NOTE: Almost all of the links posted in this article go to the same place; the Life In Korea Travel Guide. To go to the area indicated, select "Seoul" on the "Select Area" scroll bar and hit "go." Then pick the name of the area you want to see in the "Select Location" scroll bar. BTW, it is a really good site with a lot of pics.
The stomping grounds
Most waegukin (foreigners) in Korea have a regular stomping ground in Seoul whether they live there or not and the I am no different. While most Americans prefer Itaewon, Gangnam, Hongik or even snobby Shinchon, the Yangban spends most of his Seoul time in Chongno.
I am a bit of a nerd (more than a bit, actually) and Chongno offers many opportunities to get my nerd-on. There are three palaces (Gyeongbuk, Deoksu and Changgyeong) within a 20-minute walk. The area also has two bookstores with large English-language (not esl) sections and a host of bars and restaurants. If I'm in the mood for something different, it's only 15 minutes on foot to Insadong. Chongno also has the yeogwan (Inn) I stayed in when I came up to Seoul during my old Mungyeong days.
One notable feature of the area is its extensive system of alleys. If you want to explore a different side of Seoul, this is a good place to start. You can check out a variety of restaurants, find a good place to drink (or engage in almost any other activity you want) and then crash in a local yeogwan, all without leaving the network of alleys and side streets.
Like everyplace in Korea, there is a lot of history here.
There is one alley that actually has a long history of going back hundreds of years. Check out this article from the Korea Times. Here is a blurb:
During the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910), Chongno was Seoul’s main street and many dignitaries, such as high-ranking government officials, were carried along it on kyoja or kama. Old customs required ordinary people to kneel on the street when they met the passing dignitaries. As it happened so often, a narrow path was provided behind the houses along the main street for the common people to walk and not be seen. Along the alley, various shops for drinks and foods, called ``mongno suljip,’’ ``jangkuk babjip,’’ opened, adding to its character.
About the name:
"Pi’’ means to avoid, while "mat’’ stands for "kyoja’’ or ``kama’’ (traditional sedan chair) and ``gol’’ is an alley or path. Put together, pimatgol means "an alley to avoid sedan chairs.’’
That is very educational. When I first read the sign, I though it said "blood" (pi, 피) "flavor" (mat, 맛) "alley" (gol, 골). Actually, my Korean girlfriend made a similar mistake (so I'm not a complete idiot) because the original words are from old-fashioned Korean.
Now, before you think I am crazy, there is a logical reason for me to associate that area with blood. One of the restaurants in the area that I have been to a few times features Haejang-guk. Here is a description:
Haejang-guk (Sunrise Soup)
People who are up at dawn (taxi drivers, travelers, market workers, or gamblers) like to eat this as an eye opener soup. Many people claim it works great for recovering from hangovers after a late night of drinking. Its restorative properties are reputed to clear even the sleepiest or most hung-over people. Bones are boiled hard, and chopped radish, radish leaves, cabbage, green onions, and fresh blood (direct from the slaughter house) are added to stock to make a highly nutritious soup.An eye opener indeed.