The Kimchi-ite: A Tour Through Hongdae, The Center Of Korean Youth Culture

Seoul has no shortage of unique neighborhoods worth visiting and it is certainly not at a loss for places to go drinking. However, there is only one true place where the youth of South Korea go en masse for so many of their desires and that place is Hongdae. Taking its name from the Korean abbreviation for the local art university, Hongik University, Hongdae is a great place for restaurants, cafes, art, live music, clubbing, lounge drinking and shopping. There are neighborhoods all over the city dedicated solely to each of those activities, but none have all of them, nor at such great accessibility.

The streets of Hongdae are lined with an unbelievable concentration of great restaurants, cafes and fashion boutiques.

Exiting from Hongik University station‘s exit 9 will give you a face full of Korea’s different subcultures. University students wear trendy American-style varsity jackets. Musicians have their instruments strapped to their backs. Club kids will have their frameless glasses and cut-off jeans. Exit 9 is the launching point for everyone’s night and on Saturdays it can take minutes to walk up the short flight of stairs.

Rillakuma takes a breather on “Meat Street,” a block with over 30 Korean BBQ restaurants.

One block out of the station is the so-called “Meat Street,” a one block corridor with over 30 tabletop, fire wielding, Korean BBQ restaurants. Serving up the standard samgyeopsal, kind of a BBQ-style bacon, as well as most other parts of commonly eaten animals all to be dipped into the all too delicious ssamjang, a sauce of garlic, soybeans and chili paste that is unique to Korea.

Street musicians line the street between Hongdae Station and the main nightlife areas.

Venturing on from Meat Street will take you right past Hongdae’s famous street performers and buskers. Musicians, comedians and magicians all compete for pedestrians’ attention, but everyone knows Hongdae is the musician’s playground. More than just sidewalk space for one-man acoustic cover machines, it is a testing ground for Korea’s indie music scene, with many acts going on to sign major record deals. Bands have their own regular spots with dedicated fans cheering loud enough to be heard for blocks around.

People passed-out and drunk is not an uncommon sight in all corners of Hongdae.

Most people come to Hongdae for the nightlife. Reasonable prices give the area an advantage over Gangnam. Restaurants are packed with laughter as people pour each other shots of soju, Korea’s drink of choice that, despite rarely being consumed outside of the peninsula, is one of the most consumed liquors in the world. Bars become so dense that they stack one on top of another with a speed dating bar on top of a darts bar on top of a cocktail lounge in the same building.

The two versions of Hongdae Playground: on the left, the Free Market during the afternoon and on the right, the late-night hangout spot.

One of the best places to drink after dark, when the weather is good, is in the playground right across the street from Hongik University. Koreans and expats alike grab a beer from a neighboring convenience store or Korean rice wine from the Maookli Man’s push cart, take a seat on the bench or the graffiti covered jungle gym and just hang out, often accompanied by an eclectic mix of street music. Additionally, on Saturday afternoons the area turns into the family friendly Hongdae Free Market, featuring arts and crafts vendors as well as live music.

Afternoon window-shopping is fantastic with the latest in international design and fashion.

There is really so much more to Hongdae than what I’ve mentioned, such as dog cafes, amazing basement comic book shops, narrow streets with over 50 women’s clothing boutiques and a huge concentration of great Japanese restaurants. Hongdae is one of the best places in Seoul to explore, there’s always something new to see or do as it is constantly in flux.

Now is the best time to get to Hongdae and experience it all as the neighborhood is changing on what seems like a monthly basis. As the neighborhood exponentially increases in popularity, rent is raising, pushing out businesses that have been in the area for decades in order to make way for international coffee chain locations. Many of the smaller cafes and music venues that built the area’s reputation have been pushed to adjacent neighborhoods like Hapjeong in order to keep their heads above water. Regardless of corporate takeovers, Hongdae absolutely remains my favorite neighborhood in Korea and is accessible at any hour on any day.

Check out previous “Kimchi-ite” stories on Korean culture, food and eccentricities by clicking here.

[All photos by Jonathan Kramer]

10 Cultural Experiences To Have In Buenos Aires, Argentina

graffiti Traveling to Buenos Aires in Argentina? Add these experiences to your itinerary for a better view of local culture.

Graffiti Walks

Walking around Buenos Aires, it will immediately become clear the city has close ties with the arts, specifically graffiti. While many associate street art with vandalism, the works adorning the streets in Buenos Aires are created by talented and thought-provoking artists, many who are trying to send messages about politics and government. Porteños, or the people of B.A., are very passionate about politics, and you can often see protesting happening on Avenida de Mayo and in Plaza de Mayo. The city’s graffiti is a symbol of these amorous locals. You can either wander around on your own or opt for a Graffitimundo Graffiti & Street Art Tour.Visit An Estancia

An estancia is a large rural estate, similar to an American ranch. These stationary ranching ventures feature workers on horseback, or gauchos, and crop farming due to the area’s healthy soil. Travelers can visit estancias right outside Buenos Aires in the Pampas region and take part in activities such as eating typical Argentinian food like empanadas and asado, sipping local wines, drinking mate, horseback riding, riding in colonial carriages, watching traditional folk dancing and taking part in events like ring races and troops rides. You’ll get to learn about the gaucho lifestyle, and experience an important agricultural region in the country.

tango Do The Tango, Or At Least Watch

Argentina is thought to be the birthplace of tango, which is a big part of the culture. In Buenos Aires, you’ll catch free impromptu acts on the streets as well as on Sundays at the weekly San Telmo Market and Recoleta Fair. Other ways to experience complimentary tango include going to Museo Casa Carlos Gardel, which regularly features free tango shows and lessons and at many of the city’s cultural centers on Sundays. If you have money to spend and want a lavish experience, many venues offer dinner, wine and a show and/or classes, such as La Ventana, Rojo Tango and Complejo Tango. Another option is to go to a milonga, a place where tango is danced. For instance, La Glorieta offers free entrance to their open-air milonga on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m. Even when these venues are not free, they are usually inexpensive and allow you to watch some of the city’s best tango dancers.

Go To A Peña

While most people know Argentina for its rich tango culture, a lesser-known facet is peñas folklóricas. These rustic dance halls feature wine, food, singing, dancing and traditional guitar music. Originating in the 1950s, they started when people from rural communities moved to Buenos Aires and began to long for the traditions and laid-back atmosphere of the country. You can expect live performances, impromptu jam sessions and improvisational dancing. While typically located in Salta, peñas are also located in Buenos Aires. Some venues to check out include La Peña del Colorado, Los Cumpas and Los Cardones, which also offers folk dancing classes on Fridays from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

coffee buenos aires Have A Coffee In Argentina’s Oldest Cafe

In Buenos Aires, cafes and coffee play a large role in the culture. It’s not simply a place to grab a quick cup and go, but to leisurely sit with friends and chat. It’s also a venue for people to enjoy a breakfast of cafe con leche y medialunas, or coffee with milk and croissants, while reading the morning paper. The cafe culture in Buenos Aires is so strong, 53 of the oldest have been declared part of the cultural and historical heritage of the city. To experience history and culture, head to Cafe Tortoni. Located on Avenida de Mayo, it is the oldest cafe in Argentina. Opened in 1858, the lighting, furniture and interior design have remained the same, and you’ll see paintings, artwork and newspaper clippings that make the cafe seem like a museum. They open at 5 p.m. when locals typically have a snack, as dinner isn’t until around 11 p.m. and sometimes after midnight.

To order like a local, remember a few tips. First of all, if you want a small espresso shot make a “c” shape with your hands (shown above). No talking is necessary, although if you’d like you can say “cafe” while doing the gesture. If you’d like a larger beverage with 3/4 coffee and 1/2 milk say “jarito.” If you say “lagrima” to your server, you’ll get the opposite, 3/4 milk and 1/4 coffee. To order a large cup of 1/2 milk and 1/2 coffee, say “cafe con leche.”

See A Protest

Like I said before, Buenos Aires’ locals are passionate about politics. In fact, don’t be surprised to see three or four protests a day in the city. Most occur on Avenida de Mayo, a road connecting the city’s political buildings of National Congrass and Casa Rosada, as well as Plaza de Mayo, located right in front of Casa Rosada. At Casa Rosada, you’ll notice a makeshift fence separating the building from the plaza. While technically a temporary fence put up only during protests, city officials got tired of constantly having to put it up and take it down and just left it there. In 2011, angry locals protested so hard, then-President Fernando de la Rúa resigned from office and exited the building via rooftop helicopter.

At 3 p.m. on Thursdays in Plaza de Mayo, you’ll see the silent protesting of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, or Mother’s of Plaza de Mayo, circling the square’s May Pyramid monument. During the 1970s, Argentina went through a period of military dictatorship, leading to over 30,000 people going missing, ending up in torture camps and being killed. These women have been asking for answers as to where their children are ever since. While Argentina now enjoys a democracy, knowing the story of these women will make you truly appreciate your freedom and rights.

malbec Have A Glass Of Malbec

While Malbec production has declined in France, it is prominent in Argentina. Although the vine cuttings were originally brought over from France in the mid-19th century, the wine differs from its European relative as the grapes in Argentina have tinier berries that grow in smaller, tighter clusters. Expect fruit flavors like currants, plums, cherries and raspberries, as well as notes of spice, vanilla and sometime tobacco. Although Mendoza, San Juan and La Rioja are the most prominent wine-producing regions in the country, vineyards have sprouted up in the southern part of the Buenos Aires province since the 21st century. You can also visit a local wine bar for a taste of locally-produced Malbec, like Finca, a modest wine bar focusing on rare Argentine wines from boutique wineries, Terroir, a hip venue with an exclusive wine list from top estates and La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar, which features an affordable tasting menu and extensive wine list with all bottles available by the glass.

Browse The Markets

Wandering through the markets and fairs of Buenos Aires, you’ll find everything from leather goods and antiques to yerba mate dispensers and gaucho wear. If you visit the San Telmo Market on Sunday, you’ll find millions of antiques, as the neighborhood is a hub for these items. You’ll also find artisanal goods, typical foods and tango performances. On Saturdays and Sundays you’ll find an artisanal fair in Plaza Francia near Recoleta Cemetery, with over 100 stalls of traditional pottery, leather products, traditional foods and street performers. In the Palermo Soho area, you’ll find numerous markets, like the one at Plaza Serrano, which has a hippie vibe and is great for finding unusual clothing items and alternative jewelry. You can also stop by Plaza Armenia for handmade goods, keepsakes and clothing.

mate Drink Mate With New Friends

You’ll often notice locals walking around Buenos Aires carrying hollow gourds filled with yerba mate, or mate. In Argentina, mate holds the special meaning of sharing, and people often get together to hangout and pass around the infusion of proteins, caffeine, herbs and hot water. It’s often passed around in a circle, with the “ceba el mate,” or the person who prepared it, being the first one to take a taste. When someone says “thanks” after sipping it means they don’t want anymore, which is why you shouldn’t thank everyone who hands you the drink. While you can easily have a drink of this by yourself, mate is best shared with new or old friends.

Check Out Street Performers And Live Music

The pulse of Buenos Aires beats through its upbeat song and dance. Explore the fairs and markets or ride the subway or train and you’ll be almost guaranteed a free show. Additionally, Museo Casa Carlos Gardel hosts live performances on Wednesdays, as does the Palace Notel on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. For a daily dose of performance culture, head to the Street Museum Caminito in La Boca any day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for outdoor art, singers, dancers and one-of-a-kind acts.

[Images via Jessie on a Journey, prayitno, Jessie on a Journey, Ed Yourdon, Jorgealfonso]

Havana In Seven Mojitos

havana mojitos

“My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in La Floridita,” wrote Ernest Hemingway of his infamous drinking exploits in Havana. “Ernesto,” as the Cubans call him, was a big fan of the rum, lime and mint-based cocktail, as evidenced by the slew of drinking holes throughout Cuba where he was reported to have drunk himself silly.

Indeed, sipping mojitos is a big part of the tourist experience in Cuba. And in a country where a glass of high-quality Havana Club Reserva costs significantly less than a bottle of purified water, there’s no reason not to partake in abundance. Cuba’s capital of Havana is flush with drinking establishments to help facilitate the cultural experience. Here are seven.

La Bodeguita del Medio
For tourists following the “Hemingway” trail, La Bodeguita del Medio is the Holy Grail – an atmospheric wood-paneled watering hole lined with photos and scribbled endorsements from Hemingway, as well as famous patrons like Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende. The place is often crammed with tourists herded in by the busload, who snap photos and clap their hands to a live band. The mojitos, however, are overpriced (CUC$4) and taste watered down.

El Patio
Situated smack in the middle of Havana’s Plaza Cathedral, El Patio certainly beats the competition in terms of location. Mojitos (CUC$3.50) are lightly sweetened and stuffed full with mint leaves, and live music plays long into the night. Stake out a spot on the ground floor for priceless people watching.

%Gallery-158712%

Vinales

We were welcomed to Vinales with big smiles, handshakes and enthusiastic promises of music from Buena Vista Social Club. Our guard immediately went up; it was clear we were being solicited by a jinetero, a ubiquitous breed of Cuban hustler. Despite our protests, he called over the waitress and ordered us a round of mojitos, which were sugary sweet, with too much lime and too little mint. Sure enough, the bill confirmed our suspicions. At CUC$6 each, the mojitos were the most expensive we encountered in Havana, and it was clear our new friend had pocketed a portion of the “tip.”

Café Paris
Located on a busy corner in Old Havana, Café Paris is a popular spot for tourists seeking ceiling fans and a cool drink. Mojitos (CUC$3.50) were unmemorable, but the ambience provided the perfect midday respite from the Cuban heat.

Jazz Cafe
For a taste of Cuba’s most talented musicians, head to Jazz Cafe, a sleek 1950s diner-inspired spot above the Galerias del Paseo shopping mall in the neighborhood of Vedado. The CUC$10 cover includes the equivalent in food and drink, and the mojitos are a steal at CUC$2.50. Let the mind-blowing drum and saxophone solos distract you from the less-than-mind-blowing drinks, which were heavy on the sugar syrup.

Hotel Florida
The ground floor lounge at Hotel Florida is that rare nightlife spot that’s equally popular with locals and gringos. Compared to other music venues, entrance was cheap – CUC$5, including two drinks. The mojitos weren’t stellar, but they were strong – which really, was all we needed to wash away our inhibitions and hit the dance floor.

And the winner is … The Gallery Bar at Hotel Nacional
The mojito (CUC$4) at Havana’s most famous hotel bar strikes the sweet spot without being overpowering. The secret? Angostura bitters and a splash of dark rum. It’s no wonder that the bar’s former patrons include Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Nat King Cole. With the bar’s stash of high-grade Cuban cigars and dominos, you can easily while away an entire afternoon here – that is until it’s time to hit up the next bar.

Tickets for the Nomading Film Festival in New York go on sale Friday

After a successful run this past June, the Nomading Film Festival is returning to New York this summer, June 23, 2012. Nomading Film Festival is an event that showcases stories caught on film during peoples’ travels, giving new talent a chance to share their stories and viewers a chance to travel all over the world without leaving Brooklyn.

The really early bird tickets will be sold at a very discounted price this Friday, November 11, 2011. Not only that, but travelers of all ages from all over the world can begin submitting their travel videos (must be under 15 minutes). Until April 30, 2012, submissions are only $10, and selected filmmakers will be notified by May 15, 2012. Prizes, such as trips, flights, and gear, are awarded in three categories:

  • The nomad I want to travel with
  • The most enlightening trip
  • Simply put, that trip makes me want to travel, now!

Guest speakers, workshops, games, and music will also be part of the fun. For more information, visit their official website. To get a better idea of what to expect, check out one of Nomading’s travel-inspired films:


Want to be part of a giant tomato fight?




Food fights are not restricted to your high school cafeteria anymore. And best of all, you won’t get detention for chucking produce at someone’s head. In fact, at the traveling Tomato Battle events, tomato throwing is actually encouraged as a giant tomato fight is part of the event’s main attractions. Attendees can also enjoy delicious brews from the beer garden, costume contests, and live entertainment.

The next Tomato Battle event will take place at the Texas State Fair Park in Dallas, Texas. Click here to keep up to date on when Tomato Battle will be in your city, or contact them to help plan an event local to you. You can also check out this video to get a better idea of what kind of chaotic fun to expect.