When I think of Hongdae, my mind immediately flashes back to my first couple of years in Korea. Back then, this trendy, busy college town was the perfect playground filled with my favorite bars and clubs blasting oldschool hiphop that I couldn’t find easily in other cities. Every Saturday night was spent squeezing through overcrowded dance floors with an overpriced cocktail in hand to claim enough territory to dance with my friends (and the occasional hot stranger). Thanks to Korea’s never-ending nightlife, the clubs stayed open til 6 in the morning. So after a crazy night of basically a whole week’s worth of cardio, we’d go out into the breaking dawn and ravenously devour hot spicy gamjatang (pork-rib stew, aka a type of “hangover soup”) in a hole-in-the-wall joint in one of the many dark alleyways.
Then, as I reached my mid-twenties, I gradually grew tired of that routine, physically and mentally. Long story short, let’s just say that now the only reason I go to Hongdae is if a friend drags me out to try a new dessert cafe that just opened up.
My coworkers from my old school took recently me to a new side of Hongdae that I’ve never explored before. It was a series of side roads and winding alleys with the cutest little restaurants and cafes peeking out everywhere you looked. They were geared towards a slightly older crowd, most in their late twenties or early thirties and looked like they came over straight from their 9-5 jobs, just like us.
We went to a famous ddukbokki (rice cake stew?) place in the basement of a small building.
검은별 (Black Star) really was like a basement, perfect to just chill and chat with nostalgia-inducing 90’s Korean songs playing in the background.
We started off with a round of their famous “cream beer”, which just turned out to be normal draft beer with some extra foam on top. Notice I sadly stuck to water… cutting out all alcohol until the wedding!
Next up was an awesome dark ddukbokki with deep-fried pot stickers, seafood and other goodies mixed in. I only had a little bit, but man that thing was good.
And then came my greatest test, my favorite guilty pleasure: fried chicken smothered in alfredo sauce. I tried my best to eat more of the broccoli and lettuce, but I couldn’t help myself… I knew I would eat that entire platter if no one stopped me, so after eating more than I should have I finally handed my fork over to one of the teachers and asked her to keep it away from me. It actually worked! I absentmidnedly reached for my fork during our conversations several times only to find it gone, so I sipped water instead. We stayed for two hours – it was the most hilarious and entertaining gab-fest I’ve had in a long time!
Finally, we walked a couple of blocks to a famous gelato place for dessert. Since there only four of us and we were still full from dinner, we shared two cups with four amazing flavors. We chose Tiramisu, Royal Milk Tea, Pistachio and the most unusual of all, Rice! I was skeptical at first but my coworker insisted the Rice flavor was what people came here for. After the first taste, I understood why. It was SO good. It’s one of those flavors you just have to try yourself.
We finally said goodbye around 9PM and went to our separate neighborhoods. Leaving Hongdae so early in the evening would have been apalling back in my partying days. 9PM was usually when I’d start putting on smokey eye makeup and pick a clubbing outfit! But this little get-together opened my eyes to a new side of my former party ground. It was so fun just to hop around to famous eateries and laugh about old stories and catch up on each others’ lives, unaware of the restaurant owner constantly keeping an eye on us to see when we’d finally leave.
I encourage any of you out there who is residing in Korea to go explore random parts of the areas you frequent. Get lost, literally, and be open to new experiences. You never know what’s waiting to be discovered in all the nooks and crannies there!