Hidden Hongdae: Exploring indie Seoul
When you read the title, what image of Hongdae came to mind? Bustling streets full of young couples shopping? Or perhaps it was the thriving nightlife with dance-offs and drunken revellers congregating in the infamous Playground? These are the most common perceptions of what Hongdae is all about as it is usually shown this way in dramas or the media; but there is much more to the area than shops, clubs and bars.
I’ve lived in a residential area of Hongdae for 7 months now so I feel like I am somewhat of a local. In fact, my area has a small Chinese community and so we have many tasty and authentic Chinese restaurants, a rarity in Korea, down what I guess could be called a Chinese street. It has a tiny supermarket attached to a bakery which is full of products you would find in a supermarket in China and I have been told that there is even a school for the children of this Mandarin speaking community. If you fancy a quick trip to China, the street is near Hongik University station (Hongdae yeok) exit 3. The general price of a meal is around 6,000 won but with everything being so good, you’ll end up spending a lot more than that!
In the centre of Hongdae there is what I call the “shopping street”: it is literally lined with clothes shops selling pretty much the same items in varying colours. If you keep on walking down towards the back of street you will find the Ssangssang Madang builiding. This where the truly Hidden or Indie Hongdae starts. Ssangssang Madang houses various art galleries, hipster shops and even an indie cinema in the basement showing films which you won’t find at the copious amounts of chain cinemas. It is a brilliant place to buy some slightly unusual and arty souvenirs which you may not see in many other places. Once you’ve finished shopping or watching a movie there, walk even further down the street and then take a left directly across until you get to an incredible smelling Japanese restaurant. The back alleys around here are where you should really start exploring to get a feel for this part of the area.
There are plenty of cute, independent cafes of varying themes which would be absolutely perfect for a quiet study session and restaurants suited to a chilled meal with a friend. The restaurants are particularly varied with them ranging from baked chicken, an Irish pub serving fish and chips as well as “London” beer to a particularly tasty Vietnamese place. I would give you directions and recommendations for cafes and places to eat but that would spoil the fun of exploring and trying out whichever place catches your eye in this section of Hongdae! However, in saying this, if you are craving some proper western cakes and bread then head to the bakery Publique which is down a small side street, behind a very bright pink baked chicken restaurant. It serves real western-style bread (savoury as opposed to the sweet, spongy texture of Korean bread) and baked goods for very reasonable prices. As I have a wheat allergy I haven’t been able to try any of their bread, cakes or pastries but I have it on good authority that they are indeed the real thing. I can, however, recommend one of their ginormous meringues for the absolute bargain of 1,800 won (around 80p).
So, I hope that I have given you a thirst for exploring the arty and indie parts of Hongdae. There is far more there than I have described but I just wanted to give you a small taster of what you can find. It is most definitely well worth a wander around and there are plenty of places to stop and grab something to eat or drink if the urge takes you. Plus, as the streets are often extremely quiet, many magazines do fashion shoots in the back alleys so you may catch a glimpse of a model pulling their best pose. If you’re lucky, you could end up in one of Korea’s top fashion magazines; albeit in the background, but everyone has to start somewhere!