Letting my senses guide me, I did in fact find the food court only after a few minutes of setting foot into the COEX mall in Gangnam. There it was: large red pepperonis spread across a fluffy bed of cheese, shining under hanging heat lamps. No corn toppings. No sweet potato crust. No mystery sauce drizzled on top. This was the real thing. I was so excited that I ordered a piece and a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and authentic (or authenticish) Italian dressing. I had my fill of the glorious meal, enjoying the flavors only found in a real food court. Feeling a bit guilty, I decided it'd be best to check out the rest of the mall... solely for the walking and holding bags. What other way am I to keep off the arm flab, right? Shopping seemed to be the best solution.
Little did I know that this mall (the only real mall I know of in Seoul) was so much more than a mall and unlike any shopping facility I've ever seen. I was in awe as I walked through the oversized institution which can only be described as a commercial fantasyland. Sure, the clothing stores were great, but they were outshined by what surronded them. Accessory carts lined the walls and aromas of candy, waffles, ice cream, and other treats spilled down the maze of walkways that criss-crossed at various points. I passed the 16-screen movie theater and aquarium (which is supposed to be the best in Seoul) and noted the attached entrances to the Intercontinental Hotel and Hyundai department store.
I decided to check out the department store and was immediately taken back by what I saw. I first walked past aisles of traditional teas, with each sales associate bowing to me as I passed and onto the rows of wine with experts ready to help me select the best choice. People were shouting out different deals on cheesecakes and assorted nuts while food vendors offered delicious looking brunch plates and stuffed crepes the size of my forearm. I was glad I knew what I wanted to eat, because between the interior of COEX and the options inside Hyundai, there were at least 300 food locales. I didn't even make it to the clothing floors, as I was in pure shock, but I am sure they are just as wonderful.
Families in line at the COEX aquarium
Although I only admired Cartier and Louis Vuitton from the outside, I did make some substantial purchases. Of these included: a very stylish $5 pair of sunglasses from a small boutique, The Alchimist and My Life in France from Bandi and Luni's, and Campbell's chicken noodle soup, Prego spaghetti sauce, and Goldfish from a foreign food shop. The Goldfish were especially exciting because I thought I'd seen the last of those when I left the States.
Novelty shops were packed with families, and teenagers filled rooms where customers can take and decorate photo stickers. There are noraebangs for those in the mood for singing and a cafe where patrons play board games while they sip green tea lattes. A gym and sauna are available and pharmacies are located in various areas. Rows of salons offer deals on mani/pedis if your nails need beautifying, and there is a plastic surgery clinic in case it is your face that needs the help.
Boardgame Cafe: play Holly Golly or LIFE while enjoying your cappuccino.
A view of the area surronding COEX in one of the mall's many plazas
When I learned at the end of the day that COEX is the largest underground mall in Asia, I didn't question it. My legs felt like jello on the ride home after the hours of walking. Though, I no longer felt so guilty about that greasy pizza...