There is an ominous urban legend among Seoulites that says that if a couple takes a stroll along the alleys surrounding Deoksu Palace in Jeong-dong, they will soon part ways. For people like Jang Ami however, a Seoul native who owns a cafe in the area, the story is nothing but a silly myth from days gone by. More than that, however, is that the area’s many charms outweigh the outside possibility of a bad breakup.
“The area has so much to offer, from historic buildings to lovely alleys lined with lush ginkgo trees - there is this mystical vibe in Jeong-dong that you can’t find anywhere else in Seoul,” she said.
Located in central Seoul’s Jung District, the area is full of history, with Deoksu Palace representing the Joseon era and some of Korea’s first modern schools and churches symbolizing the country’s drive toward modernization. And today, a string of contemporary museums, intimate galleries and lively theaters thread their way through the tree-lined streets.
This atmosphere is what draws visitors like Park Min-a, a twenty-something student who says she is weary of the hustle and bustle of more commercialized areas.
“When I walk along the serene cobblestone alleyways, a rare find in central Seoul, I can escape from all the anxieties that urban life throws at me,” Park said.
Along with the scenic backdrop, however, it is the area’s cafes and restaurants that keep the 25-year-old coming back.
A favorite destination for many Jeong-dong visitors is Daddy and Me, a take-out coffeehouse just south of Deoksu Palace. As its name indicates, it is a family business owned by Jang Ami and her father.
“Jeong-dong used to be my favorite place for a date, and that’s what compelled me to open the cafe here four years ago,” Jang said.
Since then, the cafe has won a steady stream of customers for its signature iced chocolate drink topped with vanilla ice cream as well as the desserts that are handmade by Jang, who once pursued a career as a chocolatier.
About a block west of Daddy and Me is Cafe Pine Tree. This cafe is popular for its free English classes, which are sponsored by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Winglish institute. The environment was created to facilitate language study and only English is allowed within the cafe’s walls.
For the spendy romantic in you, the area also offers upscale, open-terrace restaurants like Giljy and Urban Garden.
At Giljy, which is located inside Jeong-dong Theater, guests can savor Italian dishes while watching a short preview of the Korean musical “Miso” from the terrace, which overlooks the picturesque Chungdong First Methodist Church and Ewha Girls’ High School, Korea’s first educational institute for women.
Giljy specializes in Italian dishes made with organic ingredients and the most popular is the Aragosta pasta, topped with lobster tail.
At Urban Garden, visitors enjoy barbecue and beer on a rooftop terrace designed by landscape architect and owner, Han Sun-a.
“I wanted to create an eco-friendly space for visitors to escape from the concrete jungle once in a while,” Han said.
Its garden barbecue - which includes beef, pork, chicken, scallops, prawns and sausages - has been the best-selling item. Han said the veggies and herbs grown in the garden are used in most of the restaurant’s dishes.
Meanwhile, restaurants like Ahaabah-Braka and Deoksujung cater to visitors longing for something familiar.
Ahaabah-Braka is actually two restaurants in one. Ahaabah serves Italian dishes and at Braka, diners take a trip back in time to taste dishes that were popular way back when.
Owner Yoon Woo-sik said Braka was inspired by 70s eateries specializing in donkkaseu, deep-fried pork cutlet, and omurice, a fusion dish made with an omelet and fried rice. None of the dishes on the menu are made with salt and the donkkaseu is grilled rather than fried.
Adjacent to Ahaabah-Braka is Deoksujung, which serves up hanjeongsik, or full-course Korean meals. Opened 44 years ago, it prides itself as being one of the oldest dining establishments in Jeong-dong.
All the dishes are prepared by Lee Hwa-ja, who said the menu hasn’t changed since the restaurant opened. Maybe that’s why regular customers have been returning for decades.
“I’ve served a lot of hungry students from Ewha Girls’ High School,” Lee said. “Most of my regulars today include Ewha alumni who are returning for a piece of their past.”
She said that Deoksujung was initially run by both herself and her mother-in-law, a renowned cook from North Korea who passed her recipes on to Lee.
Noodles have become a specialty in Jeong-dong thanks to two local restaurants.
Jang Ho-sik, owner of Yoorim Noodles says that the secret to their success is that the buckwheat is brought in from Bongpyeong, Gangwon, which is renowned for the product. Bibim maemil, which is a cold dish of buckwheat noodles with chili paste and fresh vegetables, is the best-selling dish, especially in the summer.
Jeong-dong Noodles is the place to go to eat like a yangban, or Korea’s bourgeoisie. The restaurant follows traditional preparation methods and the broth is made by boiling beef leg bones for 15 hours to give it a rich taste. The most popular items are the homemade kalguksu (wheat noodles) and mandu (dumplings).
“Jeong-dong is a cultural area where you drink and eat great food, contemplate the stories of Victorian missionaries, stroll beneath kindly trees and venture into the grounds of an historic palace,” said Michael Gibb, a Hong Kong-based writer and author of “A Slow Walk through Jeong-dong.”
“Even after ten years, not even the most unscrupulous property developer or government official would green light its destruction, as killing Jeong-dong is like killing off the heart of Seoul.”
|Urban Garden / Daddy and Me|
True to its name, the terrace of this Italian restaurant could be mistaken for a lush garden with its forest of green. It was created by owner and landscape architect Han Sun-a. The serene atmosphere is complimented by tempting dishes like the garden barbecue, offering a choice of chicken, beef or pork.
Dishes range from 8,000 won ($7.50) to 60,000 won.
Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily excluding holidays
(02) 777-2254, www.urbangarden.co.krDaddy and Me
As its name indicates, this small take-out cafe is a family business and all drinks and desserts are made by Jang Ami, a former chocolatier. The best sellers are the iced chocolate topped with vanilla ice cream and the bottled cream pudding.
Drinks range from 1,500 won to 3,500 won.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday. Closed weekends.
|Giljy / Yoorim Noodles|
If you’re here at the right time, you might catch a preview of the Korean musical “Miso” in the courtyard below the terrace. The menu features a range of Italian dishes. Finish the meal with seasonal beverages such as the paprika lassi (Indian style yogurt-based drink) and nanaccino (banana latte).
Dishes range from 8,000 won to 37,000 won. Beverages range from 5,000 won to 7,000 won.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
(02) 319-7083, www.giljy.comYoorim Noodles
With its secret recipe for rich, extra chewy buckwheat noodles, Yoorim Noodles has enticed a steady stream of regulars since it opened 36 years ago.
Prices range from 7,000 won to 8,000 won.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
|Jeongdong Noodles / Ahaabah-Braka|
This joint serves noodles the old fashioned way. The top sellers are the kalguksu (noodles), mandu (dumplings) and kongguksu (cold bean soup).
Prices range from 6,000 won to 24,000 won.
Lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner is from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
This two-in-one restaurant has Italian cuisine at Ahaabah and Korean classics such as donkkaseu (deep-fried pork cutlet) and omurice (omelet and fried rice) at Braka. None of the dishes are made with salt, lending the food a unique flavor.
Prices range from 6,900 won to 39,000 won.
Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
(02) 753-7003, www.ahaabah-braka.co.kr
|Deoksujung / Cafe Pine Tree|
The alumni of high schools in the area have been coming to Deoksujung for years to reminisce on the past. Since it opened, the menu hasn’t changed one bit. The favorite dish here is budae jjigae, a spicy concoction known as army base stew because it was created by soldiers with surplus food from U.S. Army bases.
Prices range from 5,000 won to 20,000 won.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
(02) 755-0180, itvplus.co.kr/home5/deoksuCafe Pine Tree
This cafe is known for its free English lessons and high quality coffee. The beans and brewing method is a secret but the java served here is said to be some of the best in the nation. The coffee is made by two professional baristas from the Korea Barista Association.
Drinks range from 1,700 won to 3,600 won.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
*Reporting by Cho Jae-eun, Chang Hae-won and Junghee Lee.
By Special Reporting Team [email@example.com]