One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Monday, May 30, 2011

Petite Atlantis: UNCOVERED

If you're looking for a transient escape from Korea (as some friends and I were) then "Petite France" in Seoul can certainly satiate that appetite, both in a figurative and literal sense of the word.  While most restaurants advertise French and Italian cuisine, don't let the combination throw you. We ate at a restaurant called "La Trouvaille" and shared a Camembert and apple pizza (a sweet and savory flavor that was outstanding!), Shrimp Spaghetti Rose, and a ham and emmental tarte flambee.

Prior to leaving, I had scoured google search results (in vain) to find details or directions for Seorae Maul (서래 마을)- the allusive French village in Seoul.  There isn't a wealth of information about the area- a strategy, I'm guessing, to keep this intimate side street village from becoming a tourist mob scene.  

What I knew:   From what I could gather online, there was a fairly sizable French population living in Seoul (supposedly 60% of the French population in Korea lives in this one neighborhood)... and as you know, where the French are to be found, so is good food and wine.  And that, my friends, I was willing to scour all of Seoul to find. 

What I thought I knew:   Getting there would be a cinch!  After all, the directions online were rather easy.

What I found out:  The directions online were rather vague.  I began to question if it existed at all.  But alas! We found "Petite Atlantis: the Lost Village of Culinary Supremacy."  A nice man who spoke some English pointed us in the right direction. I'm afraid that we would have never found it without his help. 

The ambiance, though subtle and not entirely French, was not Korean.  So what is it about this area that gives it a uniquely French identity? We saw only a handful of people speaking French so I couldn't attribute the ambiance to that necessarily.  Some street and restaurant signs were written in French; but even that was such a small detail that if you didn't know to look for it, you could very well miss it.  There's a school, Lycee Francais de Seoul, for the locals, but it was closed and dark while we were there.  
Example of one of the street signs we saw. Watch out! Don't get towed!

I tried to put my finger on it and I believe it boils down to one word: leisure.  As Americans, we don't truly understand leisure.  Koreans understand it to an even lesser degree.   There was a slowness to Seorae Maul.  The air wasn't as thick with people rushing about; and as they ate and drank they did it, not as a means to an end, but as an end. 

Several reviews online said they were disappointed to find that this neighborhood didn't offer much.  I have to wonder what they were looking for.  Perhaps a minature Tour D'Eiffel or a French painter wearing a barret? I was pleased enough to sit on a terrace on a warm night, eating good food and wine, and sharing it with good company.  


Directions:   can take subway lines 3, 7, or 9. Get off at the Express Bus Terminal Subway Station. From there, take exit 5 (It's a long walk in the subway). You will walk straight out from the exit, on this nicely shaded walking path, tall apartment buildings will be on your right and the "river" (dried up) will be on your left.  You'll walk for about 10 minutes until you see a pedestrian crossing bridge on the left. It's big and tall. You can't miss it. Cross the bridge and take the stairs down to the left. Once you're at the bottom you'll take nearly an immediate right at the light. Walk about 100 yards and you'll begin to see signs in French. 

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