It's no Paris
Seoul's Seorae neighborhood?
French people love Japanese food.
Or so you would think after walking through Seorae, Seoul's inaptly-nicknamed "French Village."
I went to Seorae on a recent Saturday afternoon hoping to find a little bit of Paris -- baguettes, bistros and cozy cafes perfect for sipping espresso or a glass of wine.
Instead, what I found was an unimpressive main street backed by Korean-style apartments, a scattering of French signs that seemed placed there as an afterthought, and hardly any French people. And for some reason, a disproportionate number of Japanese restaurants.
Located south of the Han River in one of the wealthiest areas of Seoul, Seorae is home to a French school and allegedly to a large percentage of the city's French population. But I could have walked through the neighborhood without realizing it.
I heard a smattering of French, and could have counted the Westerners I saw there on one hand. Yes, there were a few French flags hanging along the street, but the only bakery I saw was a busy Paris Croissant, a chain you can find anywhere in South Korea.
In fact, one of the most French things I saw in Seorae was a Starbucks with outdoor café-like seating.
"How are you going to write a story about this place?" my boyfriend asked as he sipped cheap beer at a pub that served kimchi and fish-cake soup, as we watched South Koreans walk past to their homes.
While disappointing if you're expecting to find anything resembling France, Seorae is worth a visit if you're shopping at the nearby Express Bus Terminal underground market, or if you're elsewhere in ritzy Gangnam and want to escape to a quieter area of the city.
You can easily explore the neighborhood in an afternoon. Stroll along the tree-lined sidewalks, made from faded red, white and blue bricks to mimic the French flag, and visit the park at the top of the hill. Visit a coffee shop -- just keep in mind most are chains you'd find anywhere in South Korea.
Or, shop for wine or eat at one of the many restaurants -- most are somewhat pricey -- that line the main street and side roads. You can find anything here from Asian to Italian to Southern American food, although you might have a hard time finding French cuisine.
So, itadakimasu. I mean, bon appétit.
know & go
Take Line 3 to the Express Bus Terminal Station. Take exit 4 and cross the street, then turn right and walk straight for about 10 minutes, going past the Seoul Palace Hotel. Look for the traffic signs that point to "Seorae Village." You'll see a sign pointing to the main road in Seorae on your left.