By Jennifer Kim
The last time I was in Seoul, South Korea, I barely reached my mother’s shoulders. This time around, I was the one looking after her, and being asked if we were sisters. Needless to say, returning to Seoul as an adult — especially as a jewelry market editor — allowed me to appreciate the city in a new light.
One of my favorite finds was Ah-Won Crafts in In Sa Dong, an area of many interesting alleyways filled with antique shops, handmade arts and crafts, and a slew of charming cafes and restaurants. Ah-Won is the Zen-like boutique of an amazing artisan who works mostly with metal. She creates one-of-a-kind pieces, including simple brushed-silver pendants and rings, intricate floral brooches topped with coral and amber, and a collection of dinnerware and flatware.
Another great discovery was in Ga Ro Soo Gil, a tree-lined street of boutiques and cafes in the Apkugeong area. Dami is a literal jewel box of a shop, about half the size of a Manhattan subway car. It’s filled to the ceiling with every sort of intricate bauble you can imagine: semiprecious cocktail rings, multihued hoop earrings and grosgrain ribbon barrettes in every color
Of course, Seoul also has plenty of Chanel, Dior and Gucci, but I found the street markets in downtown Seoul more interesting. They’re a loud, crowded jumble of carts selling an endlessly random assortment of socks, toys, clothing, stationery, candy and on and on. They’re also a great place to try Korean street food, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can graze on some dried squid legs with red pepper paste, potato sticks (like extra-fine French fries), roasted ginko nuts and steamed corn.
When I’d had my fill of Korean food, some friends took me to a very trendy Japanese fusion spot in Ga Ro Soo Gil called Hattori Kitchen. It’s a dim little izakaya place with a counter and eight bar stools. (If they’re all taken, better luck next time.) It serves just a few dishes every night — the thing to do is ask the owner, Ji Young Sohn, to pick for you. She’s a quirky and energetic young woman who dances behind the counter, cooking up plates of noodles in between texting her friends and fiddling with the stereo.
Everyone’s favorite dish appeared to be udon salad, cold udon served with iceberg lettuce, slivers of carrots and cucumbers in a sauce she dare not describe. As good as it was, my fondest memory was finishing off a bottle of Korean rice whiskey called So-Ju with my friends, then practically dancing our way home.