Fall frolicking with some Seoul-inspired substitutions

Pano of Seoul: View from a Lookout Point while walking Namsan Park
Pano of Seoul: View from a lookout point while walking in Namsan Park this past weekend.

In a recent conversation thread on the popular Facebook group “Restaurant Buzz in Seoul,” one topic struck a chord with me: The flavors of fall.

I follow the group to get suggestions on new restaurants to visit, but this time the discussion focused on what many could not comprehend nor have a frame of reference for: apple cider and cider doughnuts. A fellow Midwesterner (hailing from Ohio) asked the group if she could find these items in Seoul.

Very quickly, the replies came pouring in. However, they were about alcoholic cider drinks like Merrydown, Strongbow and Somersby at foreigner friendly bars in the Itaewon neighborhood, or about the Chilsung Cider in Korea that is actually a version of clear lemon-lime pop like Sprite. (Cue my immense disappointment.)

At a cider mill with friends in the East Lansing area (2009) Photo taken by April Karl
At a cider mill with friends in the East Lansing area (2010) Photo by April Mae June Photography.

Eventually, the Midwesterners (including me and other Michiganders, as well as the Northeast Coasters) chimed in and clarified: Apple cider is more rich and tangy in flavor than apple juice – unfiltered, unsweetened and non-alcoholic. Cider doughnuts are cakey, soft on the inside and covered in cinnamon and sugar. We bonded over our commiseration of the fact that these items are not available here, and therefore, their absence made us homesick for autumn in America.

Playing in the leaves in Chicago (2008)
Playing in the leaves in Chicago (2008).

Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, cider mills, apple orchards and football tailgates – Various iconic meeting places of the fall season (especially for Midwesterners) are all missing in Seoul.

Nine years of fall fun

These places, flavors and activities not only have marked the fall season for my husband and me from our childhood to adulthood – they are also associated with the beginning of the school year (a respite from usually the most stressful points in my career as a educator) and, even more importantly, have come to signify an important point in our relationship, as we started dating nine years ago in undergrad on October 24, 2006.

For five years before we got married, we celebrated this anniversary with classic fall fun. And we still like to recognize the date after marriage.

Making caramel apples and carving pumpkins at home in Michal's apartment in Schaumburg, IL (2008)
Making caramel apples and carving pumpkins at home in Michal’s apartment in Schaumburg, IL (2009).

This past weekend, we attempted to celebrate the fall season, as well as Michal’s return to Seoul from his first long international business trip and, of course, our dating anniversary – with a few Seoul-inspired substitutions.

Fall foliage in Namsan Park

Namsan Park Walk: At the entrance and on the trail
Namsan Park: At the entrance and walking along the trail.

After getting up in the morning for the MSU vs. Indiana football game and listening to another win on the Spartans Sports Network (8-0 record!), we did a stroll on a popular walking circuit through the park that took us to N Seoul Tower. We enjoyed being outdoors and taking in the views, but definitely would recommend others to go during the week, if possible, when it’s less busy rather than on a Sunday. We also think that hiking at a higher elevation would have revealed more vivid color changes in the leaves, but we were glad to take it a bit easy as Michal was jetlagged from his trip.

In addition to the stroll/hike and visit to the top of the observatory deck of the tower, we stopped at nearby Namdaemun Market for items that would contribute to Halloween costumes. (More on this later in the blog!)

Fall food at home

Doing our best by transforming CSA ingredients into fav fall dishes!
Doing our best by transforming CSA ingredients into fav fall dishes!

In the past, we used to make a fall-themed dinner based on what we would pick at the orchard, pumpkin patch, etc. during the day. This year, based on the majority of this week’s Gachi CSA shipment (along with a few key items from the foreign food markets in Itaewon), we were able to make some of our fav fall comfort dishes.

We had pork tenderloin seasoned with thyme accompanied by a side of thick applesauce/maple syrup gravy (made from a carton of mini apples!) , along with creamy pumpkin soup. (Green pumpkins are extremely popular in Korean cooking throughout the year, not just in the fall.)

Lesson learned

Although we weren’t able to have our usual fall anniversary date, we enjoyed being tourists in our own town … and I was just grateful to have Michal back in Seoul! I also have a feeling the concept of “make do with what you have” will be a reoccurring theme in our time here.

Past fall seasons in Michigan and Illinois
Past fall seasons in Michigan and Illinois. Photo on left by April Mae June Photography.

For the expats in Seoul: What do you miss most about the fall season from your hometown?

Any suggestions on where in town (restaurant-wise) to get the best traditional fall flavors of America, such as various combos of produce like pumpkin, apple, pear, sweet potato and squash with spices/condiments like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, maple syrup, etc.?

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