Ikseon-dong: Seoul’s hanok cafe district

Every time I think about Seoul, I remember adorable cafes that make you want to waste away your days just listening to good Korean music and watching locals go about their daily (dating) lives, which I don’t have.

I always try to drop by at least one cafe per day, even just to get coffee for takeout. Still, nothing feels as great as taking a seat and taking time to finish that mug of coffee – maybe an hour or two. So when I found out about this new cafe district called Ikseon-dong, I made sure to include it in my itinerary!

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I was so surprised the first time I looked it up. Apparently four years ago when I first visited South Korea, I lived in a guesthouse just three minutes from here! And I stayed in the same guesthouse three times! I would walk through these hanok alleys every day -m– morning and night – to and from Jongno 3-ga station… oh great times!

It was already beautiful then. But now, WOW, I was blown away by how much more stunning it has become. It felt like looking at your cute niece you last saw 10 years ago when she was 5. Now she’s all grown up and chased by every boy in the neighborhood. Really, that’s how it felt.

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The district is a small labyrinth of hanoks turned clothing shop, restaurant, cafe, tea shop, and more! Every store has a unique antique feel to it that invites you to come in. Personally though, I found them intimidating and I got the feeling that if you’re not going to purchase anything, better stay out haha!

That was the kuripot in me though. I entered one cafe 99% sure that we were going to dine there… until I found out all they had for bread were scones! Not really my kind of pastry so I took all my courage to politely leave. The waitress still thanked me with that kind and jolly annyeonghikaseyo, so I think I was wrong about being intimidated!

 

The only thing I love more than good coffee is freshly-baked bread – always the two of them together. One without the other makes me feel sad and incomplete. See? Who needs a lovelife when all you need to complete your day are coffee and bread??

I was looking for another cafe to spend the rest of the morning when I got a whiff of freshly-baked bread. I grew up in a bake shop so I’m very sensitive to this smell, it feels like home.

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I immediately decided this was the place to be! Mil (밀), which means wheat in English, is a minimalist cafe with white walls accentuated by wooden tables, chairs, and posts. There’s a Japanese feel to it although I didn’t see anything Japanese in the menu: a few types of coffee, tea and aide. For food I believe there are only two choices – souffle or freshly-baked bread (which they bake in wooden covered pots of some sort, the smell OHEMGEE!!!).

Mil cafe uses a special ceiling so that it is very bright during the day. The kitchen/baking station takes up most of the space – a closed-off square on one corner where customers could dine on the L-shaped counter. There are more tables laid out beyond that.

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Of course, I had to order bread. But the flavor I wanted wasn’t available at that time so we just opted for a blueberry souffle. At first, I felt bad about smelling the breads endlessly baking and not being able to taste ’em but that changed when I finally got to try the souffle. First thought was, so this is how expensive tastes like. Hahaha!

I’m a budget traveler so I usually stay away from expensive cafes and restos. Food doesn’t have to be expensive to be delicious after all. But after trying out the melt-in-your-mouth souffle and the creamy-tangy coffee, I kind of changed my mind. At W6500 for the coffee and W15,000 for the souffle (good for two) – this was the most expensive coffee stop I’ve made in Korea in 6 visits. But since it was our last day (we headed to the airport immediately after), we thought it was about time we treated ourselves to something really nice.

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Sulit na sulit naman sa sarap ng pagkain at ganda ng cafe! In peso, it was around P700/person. Not bad considering everything is more expensive here in Korea. Eating at Mil took up maybe two hours of our last day in Korea. It was not enough.

That morning, I was very excited to go back home after spending the past two weeks braving autumn’s windy and biting cold. But after a visit to Ikseon-dong, I found that I was not ready to leave after all. I wished I visited this place sooner. I wished I got to try out more cafes. I wished I could stay longer.

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But there’s always a next time. I’ll be back.

How to go:

Take the subway to Jongno 3 (sam) – ga station, Exit 4. Cross the street then enter the alley. You’ll find a number of samgyeopsal places here. Go deeper until you find the quaint vibe that can only be felt in Ikseon-dong. ⭐⭐⭐

 

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