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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!