credit: Aaron.

We then had some pancake hotdogs, with corn, mayonnaise and processed cheese. I don’t think it was authentic Korean street food, given it was an East Indian man serving it but it looked good so I tried it anyway. It was ok considering it’s a combination of all the right things but together, it wasn’t that mind-blowing. Next, we had the more traditional Mandoo (or dumplings) and it was pretty good!

Mandoo. Photo credit: Aaron.
Mandoo. Photo credit: Aaron.

I felt like we were back in a street market in Thailand again, as the whole street was full of different stalls and everything looked so exciting. One which caught our attention was a cheesy scallop stall where it was more like a show. The man skillfully shucked a scallop the size of my head, then cut it into small bite sized pieces and placed it back in one half of the shell. Then the lady would melt butter on top of the scallop and heated it up over a grilled, while continuing to apply heat above using a torch. She constantly uses the torch to heat up the scallop and its contents, then at the end, would add a lot of shredded cheese and heated it up some more. It looked too good to give up, even though it had quite a high price tag (10,000 KRW~$11) for street food. To our disappointment, it did not taste as good as it looked. We were mainly cheese and the scallop was a bit chewy. We also had a skewer of a variety of bite-sized Hot Bar. Each bite had a different taste but all were very delicious.

 Cheesy scallop. Photo credit: Aaron.
Cheesy scallop. Photo credit: Aaron. 
Skewered mini Hot Bar? Photo credit: Aaron.
Skewered mini Hot Bar? Photo credit: Aaron.

We were soon running out of cash. We only exchanged a small amount back home for pocket change and the street food here is definitely not as cheap as the ones in Thailand. Luckily, there were money exchange places and ATMs everywhere. Most businesses here accept credit card, so you really don’t need that much cash. Plus, tipping isn’t a thing here so you don’t even need cash for that. It’s really for 1. Street food and 2. To reload our T-money card for public transit. But this time, we were pretty full but before we stopped eating, we passed by a taiyaki stand so we had to get one! We got the original red bean filling one and were pleasantly surprised that the shell was made out of crispy croissant dough, instead of the normal soft dough! It made it so much better! Once we got to the middle, we were able to taste the still hot red bean filling and we decided that this was probably our winner today.

Croissant Taiyaki. I couldn't wait to take a bite. Photo credit: Aaron.
Croissant Taiyaki. I couldn’t wait to take a bite. Photo credit: Aaron.

We were on our way back to the subway station when I saw the sign for Juno Hair. I have had really good experiences with Korean hair salons in Vancouver and was really hoping to get my hair done during my trip here. I read that Juno Hair was one of the top salon chains here, so I just wanted to go in and take a look. My “going in and taking a look” turned out to be a 2+ hour cut, colour and treatment session, along with a big dent in my wallet. The prices here were not cheap but you are paying for the very professional stylists and staff, as well the the nice environment with excellent facilities. They started with provided myself and Aaron with some tea and snacks while we waited for the consultation with the stylist. The stylist came and confirmed what I wanted to be done and what the costs would be, making sure that I agreed before proceeding. It turns out Aaron needs a hair cut too, so she explained when his cut would be done relative to my treatment, so he could go out and do some window shopping. The dying and treatment was mainly done by her assistant. I know some people were complaining about that online but I did not mind. Their hair wash stations were really nice with comfortable reclining chairs and I even got a brief scalp massage along with my wash. I liked how my stylist, Sol, was very good with checking in and updating me on the progress, so I am not just sitting there wondering what they are doing with my hair. The English proficiency of the staff here are pretty good, which can apparently be a problem at other salons. Sol was very attentive during the cut and made sure I was ok throughout. She gave her opinions on modifications to the cut based on my face shape and hair type, as well as tips on how to care for and style my hair. I can tell she was trying really hard to make sure I understood, even though English was not her first language, so I really appreciated that. I have never coloured my hair before, nor have I had straight cut bangs for many years, so I probably showed apprehension all over my face when I finally saw the final result. She quickly saw that and reassured me several times to trust her. She said that the colour turned out really well, which I am glad. I heard many horror stories about colouring mishaps, but I guess those were mainly for people with blonde hair. Having black hair myself puts me at an advantage here but my thin hair makes it quite different than the usual thicker Korean hair they’re used to working with. There are many mixed reviews of this salon. Even while I was here, there was another client, who was complaining about her perm. Overall, I was very happy with my experience. I think it’ll just take me time to get used to my new cut. Aaron was also very happy with his cut, as he felt she was very skillful. She also spent a lot of time counselling how he can style his hair. The other good news is that he did not end up being forced to look like a Korean pop star, which other people have mentioned they were forced to do when they got their hair done in Korea.

Tea and cookies to enjoy at Juno Hair. Photo credit: Aaron.
Tea and cookies to enjoy at Juno Hair. Photo credit: Aaron.

We weren’t hungry yet, so we headed back to Seoul station and picked up some groceries at Lotte Mart, a huge department store chain here. It felt like jumbo-sized T&T. They had lots of free samples as well as sit down food areas too. They did not give bags but had a boxing area for people to package up their goods.

The Banchan section @ Lotte Mart.
The Banchan section @ Lotte Mart.

It was already 9:30pm and we were getting hungry, so we went out again to get some food. Foursquare was not too helpful so we just roamed the streets hoping to find something good. At this time, it seems like a lot of restaurants were closing. It was also very cold, we decided to just stop at the first busy place we saw. It was a chicken and beer place called 노랑통닭 서울역점. We ordered the variety plate with 3 types of fried chicken and some Cass beer. The side dishes given were some coleslaw along with some picked daikon. The daikon was amazing. The coleslaw was not my favourite and the dressing tasted like green apples. The chicken plate was quite a sight. We were pretty sure one plate can be shared between 3-4 small appetite people, but that is not us. We first tried the original flavoured fried chicken. It was pretty good quality, fried boneless chicken. Next, was the Korean chilli-sauce covered ones, which we felt had an overpowering amount of chilli sauce. Lastly, we tried the chicken which was nicely seasoned along with fresh red and green chillies and onions. This one was our favourite and reminded us of Thailand. The demographics of patrons here were quite varied, some young locals hanging out, some foreigners visiting, some older locals having a good time, singing and chatting, and some even older men just having a nice chat with their buddies.

Fried chicken @ 노랑통닭 서울역점. Photo credit: Aaron.
Fried chicken @ 노랑통닭 서울역점. Photo credit: Aaron.

So we did not get as much shopping done as we wished today; however, the unplanned salon visit and chicken+beer dinner made our first full day in Seoul pretty awesome!

Asia Day 41: Kuala Lumpur – Seoul (Sama Sama Express at KLIA2 – Optiontown experience – Korean BBQ)

Asia Day 41: Kuala Lumpur – Seoul (Sama Sama Express at KLIA2 – Optiontown experience – Korean BBQ)

Photo of the day: Hanwoo @ Maple Tree House. Photo credit: Aaron.

There are limited direct flights from Phuket to Seoul and they have odd departure times (1 or 2 am). We decided to save some money by taking a indirect flight with Air Asia, with a transfer to Kuala Lumpur. This led to a 8 hour in transit gap at the KLIA2 airport, so we booked a stay at the Sama Sama Express right in the airport itself. Alternatively I could’ve just slept on a bench in the airport, like what I saw others doing. It worked out to still cost less than a direct flight even with this hotel stay. In addition, we got to shower and get some rest in an actual bed, instead of sleeping on the plane, which I can never get restful sleep on. We also had a late check in time and we did not want to explore the city with our suitcases, so we did not think it made sense to arrive early anyway. (We later found out that there were storage lockers at subway stations, which we could’ve used to store our luggage. Good to know for next time!)

We also received an email to upgrade our seats to Seoul a couple weeks ago. It was a very good discount on their “premium flatbed” seats, so we thought why not. I only realized later that this was not a simple upgrade offered by the airline. It was run by a third party called Optiontown. It basically is a lottery/standby system, where you don’t really find out whether your upgrade is successful until really close to the flight time. They said that we will get a notification 1-3 days prior to the flight, up to 4 hours prior. When we checked in at Phuket, we still had no idea what the status was, even when we asked the Air Asia staff. Only after we woke up 1 hour prior to the flight to Seoul, we checked our email, which said that the upgrade request was “accepted” to be confirmed at the gate. Aaron was so excited as it was his birthday today and he thought it would be a nice treat to get the upgrade. We were very disappointed to hear once at the gate that the upgrade was not successful. There were only a few flatbed seats on the plane, so our chances would’ve been slim. In addition, they mentioned that checking in prior to getting the upgrade may affect our chances but we had no choice, since we were forced to check in at the Phuket airport. It was only after that we read bad reviews online with people having problems getting their money back after their upgrade was unsuccessful. Optiontown promised to refund the money within 5 business days after the flight, so we will see. We also did not pre-purchase seats, so we did not end up sitting together. Luckily, we travelled carry-on only so we did not have to rely on the upgraded luggage qualifications. We were also able to order food from a limited menu on board. Overall, it was a disappointing experience. I would probably not opt for this again in the future, as I don’t trust my luck with lotteries and I really don’t like uncertainty. It’s good for those out there who enjoy testing out their luck. 

Cannot transit through Malaysia without having some Nasi Lemak for breakfast!
Cannot transit through Malaysia without having some Nasi Lemak for breakfast!

We landed in the Incheon Airport a little early and breezed through immigration. Aaron said that the efficiency reminded him of Japan. We headed into the Seoul via the train, which was pretty easy to use. Our accommodation was conveniently located at Seoul station, the central hub of the public transit system. Although convenient and efficient, it still took us around 2 hours between when we landed and when we got to our accommodation. By then we were really hungry and ready to get some good Korean food. 

First stop was to stop by a convenience store to get a T-money card, they prepaid card, which can be used to take the public transit and also can be used at various stores and vending machines in Seoul. My Korean language skills is limited to “1,2,3”, “thank you” and “hi” so it was not easy trying to purchase this card from the convenience store employee who spoke no English at all. But it worked out at the end and I walked away with a cute “Line”-themed card, while Aaron chose a boring white one. 

My T-Money card.
My T-Money card.

It was Aaron’s birthday today, so I thought I’ll take him out to somewhere nicer. He really wanted Korean BBQ, so we headed over to the expats-filled district of Itaewon. My friend had recommended that we go to Maple Tree House to try some Hanwoo, premium beef rivalling the Japanese Wagyu. Now, Aaron liked his Wagyu, so he was skeptical. They were pretty busy and it took us around 30 minutes to get a table, so perhaps reservations would be useful if you have a big group. We used that time to walk around the restaurant and shop-filled streets of Itaewon. This area was filled with not only Korean restaurants but also a lot of different restaurants, such as Thai, Chinese, and even Middle-Eastern. The service at Maple Tree House was very good. There was a service bell but we hardly had to use it. My friend had recommended to get the Hanwoo (of course) and the Woosumgyup (or “Beef Bacon”). We also got the short ribs and tried some local beer, Hite and Cass. Of course, a Korean meal is not complete without its side dishes or Banchan. We were given small portions of kimchi, mushrooms, seasoned green onion as well as a super fluffy souffléd egg dish! But we must get back to the meat. One thing I did not like about Korean BBQ is the fact that you had to cook it yourself. I want to be able to just enjoy my meal and not worry about anything else, so it was not my preferred way of eating. Here, they came back regularly to help us cook our meat and cut it up into bite size pieces (likely because we were foreigners), which is probably for the better because they knew exactly when it was perfect to eat. First, we had the Hanwoo. I have never had Wagyu but it was really good. The texture was perfect. Aaron says that he has had better quality Wagyu but this is definitely still really good compared to some other Wagyu he has had. The short ribs were next and were more flavourful than the Hanwoo but less tender. The Woosumgyup was also very good but not as good as the other two. To balance out all the meat, I wrapped the grilled meat up with lettuce, which is supposedly the way to eat grilled meat here.They also gave us some really delicious Gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) and salt to go with the meat. We also ordered some rice and it interestingly turned out to be red rice. This was not a bad way to start our trip here in Seoul. We had to break our tradition of eating noodles as our first meal but birthday boy gets what he wants!

Itaewon, Seoul.
Itaewon, Seoul.
Some of the side dishes @ Maple Tree House. Photo credit: Aaron.
Some of the side dishes @ Maple Tree House. Photo credit: Aaron.
 

I was hoping to get a cake for Aaron, but we passed by a place selling churros during our walk earlier and he really wanted that instead since it’s one of his favourite desserts. The cafe was called Soft Queen. They served churros with soft serve ice cream, so we ordered the one with almond and peanuts toppings as well as a latte. I was impressed with how amazing the soft serve tasted with the combination of the nuts. The churros were also pretty good and got Aaron’s approval. 
We both had a full night’s sleep last night, if you add up all the sleeping on the plane and at SAMA SAMA; nonetheless, we were both really tired and passed out really early.

 Churro with almond and peanuts over vanilla ice cream @ Soft Queen. Photo credit: Aaron.
Churro with almond and peanuts over vanilla ice cream @ Soft Queen. Photo credit: Aaron.