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June 13, 2017

Muuido Island: Sea and Sand for the Weary Waegookin

To take advantage of the oh-so-wonderful but way-too-short bout of beautiful weather, a couple friends and I recently planned a weekend camping trip to Muuido, a small island located near Incheon International Airport.

The Korean peninsula's western coast often takes a lot of flak for its less than impressive beaches and lackluster views. As we soon learned, however, Muuido is just as enjoyable as the country's better-known coastal destinations and is the perfect place to waste away a lazy spring or summer weekend.

After meeting up at Gongdeok Station and picking up some last minute provisions at E-Mart, we hopped the train and took it to Incheon International via the airport express line.  Just a quick bus transfer and a short ferry ride (3,000 won, round trip) later, we reached the island unscathed by the menacing seagulls that flock the harbor in search of shrimp-flavored potato chips from unsuspecting passengers.

At the dock, a kind gentleman correctly assumed we were heading to Hanaggae Beach, and quite literally pulled us onto his bus. When we reached the sandy stretch of land, we paid the admission and tent fee (2,000 won/person and 10,000 won/tent) and scouted out a location to set up camp. There were a number of other international visitors occupying the tiny beach shacks near the shore (30,000 won/night) but we opted to join the mostly Korean camping area set back a bit further from the coastline.

Although I've been camping in Korea before, I had forgotten how seriously the locals take the activity and was once again impressed by the professional equipment, cooking rigs and expertly set-up tents that punctuated the area. Public bathrooms and washing areas were also located nearby, making the beach even more convenient.

We confidently left our belongings in our tent (after all, theft is incredibly rare in Korea) and let our stomachs lead us to an unassuming restaurant, where we wasted no time ordering a gargantuan bowl of bajirak kalguksu, a salty soup of fresh clams and knife-cut noodles. We slurped up spoonful after spoonful of steamy goodness as we watched the fog roll in from the sea.  Fortunately for us, it cleared out by the time dinner was over.


Although there are a few spots worth visiting on Muuido, Hanaggae Beach is the main attraction so we didn't bother venturing out on this trip. We opted out of the zipline and horse rides that are offered at reasonable prices and instead picked up a few beers at the beach's convenience store, which sells everything from hiking gear to fireworks to cup noodles (a staple Korean camping snack). We claimed our spot on the shoreline and threw back a few brews as we watched nearby families build sandcastles and a good looking group of Spaniards kick around a soccer ball.

As the sun began to set, the tide began to go out and we knew we were in for a show. In fact, watching the tide on Muuido is one of the highlights of staying overnight on the island. It goes out so quickly and so far that visitors can walk out a good twenty minutes before once again reaching the waterline, which we did.

The sky turned shades of purple and blue and reflected on the barely-there sea, making us feel like we were walking on clouds. On our walk back, we noticed that each step we took on the silky mud illuminated the bio-luminescent algae that inhabit the island's unique mud flats. Our discovery led us to dancing on the shoreline, and when others observed the neon glow sparking from under our feet, they joined in.


As the skies grew darker, those near us set off fireworks and cooked thick slices of samgyeopsal on portable grills. One family even released a number of lanterns into the sky which floated above us until they disappeared over the mountains.

Buzzed on cheap beer and the salty sea air, we turned in early for the night to the sound of a grandfather rattling off stories about the good ole days, no doubt, to any of his family members that would listen.

In the morning, we took a final walk out on the mud flats and watched adults and children alike gather in groups to dig up the island's famous clams. From the looks of things, they were doing well, as some families were hauling full buckets of shellfish back to the beach. I, however, was more concerned with avoiding the giant slugs, snails and tiny crabs that were so abundant it was impossible to not step on them.

We packed up our things, looking only slightly less experienced than the pros that surrounded us. Soon, we were back to the capital, not to mention reality, but felt far more refreshed than we had been when we first arrived, thanks to Muuido's famous healing mud, the tasty seafood and the culminating beauty of the Korean coastline.

More Information

To Get There: Take the subway to Incheon Airport. From the third floor, go to bus stop number 5 and take bus #222 to the Muuido ferry (the driver will announce the stop.) Follow the road to the ferry dock and purchase a ticket. From the dock, take the green #1 bus to the last stop, which is Hanaggae Beach.

Ferry Hours: 7:00am-7:00pm (Weekends 19:30) / 30 min interval on weekdays / 15 min interval on weekends

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching.  Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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May 18, 2017

Soonsiki Hair: A Cut Above the Rest

Note: This post was updated May 2017.

There are few moments in everyday life that feel as good as walking out of a salon with a fresh cut, a new color and an amazing blowout. A visit to the hair salon has the ability to make one feel like a new person, free of any worries or insecurities they may have had previous to the visit.

Yet, it has been my experience in Korea that sometimes going to the salon has a completely opposite effect. And apparently, I'm not alone. Other international residents living here have told me they often leave the hair salon feeling less secure, having been insulted (however unintentionally) by stylists, and left with a look that's the complete opposite of what they asked for, most often because they were coerced into getting a "hot Korean style," or were not able to communicate due to language barriers.

The fact is that I don't have Korean hair. Nor am I Korean. I have unruly, curly hair and my own personal style is not influenced by the latest trends of K-pop. I feel like many fellow waegukin would agree with me that sometimes it can be difficult to find a stylist who can understand this.

Which is why I was utterly THRILLED when I first discovered Soonsiki Hair a few years ago.

Walk into this famed Hongdae beauty institution and you'll immediately be greeted by a staff of incredibly hip stylists, each of whom is donned in the latest street fashions and possesses an air of cool confidence. In fact, everything about Soonsiki is cool, without being the least bit pretentious.

For the first two years I patronized Soonsiki, BK, who I like to call Korea's own Justin Timberlake, was my stylist. However, he recently moved to Singapore, so I decided to make his former assistant Dean my new stylist.

On my most recent visit, the receptionist quickly seated me at the salon's bar, which doubles as a waiting area, and offered a drink from an extensive cafe-like menu. Shortly thereafter, Dean sat down and talked with me in detail to ensure that he understood exactly what I wanted: Emma Stone auburn and a snip of the dead ends.

After seeing a picture of what I wanted, Dean immediately whipped up a cocktail of color that he assured me would be perfect for me. His adorable assistant began applying the color to my hair, checking on me every so often to offer some new reading material or another drink.

Soonsiki's specialist designers have a reputation for being the top experts on dyeing non-Asian hair and their color bar is more varied than a giant Crayola box. Unlike many other salons in Seoul, Soonsiki offers toner-only coloring options, rather than the bleach ones at other places.

After washing out the color and getting a fantastic scalp massage, I was prepped for my cut.

Dean took over and prepared his scissors for a bit of snipping. As busy as he was with other customers, he took the time to talk with me, share some of his stories and his personal Instagram account.

During the cut, he assured me he wouldn't cut off too much of my length -- just what needed to be cleaned up. And he was true to his word. While he cut, I took a look around the room and saw that the stylists are very well versed in the latest funky trends (I mean, this is Hongdae, after all) but had mastered all the classic styles, as well. Each customer seemed completely at ease, often joking or engaging in banter with his or her stylist.

Dean's assistant offered up her services once more for the styling, in which the duo battled my lion mane with a straightener, resulting in beautiful waves in a color that couldn't have more perfectly matched what I wanted.

Soonsiki Hair's unsurpassed hospitality, professional services and comfortable, modern atmosphere are only just a few of the reasons why it is the best hair salon in Hongdae, if not all of Seoul. Whether you need a trim, highlights, or an entire new look, this is the place to go. Do note, however, that Dean is often booked, so be sure to make a reservation in advance. (Send him a message through his Facebook page to do so.) Also, inquire about their discount for foreigners when you make your reservation.

More Information: Soonsiki Hair

Address:  5th Floor, Seokjeon Building, 29 (Seogyo-dong) Waoosanro 21-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul   (서울시 마포구 와우산로 21길 29 (서교동) 석전빌딩 5층)

Phone: 02-326-5982 ~3

Facebook: Click Here

Website: Click Here

Hours: Daily 10am-10pm

Prices: Cuts start at 30,000 (Men) / 35,000 (Women); Color starts at 122,000; Perms start at 149,000

Get There: From Hongik University Station (Seoul Subway Line 2), walk straight out of exit 9 to the first main intersection. Take a left and walk straight until you reach Forever 21. Take a right and cross the street. Walk straight on Parking Street for a few minutes until you reach the first main intersection.Take a left and walk straight. Soonsiki will be on your right, next to Zara, on the fifth floor.


Disclaimer: Although Soonsiki provided the above-mentioned services at a discounted rate, the opinions are, of course, my own.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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May 11, 2017

Expat Tip: How to Quickly and Affordably Send Items from US to Korea

Thanks to Seoul’s numerous foreign food markets and convenient online shopping malls, it’s fairly easy for an expat like myself to adapt to life in Korea while still having access to the creature comforts of one’s homeland. But from time to time, there’s the occasional item that is just too darn expensive or difficult to track down.

In the past, when I’ve found myself needing something like hiking boots (I’ve got unusually large feet by Korean standards), organic toiletries or the elusive fitted bed sheet, I’ve turned to sites that offer global shipping, such as Amazon. While convenient, shipping fees add up quickly, especially when making multiple orders from different sellers.

Image: Daria Nepriakhina / Unsplash

Which is exactly why I was ELATED to learn about Fishisfast, a company that makes getting items shipped from the US as fast, efficient and affordable as possible.


Fishisfast is essentially a US-based forwarding service that receives your ordered items for you and keeps them in a ‘locker’ that you can virtually manage. When all of your ordered items have arrived, Fishisfast will unpack and consolidate them into a single package and ship them to your address through a verified delivery service, so you can save on costs.

Easy as 1-2-3

Fishisfast is incredibly easy to use. All you have to do is:

1. Sign up for a free account on the company’s website. A simple interface makes navigating the site incredibly easy, while their web app is just as user-friendly and can be used on all devices.

2. Direct your ordered items to your personalized address in Delaware, a sales tax-free US state. If you’re using a foreign credit card to order from a company that doesn’t accept non-US cards, you can use Fishisfast’s FastBuy service to make the purchase.

3. Be notified when your packages arrive and monitor them via images in your ‘locker,’ where they can be stored for free up to 180 days. There is a small fee of $2 USD to have each item unpackaged upon arrival – a small price to pay to save big in the end.  

4. When all of your packages have arrived, opt to consolidate them into a single package. You can also choose from additional options, such as to have certain items removed from bulky packaging (like shoes from a shoe box) for free or, for a nominal fee, you can have fragile items protected with bubble wrap. Fill out the customs information to ensure speedy delivery and/or opt to purchase additional insurance (the first $100 worth is free) for $3.

5. Once your package is ready to go, choose from a variety of affordable and reliable shipping options. Fedex, With Fishisfast’s rates, an average sized, 5-pound package costs about $28 with Fedex International Economy and $32 with Fedex International Priority.

6. Depending on the shipping service you select, you can track your package until it arrives at your doorstep. With my most recent order (using Fedex International Priority) I received my package in just four days!!

Unsurpassed Service

In addition to being fast, secure, easy-to-use and relatively cheap, Fishisfast also kills it in the service arena. The company’s multi-lingual employees are incredibly responsive to customer inquiries and can be reached at any time via email or chat. They’re also quick to follow up once you’ve completed a transaction to ensure the process was smooth and met your expectations.

In short, if you’re looking to order multiple items from the States and want to get them shipped at the lowest cost possible, use Fishisfast. I truly cannot sing its praises enough.

More Information: Fishisfast

Website: Click here
Facebook: Click here
Twitter: Click here

Disclaimer: While Fishispast did provide a discount on their services in return for a review, the opinions mentioned above are my own.
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April 10, 2017

An Impromptu Hike on Dobongsan

"Serendipity.  Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you've found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for." - Lawrence Block

Earlier this week, I felt the need to get out my apartment and take advantage of the beautiful weather.  A friend had told me about a place called Herb Island in Gyeonggi Province and without doing much research, I made it my destination for the day.

After a late start – the snooze button and I are far too well acquainted these days – I hopped the wrong train. Twice. After an hour of transportation mishaps on the ever-complicated Line 1, I had reached northern Seoul and realized that by the time I would get to Herb Island, I'd only have a couple hours to enjoy it before having to return to the city. So, I threw up my hands, stepped off the train, got my bearings and exited the station.  

Little did I know that I was in store for a day of serendipitous Seoul searching.

Standing outside Dobongsan Station, I looked around, not sure of where to go. Although I had heard of the mountain of the same name as the station, I had never been to the area. Suddenly, a flock of friendly elderly hikers (easily recognizable by their fluorescent trekking attire) emerged from the station. On a hunch, I followed them past groups of feisty grandfathers playing janggi (Korean chess) and into the biggest concentration of hiking supply stores I've ever seen in my life. Vendors in portable kiosks sold roasted corn, kimbap, and makgeolli, all essentials for a good hike (or Korean picnic).

A hiker checks out the wares of a hiking supply vendor on the route to Dobongsan.

Just before I reached the entrance of Bukhansan National Park, I stumbled upon a cluster of sundubu (soft tofu) restaurants. I later found out that "Sundubu Alley," as this area is often referred to, is a hotspot for foodies, as all of the restaurants in this location make their own tofu daily, ensuring that the dishes served are distinctively fresh.

I ordered a bowl of sundubu jiggae (soft tofu stew) at Dubu Cheonji (두부천지), an unassuming hiker's hangout with a nice patio and friendly servers.  The dish arrived piping hot with generous portions of dubu and shellfish. The tofu was as soft as silk and very tasty, if not extremely spicy, proving the area's reputation for good food to be true.

Sundubu jiggae, or soft tofu stew, is the perfect pre-hike lunch.

With a full stomach, I entered the park and didn't bother looking at any maps. Instead, I walked along the paths of colorful lanterns that hung in celebration for Buddha's Birthday into a number of temples that dotted the paths of Dobongsan.  The monks welcomed me with smiles and motioned for me to look around.

Just as I was taking a moment to snap some photos, an air raid siren sounded from the distance. Although I had heard plenty of these practice sirens before, I wondered if, considering the recent tensions with the North, this might be the real thing. I quickly shrugged it off, figuring that if it were, I was in a Buddhist temple. That had to count for something in the afterlife.

Lanterns and flowers in full bloom added a great deal of color to the otherwise verdant scenery.

Considering my visit to Dobongsan was a spontaneous one, I was unprepared for any real hiking; I was without proper shoes, clothing or the obligatory sparkly sun visor. Opting not to head up to the peaks, I continued on through flatter terrain, admiring the occasional waterfall and thankful that there were still some cherry blossoms in bloom. There was even a gentleman playing the saxophone on one of the walking paths, treating my fellow hikers and me to some joyful melodies while we filled up our water bottles with refreshing spring water. I regretted not bringing bug spray, as the gnats were out in full force, despite it being early May.

Along the paths of Dobongsan are taps where you can fill your water bottle with spring water.

I parked it on a boulder under a canopy of trees, enjoying the sounds of birds chirping and water flowing in a nearby stream. There were very few interruptions but my guess is that would not have been the case had I been there on a weekend. (Tip: If you visit any mountain in Korea, it's advisable to go on a weekday, as the crowds can get overwhelming.)

Although I plan on getting to Herb Island eventually, I was glad that fate had brought me to Dobong Mountain. It was a great excursion to clear my mind and a convenient way to enjoy nature without having to leave Seoul.

To Get There:  Take the Seoul subway to Dobongsan Station (Lines 1 & 7).  From Exit 1, cross the street, take a left, and walk for 200 meters.  Turn right, following the road signs to Bukhansan National Park.  Continue to walk straight for 800 meters (about ten minutes) past the hiking supply stores to reach Sundubu Alley.  The entrance to the park is just a few minutes' walk beyond that.

More Info: For more information, including hours of operation and hiking route suggestions, click here.

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April 4, 2017

Six Things You Need for a Korean Picnic

Is the weather not glorious right now?!

In sunshine like this, I refuse to be inside for any longer than I absolutely have to. This includes for meals. In fact, one of my favorite things to do in this weather is picnic. And with all the great green spaces the city has to offer (like Naksan Park, the Han River and the Dream Forest), a picnic can be had just about anywhere.

Koreans picnic under a canopy of cherry blossoms, an icon of spring. (Photo by Travel Unmasked)

And I'm not the only one who feels this way. In fact, Koreans love outdoor dining. Whether it be on a mountain hike or simply outside a convenience store on plastic furniture, they know how to do it right. I've taken a few cues from my Korean friends to get the picnic techniques down perfectly. So, I decided, why not share all the valuable know-how I've learned over the years with you guys, so that you too can have a great Korean-style picnic.

So, without further ado, here are six things you absolutely need for your Korean picnic:

6. Picnic Mat

Why get grass stains on your favorite duds when you can pick up a picnic mat at Daiso for a few bucks? These easily toteable mats pretty much last forever and really come in handy during picnic season, whether at the park or a rooftop party.

5. Selfie Stick

Because let's face it. No Korean outing is complete without one. Enough said.

4. Sun Protection

Everyone knows that Koreans have gorgeous skin and this is no doubt thanks to their skin care systems, which they follow religiously. Be sure to follow their lead and slather on the sunscreen, don a giant sun hat and if you're a really serious picnicker, order one of these sun tents, easy to pack and perfect for the beach or park.

3. Kimbap

The Korean equivalent of America's sandwich, kimbap makes for a great picnic snack. It's easy to eat. It's healthy. It's delicious. It's cheap. And thanks to the recent trend of gourmet kimbap, there's a flavor to suit everyone's taste. My go-to is Robot Kimbap, which sells varieties like Wasabi Tuna and Cream Cheese. Pick up a few rolls or make your own and your picnic will be perfect.

(Photo by SamIsHome)

2. Fried Chicken

A less healthy but even tastier Korean picnic staple is fried chicken. But even better than the dish itself is the picnic culture that surrounds it. In many of the green spaces around Seoul, like the Han River and the Dream Forest, nearby chicken restaurants will actually deliver your order right to your picnic spot. For reals. Just keep an eye out for their fliers, make a phone call, let them know where you are. In a matter of minutes, they'll bicycle it over in record speed. Did I mention they also deliver beer?

1. Makgeolli

Chilled makgeolli and picnics go together like peanut butter and jelly. Just ask any Korean hiker, farmer or me. More refreshing and tangier than beer, it's a great way to get a bit of a buzz on your weekend outing. Available at any convenience store, it's easy to get your hands on and not so strong that you'll get out of control. In small doses, that is.

So there you have it. Your packing checklist for a great Korean picnic. Plan out your picnic spot using this list of the top 10 outdoor spaces in Seoul or Time Out Seoul's top picnic spots and enjoy!

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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March 25, 2017

Korean Designer Leesle Delivers Fashion-Forward Hanbok to the World

A seamless blend of complexity with simplicity, flatness with volume and curved lines contrasted against straight edges, the hanbok beautifully conveys the Korean desire to be at one with nature and maintain balance in life. Modern takes on the dress have recently become incredibly popular in fashion circles all the world over, while Korean designer Leesle is spearheading the hanbok revival. Read on to learn more and find out how you can get a special discount for your own hanbok.

A Bit of Hanbok History

Worn daily up until about a century ago, the country’s national dress has roots that trace back to as early as the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 BCE- 668 CE), when its fundamental designs were first established. The hanbok has, for the most part, remained unchanged aesthetically since then but in the 19th century, it fell out of fashion when it was replaced by new imports, such as the Western suit and dress.

Eventually, hanbok was reserved for only special occasions, such as weddings and holidays. Until recently, that is. As is usually the case with fashion, old has become new again, and younger generations of Koreans are looking to the past for inspiration in a world that seems to be headed to the future just a bit too quickly.

Traditional Dress for a Modern World

Enter the contemporary hanbok, apparel that marries classic motifs with wearable designs that render traditional patterns and structures in simple materials such as cotton and linen.

These modern reinterpretations of the hanbok have made a splash in the fashion world and have been spotted around the globe, from the Champs Élysées to the catwalks of New York to the pages of some of the biggest magazines in the industry.

Leesle—Leading the Hanbok Revival

Perhaps no specialty designer is more passionate about reviving the hanbok than Leesle Hwang, the founder and CEO of casual hanbok brand Leesle.

It was around a decade ago when she was a freshman in college that Leesle designed a hanbok for a cosplay event. The outfit was a hit with event attendees and sold quickly when she put it up for sale. Realizing that there was a growing interest in hanbok, she founded an online shopping mall. Since then, the humble mall has grown into a wildly popular brand that has a following not only in Korea, but around the world. Still in her 20s, Leesle continues to make a name for herself, and was recently even featured in Vogue.

Easy Shopping, In English

I first found Leesle by chance on Instagram. Her beautiful designs stopped me in my tracks and I knew I had to get my hands on one of her hanboks. What could be a better keepsake of my time in Korea?

I headed straight to Leesle's multilanguage online shop, and immediately recognized that
the brand’s designs add a very young, modern sensibility to South Korea’s national dress. The aesthetics of her dresses, tops, pants and accessories for both men and women maintain the traditional motifs of the classic dress, but also make hanbok more accessible through an interesting play with contemporary patterns and trendy colors.

Making use of zippers and other modern elements, Leesle’s clothes are wearable, not to mention machine washable. Hems are raised and skirts flare less, highlighting the feminine form but also maintaining the conservativ nature of traditional designs.

The layout of the website made it easy to navigate and unlike many Korean online shops, everything - including size dimensions – is in English. The worldwide free shipping (over $99 USD) was also an added bonus.

With spring ahead, I selected the ‘Everside Miinodo Dress’ in Apricot and the Leesle Sharon Jeogori. I was absolutely delighted when my order arrived. The clothes were individually wrapped in plastic and they even took the time to include a card with my name printed in Korean. So cute!

A Day in Hanbok

The materials were soft and of the highest quality. The items also looked exactly as they did in the pictures, and fit me perfectly. In addition to the sheer beauty of the clothes, I also really love that I can either wear them together for the complete hanbok look, or mix and match them with other items in my closet to create a more personalized style.

In fact, that’s just what I did when my friend and I spent an afternoon exploring Seoul one day last month. Pairing the dress with a denim jacket made for a nice casual look, while mixing the jeogori jacket with a basic skirt created a vintage style.

And let me just say... I have never in all my years in Korea received so many compliments from complete strangers. Korean grandmothers, in particular, were eager to ask me about my hanbok and some even requested that I take pictures with them. The young and old alike were really surprised to see such a unique take on their national dress and it was a really special experience to be wearing such a beautiful item that balanced the old with the new, while incorporating Korea’s naturalistic beauty, ideals and art forms.

Seoul Searching Reader Discount

I know what you’re thinking—“How can I get one of these beautiful designs for myself!?” Well, you are in luck, hanbok lover! In celebration of their global site launch, Leesle is offering Seoul Searching readers a 10% discount on their total purchase! 

Simply head over to the Leesle online shop and when viewing your shopping cart, enter the coupon code seoulsearching and click "Apply Coupon" before proceeding to checkout. The offer ends June 30, so be sure to take advantage of the discount while you can!

Special thanks to my dear friend Danielle Potgieter for taking these lovely photos and to Bonum 1957 for letting us use their gorgeous hanok as a shooting location.

Disclaimer: Although Leesle provided the items mentioned above free of charge in return for a post, the opinions are, of course, my own.

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March 9, 2017

A "Zen"-Course Lunch at Barugongyang Buddhist Temple Food Restaurant in Insadong

Barugongyang offers up authentic Buddhist temple cuisine using only fresh, local ingredients. Read on for my personal review of the restaurant's peaceful atmosphere and thoughtful course meals.

It's only been fairly recently that we've learned how eating greener and cleaner rather than focusing on calorie and fat counts can positively affect the health of our bodies and minds. With trends like CSAs and slow food movements becoming all the rage in the nutrition world, we're taking a step forward toward healthier lives.

However, the Buddhist monks of Korea have been slightly ahead of this trend. And by slightly I mean by hundreds of years.

Strictly vegetarian, Korean Buddhist temple cuisine uses only natural flavoring agents such as kelp, mushroom, wild sesame seeds and raw soy bean powder to assist in maintaining nutritional balance while at the same time delivering a simple, clean taste. Moreover, the food lacks the ingredients usually found in Korean cuisine such as onion, garlic and chili powder. I mean, can you imagine Korean food without this holy trinity of ingredients?!?!

Temple food also utilizes medicinal plants from local forests and mountains and focuses on using every part of the ingredient, so there is no waste. This includes using the water used to wash vegetables and rice as a base for soups, and incorporating even the seemingly inedible parts of the ingredients into the dish. This "complete consumption" concept is also followed in temple complexes, where monks only take as much as they can eat during meal times.

Situated on the fifth floor of the Temple Stay headquarters, just across the street from Seoul's iconic Jogyesa Temple, is Barugongyang (which is also known as Baru, as well as Balwoo). Adorned with minimalist furnishings in natural color schemes and encapsulated by floor-to-ceiling windows which illuminate the space with plenty of light, the restaurant exudes a relaxing atmosphere. Separated into two dining areas -- Western-style tables and traditional floor seating -- the restaurant expertly balances the old and new.

On the menu is a variety of pre-fixed seasonal course meals that start at ₩27,000, each offering up an eclectic sampling of dishes commonly found in formal monastic meals.

My friend and I began our 10-course lunch with a small bowl of smooth pumpkin juk (porridge) garnished with chewy rice cakes and red beans, which, with the delicate lotus tea, warmed us up immediately. A black sesame salad of slightly bitter but incredibly fresh mixed greens followed, which paired well with the burdock sweet rice pancakes, beautifully embellished with flower-shaped jujube garnishing.

At this point in our meal, the restaurant got a bit noisy. As it turns out, Barugongyang is a popular spot with the local chatty ajummas. Still, our little corner of the partitioned off floor seating section gave us a lot of privacy.

Wooden plates of soft bites of tofu, pumpkin dumplings and vegetables topped with teeny rice cakes followed. These dishes were notably bland on the first bite but transformed into something wonderful when dipped into the restaurant's magical soy sauce which, because it was so thick, didn't really resemble soy sauce at all.

The highlight of the meal was the mushroom "tangsuyuk", a delectable combination of deep-fried shiitake mushrooms smothered with a sweet though slightly overpowering apple sauce and tossed with apple, lotus root, carrot slices and pumpkin seeds. Saucy crunchy deep fried goodness.

The tteok guk (rice cake soup), though usually a favorite of mine, could have been omitted as the portions of the following dishes were quite large. A big bowl of flavorful Kum-su homemade bean paste soup, made with slices of mushroom, tofu and seasonal vegetables, and the earthy lotus-wrapped sticky rice with ginkgo nuts could have been a meal by itself. These two dishes specifically were the most flavorful of the meal and I wondered how the chefs were able to create the powerful tastes without garlic and onion.

Dessert was a bowl of sweet-and-salty slices of dried goodies: sweet potatoes, lotus root, oranges and seaweed. We washed it down with a cup of the most unique shikhye (traditional sweet rice beverage) I've ever had, a perfect ending to a delicious and nutritious meal.

On the way out, we found out that there is additional temple food restaurant on the second floor of the same building. Offering juk for breakfast and a lunch buffet for only ₩8,000, Barugongyang Kong is a good option for those on a budget wanting to get a taste of temple cuisine.

Be sure to also check out the Information Center on the first floor for more info on temple stays throughout Korea. You might even be asked to join in for a cup of tea with Jogyesa's monks!

Also, if you'd like to learn more about Korea's temple food, I highly recommend you watch the first episode of season three of Chef's Table. The beautifully produced episode follows Jeong Kwan, a 60-year-old Zen Buddhist nun who prepares vegetarian meals for her community at Baekyangsa Temple. It is arguably the best episode to date on the popular Netflix show and her story will no doubt inspire you.

More Information: Barugongyang

Address: 56, Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 종로구 우정국로 56 (견지동,5층)

Phone: 02-733-2081 (Some English is spoken.)

Hours: Lunch 11:40AM-1:20PM (first seating), and 1:30PM-3PM (second seating). Dinner (only seating) 6PM-8:50PM. *Reservations are highly recommended.

Website: Click Here

How to Get There: From Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), walk straight from Exit 6 for 2 minutes. After passing the giant paintbrush statue, take a left. Walk straight for 3 minutes. The Temple Stay Information Center will be on your left.

*Disclaimer: Although the meal mentioned in this post was provided free of cost by Barugongyang, the opinions are, of course, my own.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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