Like Shanghai, Seoul has forgotten its past. South Korea's Trente Glorieuses (1945-1975) made its way to the fifties and the American urban model flourished.
We first tested the double six-lane roads marked by guiding lines where cars reign supreme. In Seoul, when someone says that a place isn't very far, you can translate that into an hour by taxi or metro. But if you want to make the effort, this megalopolis has its secrets, magical places where souls from the past can still be felt.
As in the rest of the world, markets are forever examples of a place's true reality.
Firstly, because the colors and odors that can be found there serve to identify the geolocation of the area; but moreover because the clichés of globalization find very little room there. But be aware, in Seoul the experience can be even more intense as it has the greatest concentration of street food on the planet. And the quantity would be nothing if it not for the fact that the quality of what can be tasted is all but exceptional. At the Namdaemun market, anything is possible.
Of course there is meat and fish barbecued at the table, but also dishes made by hand with the nation's most essential item, kimchi (fermented cabbage, vegetables and peppers), which it would be an error to believe that only one single recipe exists. The cooking devices that rival the ingenuity and kindness of their vendors can only be matched by their talent for cooking. Here, even while skyscrapers are not very far away, you can plunge into the ancient traditions and history of the city's tastes and colors.
While the south of Seoul is very flat, the north has rolling hills. Climbing high into the neighborhood of Insadong we arrive at Si.Wha.Dam.
Upon arrival, we couldn't quite understand what was happening in this somber and elegant building standing before us. Could it be a museum? An antique shop? In any case, very few signs led us to think that it was a restaurant. And yet, that is exactly what it was, something unique to first be seen before tasted.
The outside window displayed antiques mixed with more contemporary pieces. At Si.Wha.Dam we first meandered through the displays of works of art, sculptures, paintings, and video installations before heading upstairs and entering into one of the rooms carrying the name of Modigliani or Matisse.
The names are fitting as here the menu being served carries not just a name but that of the experience of a beautiful painting. Each dish is conceived as a pictorial and artistic experience, an homage to famous paintings or in reference to the most ancient ceramic tiles, all served in splendid dishware that is also composed of multiple pieces of art.
And to experience the invisible side of Seoul, nothing can replace the secret garden of the Changdeokgung palace.
To miss this visit (for which it is prudent to make a reservation) is to deprive oneself of 500 years of history experienced in the most sensorial fashion possible. Here you can transition from the fury of the city to the most subtle tranquility; a return to the past that requires no other guide than your five senses. From tranquility to philosophy, only one step is needed. This place is ideal for recreated one's world.