Words by Jinsoo Margaret Kim and shots by Denise Bodor
A perfect fusion of Korean traditional and modern arts, the Daehangno neighborhood in Hyehwa-dong has a youthful energy like none other. Literally translated as “University Street,”
this lively 1.6 km stretch is probably best known as the mecca of the performing arts in Korea. It also boasts over 300 mainstream and small theaters, plenty of art centers, and a smorgasbord of delicious restaurants and street food sellers. Choose any Sunday, and off you go!
Start the day off right – and exotic – at the Filipino Market held every Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. When you walk out of exit 1 you can’t miss the crowds bustling around numerous stalls up ahead in front of the Hyehwa Cathedral. Tagalog is the dominant language around here, but you’ll be in heaven as you indulge in freshly prepared foods including pancit (stir-fried vermicelli noodles with chicken and vegetables), chicken adobo, pork skewers, turon (deep-fried cooking bananas with brown sugar wrapped in rice paper) and lumpias (egg rolls). Then stroll along the market and pick up some kalamansi (a Filipino lime-like fruit) and longanizas (Filipino sausages).
If you’re looking for something a little more local, head to one of the many restaurants unique to Daehangno, like Goldongmyun. A hole-in-the-wall restaurant, it is hard to find, but always packed with people. The menu consists of a few types of noodle dishes, but their specialty is the kimchi mari guksu (김치말이국수, cold kimchi noodle soup), paired with jumeokbap (주먹밥), or rice balls covered with seaweed. It’s all simple fare – how can it taste so good? If you’re up something a bit more Western, head to Grasmere Kitchen, which serves paninis, Hanwoo burgers, pizzas, and to-die-for smoothies all for a reasonable price. Did I mention you can enjoy this with a nice glass of cold beer out on the upstairs terrace?
Naksan Park and Ewha Mural Village
Next, take a small detour to Naksan Park, which overlooks the Daehangno area. The view from the top is magnificent, but it’s a bit of a hike, so you should leave your heels behind. However, the true gem is the Ewha Mural Village located between Daehangno and Naksan Park. As you roam about the old streets and pass deserted shops, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time to old Seoul. The randomly hidden murals are sure to brighten up your day with great photo spots, like the big sunflowers painted on a long flight of stairs. Sit on a sunflower and have someone take your picture. Smile at the dog staring out the window, the character saying annyeong (안녕, hello/goodbye), and the floating couples who seem to embody what love should truly be – or find your own favorite. They are all so captivating you’ll forget you’re walking uphill most of the time.
Now that your stomach’s calling out for a little oomph after that “hike,” wind down at a local cafe in Daehangno. A popular place is Miss Lee’s Byuldabang, a café-cum-restaurant known for its interior design which is covered with notes and wishes from customers. Serving traditional teas and fusion drinks such as jujube lattes, you’ll even get to enjoy a bite of hangwa (한과), a traditional Korean chewy rice snack. You should also try their yetnal dosirak (옛날 도시락), or old school lunch box, made with rice, stir-fried kimchi, spam, and a fried egg all served in a gold-colored tin lunch box. Shake vigorously before opening. It may look like the aftermath of a tornado, but that just adds to the impact of your first spoonful of chewy-spicy-greasiness.
Laugh a Little
Both traditional and modern Korean art and theaters are available at Daehangno. Start at the Dongsoong Art Center and Batangol Arts Center, which have been around since the beginning of Daehangno in the 60s. But what really lures the locals and the students from nearby universities are the small theaters which host a variety of shows. While they are all performed in Korean, most of the comic shows involve a lot of physical humor and body language and are easy enough to follow. Laughter aside, the real pleasure is the intimacy and connection you feel with the local community and culture. In these tiny theaters, you become part of a special group of people sitting and laughing together. Most have a showing of 1 or 2 pm, with another at 5 pm. Shows cost between W10,000 and W20,000. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at interpark.com.
After the show, take a stroll around Maronnier Park, located near exit 2 of Hyehwa Station, to feel the true hipster vibe. Though it may be small, you’ll always find something entertaining going on in this park, whether it be live music, a magic show, or local bands simply performing on the benches. Pair this with street foods such as the king waffle, hoeori (회오리, tornado) potato fries, or tteokbokki and you’re good to go.
To get to the Daehangno area, head to Hyehwa Station on line 4 and take any of the exits.