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Seochon Village in Seoul

Seochon Village (lit. “village to the west”) is named for being on the west side of Gyeongbokgung, a residence of the kings of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910). A part of the historical center of Seoul and an old, traditional neighborhood, it is now frequented by foreign visitors who want to experience an ancient ambiance walking along old alleyways and looking around traditional Korean houses called hanok. Seochon Village also houses a traditional market, several famous restaurants, and other attractions. Let us take a look at the traditional landscape of Seoul preserved in Seochon Village.

# Feel the Atmosphere of Old Seoul

Seochon Village is also called Sejong Village because it is where King Sejong, one of most renowned kings of the Joseon Dynasty, was born and raised. Historically, it is an area for court ladies, court doctors, and jungin (middle-class). In today’s terms, they can be defined as professionals. Being in close proximity of the royal palace, the neighborhood was subject to building regulations—such as building height restrictions—and was not as developed as other areas of Seoul. It was able to maintain the older look as a result.

As soon as visitors enter Seochon village, they encounter many traditional Korean houses. Hanok have their own charm in fine, flowing eaves, ondol (traditional Korean floor-heating system), and the main, open room called daecheong where inhabitants and guests would cool off from sweating on a sweltering day. Currently, the village boasts over 660 hanok and some of them operate as guest houses for foreign tourists. Also in the neighborhood, one may find houses and stores built in the late 1900s, which create a very different feeling from the modern downtown areas of Seoul such as Gangnam and Myeongdong.

* Directions: The entrance to Seochon Village is a 10-minute walk from Exit 2 of Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3) towards the Food Street of Sejong Village and the Tongin Market.

# A Culinary Tour of Seochon Village: The Food Street of Sejong Village and Tongin Market

The Food Street of Sejong Village is famous as an alley of eateries frequented by office workers from nearby areas. There are many restaurants offering a variety of dishes at reasonable prices, and bars and pubs serving an assortment of simple dishes and munchies to go with alcoholic beverages for workers to enjoy in the evening. A restaurant recommended for noodle lovers is Chebudong-Janchijip. It is one of the top five kalguksu (handmade noodle soup) restaurants in Korea and serves deulkkae-kalguksu (noodle soup with ground perilla seed) and spicy janchi-guksu (banquet noodles). The servings are generous and prices are very reasonable. The spicy janchi-guksu, for example, costs only KRW 3,000.

Seochon-Gyedanjip will be a perfect choice for those who want to try fresh seafood. The restaurant is famous for raw oysters, muneo-sukhoe (parboiled octopus), and bada-ramyeon (instant noodles with assorted seafood), as well as other dishes to accompany alcoholic drinks. In the past, one would have to wait at least an hour to get in, but the waiting times have been reduced considerably with the recent addition of the second floor.

Jeondaegam-Daek serves jeon (assorted pan-fried delicacies) with makgeolli (unrefined rice wine) brewed in different regions of Korea. The most popular entries on the menu are sweet chestnut makgeolli, yuk-jeon (jeon made with meat), and saeu-jeon (jeon made with shrimp).

* Directions: All restaurants above are located close to Exit 2 of Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3). Contact information: Chebudong-Janchijip +82-2-730-5420, Seochon-Gyedanjip +82-2-737-8412, and Jeondaegam-Daek 070-4202-5170.

The Tongin Market is one of the traditional Korean markets in Seoul that is enjoying great popularity these days. It is famous for its yeopjeon meal box and oil tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake). Visitors can purchase a disposable meal box and 10 coins (called “yeopjeon”) for KRW 5,000 at the entrance to the market and then fill it in with street foods, such as tteok-kkochi (rice cake skewers), selling in member stores in the market, paying with yeopjeon. Once they have purchased all the food they want, they can enjoy the meal at a café located in the center of the market.

Unlike common tteokbokki made with gochujang (red pepper paste), the oil tteokbokki of the Tongin Market is made by frying rice cakes in gochu-garu (red pepper powder) or ganjang (soy sauce). The dish comes in two types: spicy gochugaru tteokbokki and sweet and slightly salty ganjang tteokbokki. It made headlines when former US Secretary of State John Kerry tried it during his visit to Korea in 2014.

* Directions: Walk straight for about 10 minutes from Exit 2 of Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3). The market is closed every third Sunday of the month; the meal box café is open from 11 am to 5 pm every Tuesday through Sunday.

# Other Attractions of Seochon Village

- Daeo Bookstore: Operating since 1951, it is the oldest used bookstore in Seoul. Imbued with a nostalgic atmosphere, it is regarded a symbol of Seochon Village and has served as a filming location for many TV dramas and movies. Now turned into a café, it is a perfect place for taking pictures and always busy with tourists.

* Address and directions: Jahamun-ro 7-gil 55, Jongno-gu, Seoul. A 7-minute walk from Exit 1 of Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3). Closed on Mondays.

- Ogin Amusement Arcade: This is one of older electronic video game rooms, only a few of which are left in Seoul. Although the place is small, it houses machines for many classic games such as Tetris and Street Fighter as well as other game machines including Whack-a-Mole and crane machines. It is a great place to relieve stress.

* Address and directions: Ogin-gil 28, Jongno-gu, Seoul. A 3-minute walk to the left from the Daeo Bookstore.

AgraFood  leehw@agrinet.co.kr

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