In Insa-dong, central Seoul, a surrounding area of the building that formerly housed “Ppagoda Furniture” has been turned into a cultural complex by Designhouse, a publisher of monthly magazine “Hangazip,” or “House Filled with Happiness.” The space includes a gallery, a store that sells merchandise on arts and books and a restaurant named “Happy Table,” which was our first stop.
Follow the sign that says “1 Insadong-gil” and enter the alley, where arts and crafts greet with vivid colors. A mural takes over the wall on the left.
At the end of the alley you will see an elephant. Walk a little more to the left and there is “Happy Table” covered with ivy.
The building has been renovated but here and there you will find the signs of the past along with eye-catching and stylish interior.
Opening the menu you will see the hint of a magazine publisher’s touch. Here, I have the first page translated in full text.
A quite serious thought on cooked rice
Before you have your serving of food, let me serve you a story.
“Happy Table” is a diner where cooked rice becomes the star.
“Let’s serve decent cooked rice,” was what we had in mind.
We wanted to tackle the restaurant owners who whip up whatever cooked rice they want.
Why can’t we choose what rice we want to eat when you can pick coffee beans from anywhere around the world and wines made of your favored grapes?
This was where we started.
There are 1,451 kinds of rice available from the northern tip of the peninsula to Jeju Island. We prepare three to four different kinds of rice in season. Every morning we pound them to polish.
Put them in a caldron locally designed for us. Add water and fire, give them time and effort.
Serve with light, plain side dishes, all in dishes created by artisans with good eyes.
At “Happy Table”
At the center is the rice
Experience the rice
And communicate through the rice.
Upon receiving your order, from a selection of Baegjinju and Hopum from white rice, and Jinsang and Bukheukjo from brown rice, begins cooking. Bukheukjo, a homegrown variety that is harvested later, is only available after November. (FYI, this was what US president Trump had when he visited Seoul).
Lunch course offers a set of small dishes; rice cooked in a caldron upon request, soybean paste soup with cabbages, vegetable sticks, dried seaweed, salted oyster, kimchi, pickled vegetable, and a choice between mackerel and marinated pork roasted in the oven. All at 15,000 won per person. You can also add a la carte menus such as a salad with scorched rice and a steamed chicken.
A simple selection of alcoholic beverages range from wines to makgeolli, or raw rice wine. Rice bowls by ceramist Lee Gi-jo, lacquer-varnished mat by artist Heo Myeong-uk, dishes of potter Ra Gi-hwan, and brassware by Hohodang all emanate the philosophy of Designhouse that seeks tastes in everyday lives.
A sweeping view that shows a garden and a building next door. Rain or snow, or sunny, you can feel the nature as it is. They also offer tables for the group of four, six and ten.
Steamed potatoes and sweet potatoes as appetisers. Then comes the rice cooked in individual caldron.
Open the lid, move the cooked brown rice over to the bowl, pour hot water into the caldron and close the lid to make scorched rice before you start the actual meal. The seasoning is just right and side dishes are delicious. Cabbage soup made with well-known Gi Sun Do soybean paste is gentle to the taste buds.
Cleared all the dishes including the scorched rice. Then finished off with cool and sweet sikhye, sweet rice drink.
Works of artist who graced the cover of “Hangazip” is on exhibit every month.
On the second floor is a furniture exhibit. Have a cup of tea, or take a rest while taking in the beauty of furniture pieces and artworks.
Cross over to the opposite building, you will see a bookstore that focuses on arts and design.
Design products that fill up the spacious store. The handmade goods crafted by women in Africa are also on sale.
Honey and teas are also on display. As well as bird objects made of ceramic.
Well-designed small kitchen appliances and kitchenware.
A vending machine selling dried flowers. You can also pick out a gift from the selection of hand-knit dolls and stationery items.
CIY, not DIY. “Color It Yourself”, an exhibition space from Samwha Paint. A wide range of products that will realise your painting ideas are available here.
The hippest spot in Insa-dong is born, following the footstep of Ssamziegil.