2 Dec 2010
Ella Marshall
I am a self-confessed foodie, I am always seeking to test my taste buds.

Quick post about my visit to Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art.

Perched on a hill atop the Itaewon district, the gallery is a great demonstration of why Seoul has been designated 2010′s World Design Capital.

Comprising of three buildings designed by Jean Nouvel,  Mario Botta and OMA’s Rem Koohaas, the complex of galleries exhibits an impressive selection of both traditional and modern Korean and international art.

My favourite piece in the museum was a installation by Adad Hannah called 18 Minutes (2010). From afar the piece look like a set of photographs of human beings in everyday situations:

But on closer inspection, you could see that they weren’t photographs at all, but films where the subjects were remaining as still as possible in order to look like a photo:

Can you see them moving slightly?!

Well curated, well designed- even if you are not an art aficionado, go for the amazing architecture…

Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art

747-18, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, T 02 2014 6900, leeum.samsungfoundation.org

2 Dec 2010
Ella Marshall
I am a self-confessed foodie, I am always seeking to test my taste buds.

Firstly, thanks to everybody for the lovely comments on my last post- they were heartwarming and it’s hard to imagine life after this without speaking to you readers everyday and hearing your very helpful feedback.

I thought I would use this post to share with you, what I can only describe as heaven on earth: the Park Hyatt Seoul. First of all, money talks. At about 250EUR a night the hotel wasn’t cheap (we had budgets for each city, so before you think that Finnair gave me a load of money just for this hotel, they didn’t- I just stayed in some cheaper hotels along the way in order to balance out the total spend). I can definitely say that each penny was well spent:

Pure. Luxury. Everything has been thought of. Flat screen television in front of the freestanding bathtub? You got it.

Bathroom stocked with fresh flowers and quality toiletries, the kind that make you a little embarrassed about the products you brought with you? You got it.

Big comfy bed with the softest sheets? You got it.

Amazing views? You got it.

I think  you get it. Notwithstanding the fact that the room is the size of a standard apartment, everything about this hotel and the service it provides is spot on. Staff that greet you by name. The fact that the hotel will pay for a taxi to take you to the airport bus terminal. Proper fresh fruit in your room everyday. A reception that doesn’t put you on hold when you call for assistance. I could go on, but I won’t. The most obvious thing that stood out to me, was the Park Hyatt’s successful accomplishment of pure simplicity. No design gimmicks. No complicated TV/internet systems. A clear layout and inoffensive room interiors. Simple and easy. I believe that this is what travellers want but it just shouldn’t be reserved for the top five star hotels. In fact, I think it’s easier to be ‘simple’ on a budget which is why I am always dismayed when hotels get it so wrong!

But.

It seems that our old friend has come back to haunt us dear readers. Cue horror movie music:

No…

No…

Nooo!

Really? I lost count of how many light switches there were and this is the only thing that lets the room design down. Otherwise, I can say that this is one of the best encounters of quality I have come across on this journey. It’s a shame that it is a bit on the expensive side, especially since we have found on this journey that quality hotels are achievable at a low price- remember the Sokos Hotel in Levi?

So what do you think ? IS 240EUR per night too much for a hotel? Have any readers stayed at a Park Hyatt? What did you think?

And what was your best hotel experience?

1 Dec 2010
Ella Marshall
I am a self-confessed foodie, I am always seeking to test my taste buds.

So, regular readers will know that for me this is almost as much as food blog as it is a travel blog! So apologies for the multiple food related posts over the past two months- I promise that this will be be the last…if I can help it.

I couldn’t come to Korea without sampling as much of the infamous cuisine as possible and I was informed by locals that the best way to do this was by following the crowds. It seems that literally every street in the city has about two dozen restaurants offering everything from dolsot bibimbap (meat, rice, vegetables, and a raw egg served in a hot stone bowl which slowly cooks the ingredients) to those specializing in a specific dish (knuckle bone soup anyone? More on that later…).

One of the best meals I have had so far was in a tiny restaurant in the Seoul Station area which, to be honest, I chose for no other reason that I was absolutely starving. Perhaps by European standards it doesn’t look so enticing:

But as always, especially in Asia, a packed eatery is a telling sign of good quality so I followed my gut (geddit?)

I had no idea what I was ordering since there was no menu in English (in fact there was no menu at all), but instead there were signs on the wall which I watched locals pointing to as they ordered. I did the same- who knows, I probably pointed to a sign reading ‘Fire Exit’- but within a couple of minutes I presented with this beauty:

Rice cakes!

Korean meals containing rice cakes (known as Tteok) are for some reason every hard to come by in London, so this was like the Holy Grail of Korean cuisine for me despite being a staple food for most people in Seoul.

Glutinous goodness…

The sauce was deceptively spicy, but nothing I couldn’t handle. This was followed by a doughnut-like dessert which I didn’t manage to catch the name of. Maybe a reader could identify it?

???

On to the next, and most markets seemed to be peppered with stalls offering this snack- some sort of dried octopus tentacle:

Was I brave enough to try it? I’d like to say yes…

Then there’s the famous Korean BBQ, which you have to try at least once in Seoul. Usually served in dedicated restaurants equipped with tables that have barbecue grills inserted within them and overhead extractor fans above each table in order to minimise the fumes, this is more of a communal dining experience where all diners chip in and take turns in cooking the meat (usually beef or pork).

Served with a selection of banchan (small side dishes, like kimchi), the barbecued meat, in this case beef, is cooked and then smeared with a chilli sauce, rolled in a lettuce leaf and eaten.

Believe it or not, this was a portion for one!

Was it a lot of food? Yes. Will I have high cholesterol levels when this trip is done? Probably. Do I care? NO!

So, now on to the ‘knuckle soup’. Whose knuckle was it? No idea, but it was good!

Served in a metal cauldron-like bowl, the soup is still bubbling at the table

The best thing abut this restaurant in the youth-friendly Myengdong area was that it was truly traditional- shoes off, sitting on the floor, no English menu and filled with locals.

I have to say that out of all of the cities that I have visited, Seoul has delivered the most in terms of food (closely followed by NYC and Venice). Yet unlike most other cities, the food is dirt cheap by European standards and yet the quality is always good. In fact, the only places that you are likely to find ‘average’ quality- in my opinion- is in the Western imports found in many of the city’s malls (KFC, Pizza Hut, etc).

I have not had one bad meal here- Seoul food indeed.

1 Dec 2010
Ella Marshall
I am a self-confessed foodie, I am always seeking to test my taste buds.

A cold and windy afternoon in Seoul provided a somewhat ‘rustic’ backdrop for my visit to the city’s Gyeongbokgung Palace, which coincided with the changing of the guard ceremony.

The above video is actually a prelude to the actual changing of the guards which was quite a long winded process and not nearly as interesting; with lots of marching around and standing still…then some more marching…and then standing still!

I was quite disappointed to learn that the palace as it stands is not completely original (the buildings were initially constructed in the 14th century by King Taejo, when it served as Seoul’s principal palace), having being razed by the Japanese in both the 16th and 20th centuries. So what you actually see here toady is only around 40% original with the remainder of the compound consisting of modern reconstructions.

Nonetheless, it was still a spectacular experience and most of all it was so interesting to observe the Korea that is currently being played out in the news and then to observe it first hand in person. There doesn’t seem to be ‘tension’ in the air- people are admirably going about their daily lives as usual, although most kindly advised me not to visit the DMZ (which I had really wanted to go to) at the present time!

29 Nov 2010
Ella Marshall
I am a self-confessed foodie, I am always seeking to test my taste buds.

“Make sure you go to the N Seoul Tower”.

I heard these words again and again, both prior to my trip to Seoul and once I arrived. It seems Seoulites are extremely proud of their looming landmark which sits atop Namsan Mountain in the middle of Seoul.

Measuring in at 237 metres, the tower certainly isn’t amongst the world’s tallest, but standing at 479 metres above sea level the observation level gives unbeatable views over the city’s skyline. As I mentioned before, Seoul is a huge sprawling city with the greater Seoul area home to just over 23 million people. As such, it’s sometimes impossible to understand this from the ground. You do get the sense that you are in a huge city, but because there are no visible ‘boundaries’, it appears limitless and its actual size is difficult to fully comprehend. Not so from up here:

Offering 360 degree views of the city, I could finally get an idea of where I was. Seoul is vast, tall and at times frightening (not in terms of safety, just in terms of trying to actually navigate your way around the city). Overlooking the numerous clusters of high-rise structures juxtaposed next to districts of seemingly stout traditional houses, the views from the tower were also a great way to get an idea of how Seoul has changed over the  past few decades- transforming itself from the capital city in what was long considered a developing country to a lead player in world technology and design.

The tower itself was a great structure- you have the option of doing a guided tour at an extra price or, with the standard entrance fee of 3,000 KWN (around 2EUR), you can just wander around the observation deck alone and make what you wish of the 360 degrees views.

This following picture of me looks like one of those digital photos where they superimpose your image against a scenic backdrop, but I kid you not- it’s real!

Usually I find that gift shops at tourist-friendly attractions such as this are full of cheap, yet overpriced trinkets that nobody wants. But at the Seoul Tower (which also features a revolving restaurant above the observatory), the shop was a pleasant surprise, offering well designed objects at a surprisingly reasonable cost and could probably survive as a standalone.

And of course, I’m always looking out for products for travellers:

On the way back down, I took the cable car (I took a taxi on the way up which was surprisingly just as cheap, give or take few Won, as the cable car itself). I have quickly learned in that Korea pushing and shoving when boarding trains, planes and, er, cable cars is the norm. It’s not done in an aggressive or malicious way, but was initially quite shocking for me. Anyhow, the cable car was packed and I got a few elbows in the face; all part of the Quality Hunting experience, eh?

The jostling begins…

But the view is worth it

Once you get off the cable car, there is yet another lift to take you down to the Myeong-dong district in central Seoul (remember the tower is 479 metres above sea level), but I decided to take the stairs to burn of all that Korean BBQ I have been eating. Plus the idea of a ‘floating cube’ as a lift, didn’t instill me with the most confidence…

The bizarre second lift

I love this city!

Have any readers visited before (I know Stephan has)? What did you make of it?

27 Nov 2010
Ella Marshall
I am a self-confessed foodie, I am always seeking to test my taste buds.

Okay. So I’m obsessed with kimchi, Korea’s best known dish of fermented vegetables. It was the first Korean food I ever tried back at home in London and ever since then I have been hooked, travelling far and wide to obtain jars of the foodstuff to sate unreasonable cravings. So imagine how excited I was when I not only discovered that I was coming to Korea, the home of this revered food, but that my hotel was located next to the Kimchi Field Museum, an exhibition I have always wanted to visit! A whole museum dedicated to Kimchi equals heaven in my world and so I put the venue right at the top of my list of things to do in the city.

Now, just a word of advice if you want to visit yourself but don’t like crowds. The museum itself is very quiet and serene, but it is located in the middle of COEX Mall, one of Seoul’s largest shopping experiences. Expect to have to push your way through crowds of young ‘malling’ Koreans (malling is the word used to describe the act of spending much of one’s spare time at the mall- eating, shopping, gossiping…malling). Either that, or I’d recommend going very early on a week day when the area is a little more quiet. On my way to the museum, I had to fight my way through crowds watching a national volleyball match on a plasma-screen mounted in the window of a beauty shop (the most appropriate place, obviously).

So back to the kimchi. I was disappointed to see that there was only one visitor to the museum (me), but that just meant all the more space for me to roam and take pictures of absolutely everything without the usual stares!

Charting the history of kimchi and its origins, the exhibit went all the way back to about 3000 years ago when the first evidence of kimchi can be found in the texts of Shi Jing, a Chinese poetry book.

It is said that Koreans’ colour sense is based on the five colours of blue, red, yellow, black and white and five tastes of sweet, sour, hot, salty and bitter. Korean cuisine aims to blend each of these distinct elements to create perfectly harmonised dishes. Kimchi is representative of Korean cuisine in that it is able to blend each of the five tastes and colours. The museum also took an in-depth look at the the rituals of traditional Kimchi production, from the rolling of the cabbage:

to the blending of the seasonings…

to the blending of all the ingredients…

And finally the storage of the final blend in big clay pots for the fermentation process to take place:

For those of you who don’t know, kimchi is a type of banchan (small side dish) and comes in many forms. It is said that it first came about when ancient Koreans looking to store summer crops in time for the harsh Korean winter buried vegetables in the ground in a mixture of salt and other seasonings, digging them up come winter-time for a  perfectly preserved food to eat alongside grain. The most popular/famous variant is baechu which consists of Chinese cabbage, as well as the usual components of kimchi: chilli, salt, garlic and vinegar. Kimchi also comes in the form of pickled radishes, cucumber and spinach although the list of potential vegetables to use is endless as the museum demonstrated:

The museum’s facilities were incredible, with a resource centre for those who wanted even more info:

…as well as a ‘Tasting Room’:

I admit that for some, a museum about one foodstuff may seem a bit tedious. But as interested in food history as I am, it was a great way to understand modern Korean cuisine and the food currently being served to me in Seoul. So what did I have for lunch? You guessed it; a kimchi and pork rib stew!

Kimchi Field Museum

159 COEX Mall B2, Seoul-si Gangnam-gu Samseong-dong, T 02 6002 6456,

www.kimchimuseum.or.kr

27 Nov 2010
Ella Marshall
I am a self-confessed foodie, I am always seeking to test my taste buds.

Having barely settled into Seoul after a day of travel, I was whisked off to a press conference to launch the Korean version of the Quality Hunter campaign followed by an interview with AB Road, South Korea’s leading travel publication, about my own experience as a Quality Hunter. The editors meeting me- Jin Joo Shin and Si Won Kim- suggested we go to Suyusanbang teahouse in Sungbook-dong, area in north Seoul described as one of the city’s finest residential districts.

Knowing absolutely nothing about Korean tea  or the country’s traditional teahouses, the experience was enlightening. My first lesson? When in Seoul, wear easily removable shoes since many traditional restaurants and teahouse such as this will require you to remove footwear before entry. So, the complicated boots I wore were less than ideal!

Entering the traditional house, with it’s creaky floors, low ceilings and various trinkets, we were led to our own room were we sat on the floor around a low table on which the tea was to be served. Despite the extremely traditional ambiance and interior of the venue, the owners had a good mind to place heated mats on the floor to sit on- perfect for this time of year in Seoul where temperatures are hovering at around 5C.

I let the girls order for me, partly because I had no idea where to start but also because I believe that there’s nothing like having a knowledgeable local lead you through a foreign menu. It was like having my own two tea sommeliers!

Their choice was ‘Mogwa cha’ (Chinese quince tea), a famous blend quite particular to Korea. Made from quince skin and flesh that has been left to pickle in sugar and water for a few months, the mixture is spooned into a cup with boiling hot water was poured over it.

Whole quince is actually inedible- the tough flesh is similar to that of sugar cane

Our tea was served with Yoogwa, a traditional Korean ceremonial rice cake covered in sesame seeds. Delicious!

The delicacies were a strange yet pleasing taste and I can only describe it as the same texture as a stale Wotsit (English readers will know what I’m on about), but in a good way!

So, the perfect start to my last city. The tea was perfect and absolutely needed in this chilly weather. Many thanks to my hosts Jin Joo Shin and Si Won Kim!

27 Nov 2010
Ella Marshall
I am a self-confessed foodie, I am always seeking to test my taste buds.

Fortunately for me, the last leg of my last journey (Milan to Seoul) was Business Class, meaning that I could spend the epic day day of travel in luxury. After taking a train from Venice to Milan in order to catch my flight, I was looking for a little R&R and Finnair certainly didn’t fail to deliver. My first point of call was the Executive Lounge in Milan Malpensa Airport, known as ‘Monteverde’.

Although a lot smaller than the lounge at Helsinki Airport, it did the job. Comfortable leather armchairs, high speed complimentary wi-fi and a selection of flat screen televisions showing news channels. There was also an extensive magazine collection:

…however it seems as thought they took the term ‘businessman’ too literally, as only one of the approximately eight publications were aimed at women, but at least there was a wider selection of languages. I was also impressed by the amount of food and snacks puts out for passengers to choose from.

My only real complaint about the lounge was the overwhelming use of air fresher, which left most of us in the room coughing and spluttering!

The longest keg of this journey was by far my second flight, which was approximately 8:15 minutes from Helsinki to Seoul. Sitting in Business Class, I was given the opportunity to sample one of Finnair’s new ‘superfood’ menus which they are rolling out. The whole concept is to offer passengers a new dining experience with menus that have health and well-being in mind. I can’t say that the quality of the food was hugely different to the normal food served in Business Class (which is pretty good anyway), but the ‘healthy’ slant was definitely successful. Dinner was a prawn and bean salad with a side salad and selection of fresh fruit.

I’ll admit that I didn’t actually eat this dish as I happened to be sitting next to somebody from Finnair Head Office who I knew from Helsinki and we decided that I would have the Superfood breakfast and she would have the dinner (there were only two meals on board as they are still testing the menus and the other one was given to another passenger). But she says it tasted good and I believe her! I was more swayed by the Korean bulgogi on the normal menu and since I am such a huge fan of Korean food, I couldn’t give it a miss. I wish I had.

It tasted really bland and nothing like the bulgogi that I’m used to. I appreciate that the airline is trying to recreate the national cuisine of its destination, but please, do it properly! I was, however, sated by the small pot of kimchee that accompanied my meal:

Breakfast on the other hand was much more pleasant. As I had the superfood option, I was presented with a healthy porridge, a mini-smoothie (which I think was supposed to be a vitamin shot), an omelette with tomato and mushrooms and fresh fruit and raw vegetables.

It might sound odd, but the best best part of the meal was the raw vegetables and fruit. This goes back to what I was saying in a previous post about believing that passengers just want simple, fresh food. It doesn’t get more simple then broccoli and carrots (although I’m not sure why there were pomegranate seeds with my vegetables. Surely they should have been with my fruit?)!

Usually in airline food, veggies are boiled to the point where they loose all flavour and become unpalatable, but these were perfect, proving that you don’t need to mess around with food and complicate things in order to create something tasty. Just work with what mother nature gave us!

What do you think? Are simple vegetables and fruit your thing, or would you rather that airlines pushed the boat out when it comes to food?

Stayed tuned for Seoul!

Thank you for voting

By voting for your favourite hunter you are participating in a draw for intercontinental flights to/from Asia for two.
Voting ends 2 December at 12:00 GMT+2.