Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
Joyeux Noël! It was a bone-chilling Saturday in Seoul, one of many thus far, and everyone was decked out in multiple layers and wearing gauntlet-like gloves in order to bear the deep-freeze with ease. And with the way the weather was acting, the hope and prospect of seeing the sun was supremely doubtful, yet it somehow surprisingly burst through the thick, somber haze while I was walking through Parc Montmartre on my way to the once-a-year French Christmas Market in Seorae Village.
It was instantly gratifying to feel warmth from the sun upon my icy cheeks, and while it was nearly 2pm, it surely felt like an 8am sunrise.
For those of you not familiar with Seorae Village, it’s essentially a French enclave in Seoul that is home to nearly 1000 French people and said to be roughly 40% of the entire French community in South Korea.
Seorae Village began to form in 1985 with the moving of L’Ecole Francais de Seoul (Seoul’s only French international school) formerly located north of the Han River, to the area of Seocho-gu, which is near Sinbanpo & Express Bus Terminal Stations. Shortly thereafter, many French people and children followed, as did French bakeries and wine shops. Since the early 1990’s, as more French corporations such as Carrefour, TGV, and Renault, have gradually advanced their businesses into Korea, with them have come more French residents that have animated the area with some French-style buildings and signboards, in addition to spawning new French cafes, boutiques, and restaurants.
At first glance, one may not see such a difference in comparison to common Korean villages because it does not contain a multitude of rather glamorous French-style buildings; however, if scrutinized, one can discover the real character of Seorae village amid the side-streets that pour into Seocho-ru road all the way up the hill to Parc Montmartre. In addition, the area is home to a multitude of new authentic Italian restaurants and cafes that primarily line the major road through Seorae Village, so it may appear that the “French Village” has begun to open up to other european-like businesses.
Upon reaching Gingko Park, the small park amid Seorae Village where the French Christmas Market was taking place, I quickly realized it was a full-house.
My first means of business upon my arrival was to push my way through the crowds in order to obtain a french-style lunch, and not before long I found the “crepe machine.”
This guy above, whom I quickly called the “crepe machine,” rapidly rendered a diverse variety of crepes to a line of patrons that just wouldn’t stop forming during the entire afternoon.
My mouth was watering for a freshly cooked crepe, but once I ascertained that it would be quite a while before I could get my hands on one, I decided to meander through the market in hopes of finding something delectable. Amid passing by many tents selling homemade breads and pastries, I fortunately came across an Italian couple that was serving up Italian sausage & lentils.
Wow, gold mine! The Italian sausage & lentils were a knockout! The best since my days in Spain! It wasn’t ten minutes that had passed before I went back for seconds, and after quickly scarfing done another plate-full, I smelled roasted chocolate and could not resist getting a fresh cup of hot chocolate made from melting chocolate chips and simmering whole milk.
While sipping the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, I briefly chatted with the stout French “wine guy” and then ventured back to order a crepe that had first caught my eye.
Once I had my fill, I wandered around the French Market a bit longer and then decided to break free from the crowd to venture through Seorae Village. It was still quite cold and after walking around for a while, I desired a hot cup of specialty coffee. The Sicily Roasting Coffee House soon caught my eye.
Nestled above a Korean shop, it provides patrons with a pleasant view of the main strip running through Seorae Village. Not only that, but upon entering the cafe, one can quickly feel a sense of being in Europe. The European-style chandeliers and window shades, in addition to photos of Italian cities on the brick walls and delectable aromas of pasta and freshly brewed coffee, made it easy for me to delightfully daydream of my days in Europe.
To my surprise, after indulging a cup of Brazilian coffee, which was quite magnificent, the barista suggested that I try his recently roasted Ethopian coffee. After giving a nod of agreement, I sat and waited while the barista graciously and carefully hand-dripped my next cup of coffee.
For those of you unfamiliar with hand-dripped coffee, well, you are definitely missing out on a great way to have the best possible cup of coffee from any kind of coffee bean or roast. There is surely a slow, careful finesse to this entire hand-dripping process, and I’ve managed to learn it’s technique, and now I won’t drink coffee any other way. Hand-dripped coffee is all the rage in many coffee shops in Korea, and from what I can recall, I don’t remember ever seeing any hand-dripping coffee joints back in the States or Europe. Perhaps they’re around, but I suppose they just haven’t caught on quite as rapidly as they have in Korea. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth the time and energy getting a hand-dripped cup of coffee or learning to do it yourself.
The barista’s recommendation was absolutely superb! The Ethopian coffee tasted like strawberry! How bizarre! Just like wine and how a variety of factors strangely foster certain rare flavors, I’ve learned throughout the last few years that coffee is also just like wine, in that a myriad flavors are fostered from many components before and after roast and brewing, and this was the first time I’d ever had a coffee with such a strong fruit flavor; it was pleasantly bizarre indeed.
With it time to head home, I walked back through Parc Montmartre, and while accompanied with serene silence, auburn colors, a soon-to-be orange horizon, and a lone couple amid their own sphere of elation in the distance, I was again reminded of France, Spain, and the rest of Europe. Oh, how I honestly miss it sometimes…