Seoul is a very cool city. My flatmates and I went last weekend, taking advantage of a Chinese festival (清明节/Tomb Sweeping Festival). The flight from Nanjing to Seoul is only two hours, but the cities have very different feels.
I was expecting Seoul to be all high-rises and skyscrapers and it was some of those. However, the city scape was more human in scale than I anticipated. The sidewalks are wide and, because there were no share bikes crowding the pavement, felt more accessible to pedestrians. The city is huge and very busy, but felt quiet because of the dearth of motorbikes. Instead, Seoul has an awesome bus and metro system, with designated bus lines.
But honestly, we didn’t go for the public transit. We went to snack. And the snacking was fantastic! One of the most popular options was kimbap, described to me as a Korean version of sushi and pictured below. It is rice rolled in seaweed with some vegetables, but no seafood.
Other crowd favorites include tteokbokki, glutinous rice cakes. These were usually served drenched in hot sauce and were absolutely delicious. Lastly, we tried kimchee dumplings (kimchee mandu in Korean). Again, very hot but so delicious and totally different from the dumplings we usually eat in China. In China, the 馒头 (mántou) dumplings are close to the Korean style, but are never made with kimchee (in my experience).
Because we enjoyed the food so much, we signed up for a cooking class. It was great fun! We learned to make seafood pancakes and a very hearty seafood and tofu stew. I did not know that stews were such a big part of Korean food. The tofu in this stew was unfermented, white and soft. It is not a kind often used in Chinese cooking, but the chef explained that this kind is most popular in Korean dishes.
As South Korea’s capital, Seoul has a long and vibrant history. We visited Gyeongbok Palace, the former seat of the Joseon dynasty. The imperial style architecture felt similar to that of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Large square courtyards, ringed by one story, beautifully painted buildings with pointed roofs. The differences lay in scale (China’s palace is much larger) and color. The underside of the roofs in Chinese palaces tend to be red and blue. In Seoul, the palace roofs were a very distinctive shade of green. Given that the palace is ringed by mountains, it is a gorgeous combination.
Finally on our last day, we went to the Han River and admired the cherry blossoms. There we picnicked with some friends living in Seoul and they introduced us to chimaek, fried chicken and beer. While picnicking, you can rent blankets, then call for delivery to your area. Crowds of older ladies hand out fliers for delivery places, almost all fried chicken. It was a great day of sunshine, flowers and hot sauce. We absolutely lucked out on the sunshine, the blossoms, and getting to visit Seoul at all!