If you only have a couple of days in Seoul, and are in need of souvenirs, I recommend that you start off with the outdoor marketplace in Namdaemun. You can find just about everything at Namdaemun: Korean made, foreign "inspired" clothing, accessories, and bags; shoes; various household items; leather goods; blankets; kitchen utensils; Korean soccer paraphernalia, souvenirs with a traditional Korean flair; and various Korean street food, including marinated pig's feet. There's definitely an abundance of pig's feet.
With the number of foreign visitors that frequent Namdaemun, many of the vendors speak a few phrases of Japanese and/or English. It's an open market, so you're welcome to bargain. Cyndi and I are getting slightly better at bargaining, but our triumphs are quite small. It's very difficult to haggle over a few thousand won with someone that could be your grandmother.
I tried to chronicle the experience through photos, but the shop keepers can get quite irate when you take photos. What's the big deal? I mean, it's not like they're selling any illegally produced merchandise that violate international trademark laws. Right?
Here's a sampling of items you can find at Nadaemun:
Piles of ajumma clothes for approx $5 or less.
Various seafood (and soju) prepared upon order. I bet the block of ice was mandated under Korean health code regulations.
Korean utensils. After some smooth bargaining, Cyndi purchased a set of extremely lightweight chopsticks for 4000 won, but then found a vendor a few rows down that was selling the same set for 3000 won! Traditional Korean chopsticks, made of stainless steel, are thin and flat, but can be quite heavy and difficult to grip. Now days, people have started to use a more lightweight version that appears to be made of aluminum. I'm don't know much about the technological advances behind these chopsticks, but once I find out their story, I'll feature these chopsticks in their very own post.
Korean body scrubbers and crocheted little thingies. I've noticed that Korean women (at least Cyndi's aunts) use these crocheted doilies to clean their pots. That's a novel idea. I always thought they were potholders or used to showcase dusty, ceramic figurines and collectables.
Von Dutch, A&F, Nike, CK, etc... This place has everything your trendy little head could desire.
Various beans and vegetables? I don' know what that gelatinous brown thing is, but I am intrigued.
Leather and fur coats. That coat on the right was made out of 101 puppies.
Just kidding. It's obviously made out of baby cheetahs.
Wallets. I am told that there are different quality levels of imitation luxury goods. I've heard that the really high quality knock-offs are usually sold underground. I don't know about the grade level of the goods sold in Namdaemun. The branding and logos appear to be correct (so your wallet will say "Chanel", instead of "Channel"), but I'm sure that the handiwork leaves something to be desired.
Another great thing about Namdaemun is that its a stone's throw away from Myeongdong, another trendy shopping district. Myeongdong offers a nice contrast to Namedaemun because its filled with lots of modern boutiques and eateries, as well as outdoor vendors. Be warned though, Myeongdong can be quite chaotic during peak shopping hours (evenings, weekends, and holidays). Brace yourself for lots of pushing and personal space violations.
While in Myeongdong, I got to show Cyndi a variation of one of my favorite street snacks, 호떡ho dduk. As you may recall from my Edae post, ho dduk are typically deep fried. However, I prefer the Chinese style or "diet" version, where the cakes are grilled in a waffle iron-like apparatus, rather than deep fried. The end result is similar to naan or flat bread, filled with a warm sugary paste.
I always thought ho dduks were filled with cinnamon sugar and peanuts, but according to the sign on the truck, the filling consist of eight special ingredients, including ginseng. How can this be? There is ginseng in my beloved ho dukk?
In Myeongdong, you can also help yourself to a towering serving of fro-yo for approximately $1US. This place boasts a cone that is 32 cm high, but we found a place a few blocks that offers a 33 cm high. Oh yeah. Competitive market in action!
My sister told me that the voodoo doll key chains are currently all the rage in the States. Pshaw. Those voodoo key chains were soooo last year. The U.S. may ignite the trends in plastic surgery, panty-flashing celebrities, and reality TV, but the cute trends all start in Asia. There's a whole lot of cuteness going on over here, but if I had to predict the next cute trend to head to the States, I would put my money on these guys: Big, button eyed, creatures of whimsy.
What do you think?
Cyndi ordered some chicken curry for lunch. We were shocked when they brought out an entire deep fried chicken!
On our way to Starbucks, we spotted this cool Converse "Self Factory" truck. These mobile artists give new life to your old, beaten up sneakers with the help of a little color and sparkle. I'm not certain if Converse is affiliated with this endeavor (even though the name is on the truck). If not, they should totally jump back on this concept of the personalized sneaker. Have you seen such a service in the States?