Is it possible to find peace, tranquillity and well-being in a city? Re-energising the body and mind for Seoulites is part of the city’s DNA – and citizens of this trendy Asian capital, home to 25% of Korea’s entire population, are living proof that finding your ‘‘Yin, Yang’’ is an essential part of their everyday life. Seoul has even made it onto Lonely Planet’s Best In Travel 2017, citing Korea’s capital as ‘‘striving to become a greener, more attractive and user-friendly metropolis.’’
Korea is also a food lover’s destination, a hidden gastronomic gem with its own distinct flavours and centuries of tasty tradition. With your own Gastro tour, you can explore the local restaurants, markets and traditional neighbourhoods that form the beating heart of Korea’s food culture, and because food is entwined with life, you also get to learn about the local history, heritage and landmarks as well.
I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days at the Grand Hyatt Seoul (read our interview with General Manager Adrian Slater here), where I set off with a guide and translator to one of Seoul’s finest restaurants. DADAM brings back the basis of Korean food by presenting the fine tastes of the four seasons with fresh seasonal ingredients grown in different regions of Korea, prepared by true Korean master chefs. The authenticity of the cuisine is rooted in hundreds of years of craft and traditional artisan methods. Recipes are made with the finest ingredients like Baekbong silky chicken, Jinju crippled wheat, Southern coast hairy crab, and Jeju red-banded lobster, bringing the true flavors of the hidden foods of Korea. I tried pan-fried webfoot octopus with spring greens, and braised Jeju pork salad with green tea oil made by artisan green tea maker Shin Guang-su, which was utterly delicious. The restaurant has a modern setting and is totally understated – just perfect!
Koreans regard their cooking as a holistic process and their food is prepared as if it is medicine for the mind. So I was keen to visit Korea House, where traditional court cuisine is cooked on the basis of the records contained in ancient literature. The foods are cooked by superior chefs under the supervision of Han Bok-ryeo, who is known for his expert knowledge about the court cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty. The dishes are Sinseollo (also called ‘‘Yeolguja tang,’’ meaning it makes the mouth happy) which is often put on the dinner table for state guests; Jeonyuhwa, which can be shared by friends on happy occasions; and Gujeolpan, which provides delicate tastes from vegetables and meat, arranged on a wooden plate divided into 9 compartments. All the dishes are prepared with the most delicious raw materials of the season in a sincere manner by the best chefs in Korea, to offer the best flavour and promote the health of diners. Well worth a visit!
Few capitals match Seoul’s dynamic blend of the ancient, the modern and the cutting-edge. Skyscrapers tower over historic palaces and temples, whilst Seoul N Tower stands imperious atop Mount Namsan and is the first visible landmark welcoming you to the city. It is from this viewpoint that you realise Seoul is not only protected by surrounding mountains, but also bisected by the Han River, the city’s life-blood flowing through its core.
Walking around Seoul is the best way to see this unique city. There are walking tour programmes covering five tour zones that showcase Korea: ‘‘Ancient Culture’’ traces prehistoric times through to the period of the Three Kingdoms; ‘‘Traditional Culture’’ focuses on the main palace of the Joseon dynasty dating back 600 years; ‘‘Modern Culture’’ infiltrates recent turbulent history through architecture; ‘‘History-Ecology-Restoration’’ follows Cheonggyecheon Stream as it winds its way past eight beautiful city sights; finally, the ‘‘Past-Present-Coexistence’’ tour zone will take you to the viewpoint at Naksan Park and enable you to visit the private residence of the first Korean president.
Such energetic pursuits need to be balanced by other fundamental Korean characteristics. Visiting an ‘‘Oncheon’’ (thermal bath) or ‘‘Jjimjilbang’’ is a daily part of contemporary culture for Koreans and includes a choice of clay, crystal and mugwort herbal saunas and exfoliations scrubs, known as seshin, to extract bad toxins. I went to the new Cheongkwanjang Spa G facility, which specialises in using six-year-old red ginseng roots in their treatments. I first received a water massage to stimulate my blood circulation and then a steam treatment and an Asian core body massage to detoxify and provide nourishment using red ginseng concentrate. Stress-free and feeling lighter than ever, when I left I felt ready to face the rest of the day.
If the night remains young after a full-day sightseeing and eating, the nocturnal vibrancy of Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Hongdae and Insadong will excite and exhaust in equal measure. Flashing neon signs with clubs, bars and an overwhelming variety of museums, theatres, markets and malls will ensure your ‘‘Yin, Yang’’ is in perfect harmony.
For further information about visiting Korea, go to the Visit Korea website by clicking here. For further information about DADAM restaurant, click here. For further information about Korea House, click here.