happily, coffee

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Things there are no shortage of in Seoul:

Elderly women donning big plastic visors.

Young, leggy, milky-skinned, gloss-haired women with impeccably blended style: edge and femininity at its finest.

Bows, sequins, and sparkly TOMS.

Waffles. Seoul is smack-dab in the middle of a waffle craze.

Jars of (pickled?) squid. Er, red ginseng. Hell. Gets me every time.

Following in the footsteps of Montreal:  bikes.

Soju and Makgeolli, two drinks native to Korea.

And happily, coffee.

There must be more coffee shops in Seoul than in New York City, Seattle, and Chicago combined.  It feels that way, anyway.  But without knowing better, it can be hard to distinguish the good from the bad.  Besides Starbucks, I’d never heard of any of the chains found here, like Paris Baguette, or Tom and Tom’s, or Holly’s. During my first few weeks, I sampled them all. And then, I sent my friend Jen an email. Jen lived in Seoul for almost two years, and during that time, she got to know the city backwards and forwards. Besides where to get good coffee in our neighborhood, she’s given me a ton of other travel tips, helped me secure my teaching position, and assuaged my misgivings the week before I boarded the plane to Korea. I owe her at least one hell of a travel guide, should she ever decide to visit Minneapolis or Buenos Aires.

Rani: in Jangan-dong, across from Bauhaus, at Janghan-Sagori (the four-way intersection every taxi driver knows).  Closest metro stop:  Janghanpyeong, line 5

This is easily my favorite place to spend a Sunday afternoon in our neighborhood. It is from here that I type this post, and where the only thing served besides coffee are Nutrigrain bars and a couple of cookies of the unidentifiable variety. The perfect local joint where the barista always brings your coffee to you on a plastic tray with a tiny spoon and one slender packet of sugar on a napkin. The absence of anything outwardly remarkable is exactly what makes Rani great, and the people who frequent Rani are neighborhood people. From what I can tell, when the people are in the neighborhood, the people don’t stray.

Square Garden: tel:  010.3106.8466  closest metro stops: Express Bus Terminal, line 3 exit 5.  Also, Sinbanpo, line 9 exit 4

Kathryn and Kate and I were craving eggs, bacon, toast and pancakes last weekend. In a city where kimchi and rice is the local breakfast of choice, this is not easy to find. My affinity for kimchi is strong, but the only vegetable I like before eleven am is ketchup. For a weekend breakfast, I stay true to a plate of what I’m accustomed to, save for the occasional morning of cold pizza following a long night of enthusiastic imbibage. But that’s neither here nor there. We weren’t hungover. We were homesick for eggs. And we wanted them served next to a pile of thickly cut bacon.  We wanted to lay our eyes on some cheese, maybe some crusty buttered bread, hopefully without sugar. So we headed to Seorae Village, the French section of Seoul.  If any district was guaranteed to have what we craved, we figured it would be here. When we found the spot Kate knew of, it was gutted. Stomachs rumbling, and not knowing the area well, we walked the main street for a few minutes before we climbed the stairs to a place that promised brunch. Brunch turned out to be a Korean-Italian lunch of sweet red-sauced pasta and pizza with gorgonzola and honey. It wasn’t half bad, but it wasn’t what we commuted across the city for, either. No small disappointment some afternoon wine in the park couldn’t cure. On our way to find a bottle, we found some great spots tucked away on narrow, quiet side streets, places we knew we wanted to return to. And then, from outside of a vintage clothing boutique that also served coffee to go, we spotted Square Garden. From where we stood, it looked like a garage full of kitsch, lights strung from the ceiling, tiny polaroids hanging from clothespins. It didn’t have wine, but it did have coffee roasted in-house and gigantic wild fruit smoothies in old-fashioned malt glasses. The coffee was very good, and the smoothie could have fed four, easily. I’d make the trip across town for this place alone.

Kaffee Klatsch: 150 Dongsun-dong 2 1F, Sungbuk-gu   tel: 02.921.2561

I met my friend, Young-Joo, a few days after I arrived in Seoul. Once a week, we get together for food and language exchange. She started at the basics with me, teaching me to read and pronounce Hangul. She gives me homework that she finds online, and I send her articles to read and comprehend in English. Kaffee Klatsch is her coffee shop of choice. It’s near her apartment by Sung-shin Women’s University, and it’s one of the only places I’ve found that serves hand-dripped coffee. There’s always a daily roast, and it’s always only 2,000 won. That, my friends, is less than two U.S. dollars a cup. They serve waffles and other sweet things, too.

You know what pairs well with coffee? Feist. Have you heard Metals? I’ve had it on repeat today, and it is, in my humble opinion, a work of art. I especially like the third track. It’s called “Caught a Long Wind,” and you should be able to stream it and the rest of her latest album here.

Enjoy the week, everyone. Enjoy your coffee, or whatever your daily beverage of choice happens to be.