After Leblon, Rio’s coastal road, Avenida Niemeyer, goes through a long tunnel that burrows beneath the Morro de Dois Irmãos, whose slopes are home to one of Rio’s largest favelas, Vidigal. Although from a socioeconomic perspective the successive beach neighborhoods are considered extensions of the Zona Sul, geographically they are part of the Zona Oeste, since they are situated west of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. These sprawling neighborhoods are much more recent and lack the history and charm of the Zona Sul. While their beaches are attractive and unspoiled, the neighborhoods themselves offer little aside from a collection of soulless restaurants, bars, and gigantic shopping malls where the middle class Cariocas and novo ricos (nouveaux riches) hang out. None of these neighborhoods were laid out with pedestrians in mind. Cars rule, but the coastline is also well served by buses from the Zona Sul with destinations marked “Barra” and “Recreio.”
São Conrado is a small and very posh neighborhood full of luxury high-rise condominiums and a fancy shopping mall. In a disarming contrast, these chic edifices gaze directly onto Rio’s biggest and most notorious favela: Rocinha, home to over 200,000 Brazilians, whose brick and cement dwellings cover the otherwise rain forest–carpeted Morro de Dois Irmãos. Although Rio is all about glaring contradictions and brutal extremes, nowhere else is the divide between rich and poor so prominently, fascinatingly, and perversely apparent. São Conrado’s main draw is the small and spectacular Praia do Pepino (Cucumber Beach), where hang gliders burn off their adrenaline after taking off from the neighboring peaks of Pedra da Gávea and Pedra Bonita.
Another long tunnel brings you to the mega-developed, super-suburban, Miami-like bairro of Barra da Tijuca, known simply as Barra. Two decades ago, this 16-kilometer (10-mile) stretch of coastline was little more than a long, wild sweep of white sand with a few barracas. Now it is the playground for Rio’s middle classes, who alternate days spent on the beaches and at the many shoppings with nights at the bairro’s many bars, clubs, and shoppings. Barra’s one saving grace is its beach, which remains amazingly unspoiled, particularly during the week. On weekends, however, the sands sizzle with lots of young tanned and toned bodies in a partying frame of mind. The trendiest strip, at the beginning of the Barra between Postos 1 and 2, is known as Praia do Pepê (access from Av. do Pepê). Although the surf is rough, you can swim here. You can also engage in all varieties of sports in the water and on the sand.
Barra da Tijuca becomes more deserted the farther west you travel. Eventually it turns into the 11-kilometer (7-mile) long beach known as Recreio dos Bandeirantes, whose untamed surroundings and rough waves are a magnet for Rio’s surfing crowd. Particularly attractive is the small and secluded Prainha beach, at the end of Recreio. The spectacular waves and presence of several renowned surfing academies make it a mecca for surfers. Even more deserted is Grumari, whose reddish sands are framed by spectacular mountains covered in lush native Atlantic forest. Both Prainha and Grumari are located in protected nature reserves. Despite the fact they can’t be reached by bus, they can fill up on the weekends with Cariocas seeking a quick back-to-nature fix. Near Grumari, Praia de Abricó is Rio’s only nude beach.
Museu Casa do Pontal
Inland from the far end of Recreio dos Bandeirantes is the Museu Casa do Pontal (Estrada do Pontal 3295, tel. 21/2490-3278, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., R$10). Although it takes well over an hour to get here, the final destination is worth it. Back in the late 1940s, French designer and art collector Jacques Van de Beuque began traveling throughout Brazil (especially the Northeast), where he discovered a fantastically rich artisanal tradition that nobody—not even Brazilians—was aware of. To preserve and promote these works, he built a vast house surrounded by tranquil gardens. Today, it shelters the largest collection of Brazilian folk art in the country, with over 5,000 works ranging from wonderful clay figures of popular Northeast characters to the extravagant costumes worn by celebrants of traditional Bumba-Meu-Boi festas. To get here by bus from the Zona Sul, take any bus going to Barra da Tijuca and get off in front of Barra Shopping to transfer to the 73 bus going to Recreio, which will let you off in front of the museum’s entrance.
Sítio Roberto Burle Marx
The idyllic Sítio Roberto Burle Marx (Estrada da Barra de Guaratiba 2019, tel. 21/2410-1412, tours by appointment only 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tues.–Sun., R$5) is another attraction worth the time and effort to get to. Between 1949 and 1994 this bucolic country estate was the primary residence of renowned landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, whose most famous projects in Rio include the Parque do Flamengo and Copacabana’s iconic black-and-white mosaic “wave” promenade. The surrounding nursery and gardens—featuring more than 3,500 plant species collected from Brazil and around the world—were designed with great flair. Indeed, it was said about Marx—who was also a painter—that he used plants as other artists used paint. The colonial house (originally part of a coffee plantation) and adjoining atelier have been transformed into a museum where you can admire the artist’s works, possessions, and rich collection of Brazilian folk art. If you don’t have a car, take the bus marked “Marambaia-Passeio” (No. 387) that passes through the Zona Sul.
The hits keep on coming for Anthony Horowitz’s THE HOUSE OF SILK–raves are now in from The Washington Post (“exceptionally entertaining [and] altogether terrific … one of the best Sherlockian pastiches of our time”), NPR(“Elegiac … should silence even the most persnickety Sherlock scholar”), The Cleaveland Plain Dealer (tone-perfect [and] action-packed”), and The Philadelphia Inquirer (“enormously involving and entertaining.”) The perfect holiday gift for the Holmes fan in the family! (You know every family has one …)
Today we celebrate the publication of Michael Connelly’s new novel THE DROP which The New York Times called “one of those Harry Bosch books that starts with a bang and stays strong all the way through.” Publishers’ Weekly gave the book a starred review and called it “compulsively readable” and the Wall Street Journal raved, “Mr. Connelly is superb at building suspense through the accretion of detail.” What’s your review of THE DROP? Post it in the comments.
Don’t miss this video of Connelly talking about everything from THE DROP to long-term plans for Harry Bosch to Mickey Haller and more.
Da Boca do Brasileiro means “Out of the Mouth of a Brazilian” and is the title I’ve chosen for a regular monthly feature of this blog. The idea is to let Brazilians do the talking by recommending their favorite things to see, eat, and do while also providing some insider dicas (tips) they think might be useful for visitors.
Vera Martins has lived for years in Morro de São Paulo, a former fishing village turned mega tourist magnet that – due to its remote location on the Ilha de Tinharé, an island lined with splendid reef-protected beaches – is one of Bahia’s most popular beach destinations. Below she shares a few of the things that made her fall in love with Morro years ago when she arrived from the south of Brazil and found herself unable to leave. Vera has witnessed many changes in the last couple of decades as tourism – and its attendant trappings – have descended upon Morro. And yet, she still finds much to love about the place, from its natural attractions and laid-back lifestyle to the swirling mix of people from different walks of life who get together to forget their troubles by donning the unofficial island uniform of t-shirt and flip flops and partying the nights away.
Name: Vera Lúcia Martins
Birth Place: Torres, Rio Grando do Sul
Current Address: Morro de São Paulo, Bahia
Profession: Receptionist at the Vila Guaiamú, a hotel located on a former coconut plantation on Morro’s Terceira Praia.
What to Do: Walk along the beaches – Primeira, Segunda, Terceira, and Quarta (First, Second, Third, and Fourth). It’s peaceful to be surrounded by nature and it’s good for your health as well.
What to Eat: The bobó de camarão [a thick and fragrant Bahian stew featuring shrimp cooked in a puree of manioc seasoned with coconut milk, palm oil, ginger, and cilantro] at Club do Balanço, on Segunda Praia, is simply splendid.
Place You Can’t Miss: The Forte de Morro de São Paulo, [constructed in 1630, it was one of Brazil’s largest defensive fortresses before falling into ruins]. Watching the sunset from here is extremely beautiful. The fort and surrounding area give off a very special energy. Moreover, if you go during the summer months [December to March], you can see schools of dolphins frolicking in the sea below.
Insider Hint: Come and visit the guaiamús here at the Vila Guaiamú. Guaiamús are blue crabs that live in the sandy soil of mangroves. There used to be so many in Morro, but the locals hunt them and their eggs (they’re a great delicacy). The most amazing spectacle occurs during hatching season, which takes place in February. When the moon is full, hundreds of females emerge from their homes in the sand and, in a mass procession, advance towards the sea to lay their eggs. Vila Guaiamú is one of the only places in Morro that preserves these crabs. I love to eat them, but when I get a craving to do so I go to the bars on the Quarta Praia, where they serve guaiamús farmed in captivity.
Insider Warning: Don’t bring a lot of luggage. First of all, you’ll get tired from lugging it around on all the beaches [there are no paved roads or vehicles in Morro de São Paulo]. And secondly, there’s no use in bringing a lot of clothes; you’ll never use them.
Recommended Sound Track: It would have to be Ivete Sangalo. Her music is Bahian and so festive. Its spirit of alegria perfectly reflects the personality of Morro.
Cuba lies at the western end of the Greater Antilles group of Caribbean islands, which began to heave from the sea about 150 million years ago. Curling east and south like a shepherd’s crook are the much younger and smaller mostly volcanic Lesser Antilles, which bear little resemblance to their larger neighbor.
[pullquote align=”right”]Cuba is by far the largest of the Caribbean islands at 110,860 square kilometers. It is only slightly smaller than the state of Louisiana and half the size of the United Kingdom.[/pullquote]Cuba is by far the largest of the Caribbean islands at 110,860 square kilometers. It is only slightly smaller than the state of Louisiana and half the size of the United Kingdom. It sits just south of the Tropic of Cancer at the eastern perimeter of the Gulf of Mexico, 150 kilometers south of Key West, Florida, 140 kilometers north of Jamaica, and 210 kilometers east of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It is separated from Hispaniola to the east by the narrow, 77-kilometer-wide Windward Passage.
Cuba is actually an archipelago with some 4,000-plus islands and cays dominated by the main island (104,945 square kilometers), which is 1,250 kilometers long—from Cabo de San Antonio in the west to Punta Maisí in the east—and between 31 and 193 kilometers wide. Plains cover almost two-thirds of the island. Indeed, Cuba is the least mountainous of the Greater Antilles, with a median elevation of less than 100 meters above sea level.
Slung beneath the mainland’s underbelly is Isla de la Juventud (2,200 square kilometers), the westernmost of a chain of smaller islands—the Archipiélago de los Canarreos—which extends eastward for 110 kilometers across the Golfo de Batabanó. Farther east, beneath east-central Cuba, is a shoal group of tiny coral cays—the Archipiélago de los Jardines de la Reina—poking up a mere four or five meters from the sapphire sea. The central north coast is rimmed by a necklace of coral jewels limned by sand like crushed sugar shelving into bright turquoise shallows, with surf pounding on the reef edge.
Topography of Cuba
The fecund flatlands are disjoined by three mountain zones, where the air is cool and inviting and the roads dip and rise through very untropical-looking countryside. The westernmost mountains are the slender, low-slung Sierra del Rosario and Sierra de los Órganos, which together constitute the Cordillera de Guaniguanico, forming a backbone along the length of northern Pinar del Río Province. In their midst is the striking Valle de Viñales, a classic karst landscape of limestone formations called mogotes.
The Sierra Escambray rises steeply over west-central Cuba, dominating eastern Cienfuegos and southern Villa Clara Provinces. A third mountain zone, incorporating several adjacent ranges, overshadows the provinces of Granma, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantánamo and spills over into Holguín Province. To the west, the precipitous Sierra Maestra rises steeply from the sea, culminating atop Pico Turquino (1,974 meters), Cuba’s highest mountain. To the east are the Cuchillas de Toa, Sierra de Puriscal, and Sierra de Cristal.
Down by the Shore
Cuba has more than 400 beaches in shades of oyster white, chocolate brown, gold, and taupe. The most beautiful line the ocean side of the innumerable coral cays beaded like pearls off the north coast. Most beaches along the south coast can’t compare; exceptions include Playa Ancón and Cayo Largo. The north coast is indented by huge, flask-shaped bays, not least Bahía de Habana, on whose western shores grew Havana.
Cuba has over 500 rivers, most of them short, shallow, and unnavigable. The principal river, the 370-kilometer-long Río Cauto, which originates in the Sierra Maestra and flows northwest, is navigable by boat for about 80 kilometers. Most rivers dwindle to trickles in the dry season, then swell to rushing torrents, flooding extensive areas on the plains when the rains come in summer. Cuba is studded with huge artificial reservoirs.
As always, when it comes to anything having to do with Maya 2012, your first assumption should always be “don’t believe the hype.” That seems to be true with the new story by Associated Press today, “Mexico acknowledges 2nd Mayan reference to 2012.” Until now, the only known direct reference to December 21, 2012 is a 1300-year-old inscription on Tortuguero Monument 6, found near Tabasco, Mexico. Headlines today are announcing a possible second reference to 2012 on an artifact known as the “Comalcalco Brick,” the sketch of which is pictured above. Interestingly, the mere mention of a second ancient reference to 2012 (which, by the way, is probably NOT even a reference to 2012), even one which says nothing about any event or prophecy, is still apparently a license for the media pull the A-word (“apocalypse“) back out of their pockets.
But Dr. Edwin Barnhart, Director of the Maya Exploration Center and a former student of Linda Schele, who assembled the team which broke the code of Maya hieroglyphics in 1973, has seen photos of the brick and told me in an email that he is “of the opinion that [the Comalcalco Brick] does not reference 2012, or at least there is not enough information to say. It would be like finding a broken tombstone that said December 21st and concluding that it was said December 21st, 1968.”
Dr. Barnhart continues:
“Comalcalco and Tortuguero were nearby cities, both in Tabasco, and they fought against each other during the same time both of these inscriptions were made (the 600s AD). The Comalcalco inscription is one or thousands found on the back of mud bricks — fragmentary, sloppy, and absolutely meaningless without any larger context. The article being copied about today says the date does relate to the 13th Bak’tun, but there is no reason whatsoever to say that. There remains only one reference to December 21, 2012 in the entire corpus of Maya inscriptions, and even its meaning is unclear.”
The constant flow of discoveries, debunkings, and lively debate among Maya studies scholars is one of the many fascinating things about the Maya world. No matter what you or I believe the Comalcalco brick suggests, we both appreciate Maya culture and history, and we both like to travel in the region.
Argentina’s biggest unsung attraction, Esteros del Iberá is a breathtaking wetland covering up to 13,000 square kilometers (estimates vary), nearly 15 percent of the province. Recharged almost exclusively by rainwater, it’s really a broad shallow river covered by semisubmerged marsh grasses, reeds, and other water-loving plants; it flows almost imperceptibly northeast to southwest, where the Río Corrientes enters the middle Paraná. There are also open-water stretches, however, like Laguna Iberá, a 24,550-hectare lagoon that’s protected under the Ramsar convention on wetlands of international importance.
[pullquote align=”right”] In terms of wildlife, Iberá is an American Serengeti—while it may lack the faunal biomass of Africa’s famous plain, the variety of species and the sheer numbers of birds, mammals, and reptiles is still awesome.[/pullquote]
In terms of wildlife, Iberá is an American Serengeti—while it may lack the faunal biomass of Africa’s famous plain, the variety of species and the sheer numbers of birds, mammals, and reptiles is still awesome. For these reasons, it has attracted the attention of international conservationists such as former Esprit clothing magnate Douglas Tompkins, who has purchased several area estancias to help preserve their natural wealth.
And Iberá needs defenders, as the marshes have a fragile ecology imperiled by mega-hydroelectric developments of the Yacyretá dam, north of the city of Ituzaingó. As runoff from Yacyretá’s rising reservoir seeps into Iberá, deepening waters threaten to break the link between the marsh vegetation and the dissolved sediments from which the plants derive their nutrients. Additional threats have included land invasions and forestry projects.
Esteros del Iberá stretches over an enormous area, but the most convenient access point is Colonia Pellegrini (pop. about 800), a hamlet of wide dirt roads on a peninsula jutting into Laguna Iberá, 120 kilometers northeast of Mercedes via RP 40. Technically, Pellegrini has formal street names, but it’s hard to find signs and, on occasion, even people to ask for directions.
Passable under most conditions, though sections of it are bumpy, RP 40 can be muddy and difficult for conventional vehicles in wet weather. It requires caution and moderate speeds at all times. Eastbound RP 40 to the junction with paved RN 14 is impassable except for 4WD vehicles, and it is especially difficult in wet weather.
Note that Pellegrini has no bank or other exchange facilities. Some hotels may accept U.S. dollars, but it’s better to bring enough money for your stay.
Flora and Fauna
Iberá is a wonderland of biodiversity. Scattered open-water lagoons lie within an endless horizon of marshland grasses, aquatic plants, and embalsados (“floating islands”), which some ecologists have likened to tropical peat bogs. Even relatively large trees like the ceibo and laurel flourish here and in gallery forests along faster-flowing waters.
Biologists have catalogued over 40 species of mammals, 35 species of amphibians, 80 species of fish, and 250–300 species of birds. The most readily seen mammals are the carpincho (capybara), marsh deer, pampas deer, and mono carayá (howler monkey). Less easily seen are the lobito de río (Paraná otter) and the nocturnal aguará guazú (maned wolf).
Among the reptiles are two species of caimans, the rare yacaré overo and the more common yacaré negro. Australians take note: These skinny two-meter creatures are not Queensland’s massive crocodiles and do not pounce out of the swamps in search of human nourishment, though attempting to pet them is not advisable. The endangered water curiyú (water boa) is also present.
Birds species are too numerous to mention more than a sampling, but the signature species include the chajá (crested screamer), mbiguá común (olive cormorant), several species of storks, herons, and egrets as well as many waterfowl, including the endangered pato crestudo (comb duck).
Sights and Recreation
Iberá is a year-round destination, but the summer months can be brutally hot and humid, and rain can fall at any time. Activities include wildlife-watching, hiking on a gallery-forest nature trail, and horseback riding.
Launch tours on Arroyo Corrientes, which involve poling through floating islands where an outboard motor is useless, are available through all the hotels and private guides as well. Canal Miriñay is an alternative that offers better wildlife viewing when the waters rise and wildlife may retreat to the interior of the embalsados.
Two-hour excursions, which cover a lot, begin in the US$18 pp range for one or two people, slightly less for larger groups. As some animals are nocturnal, nighttime tours are also available, especially under the full moon.
Rental canoes and kayaks are available, but kayaks are unsuitable for exploring the marshes, whose dense vegetation makes visibility poor—other than Pellegrini’s cell phone tower, this nearly featureless terrain has few landmarks, and you can’t stand up in a kayak to get your bearings.
José Martín’s Iberá Expediciones (tel. 03773/15-40-1405) does after-dark and full-moon safaris along the Mercedes highway to view nocturnal wildlife.
Pellegrini now has a small museum, the Museo Yjára (Yangapiry and Yaguareté, 4–8 p.m. daily except Tues., free).
At the approach to Colonia Pellegrini, immediately before the Bayley bridge that crosses Laguna Iberá, former poachers staff the provincial Centro de Intepretación, the reserve’s visitors center. On the other side of the bridge, Pellegrini’s Oficina de Información Turística (7:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m. daily except Tues.) has good maps and lists of services, with helpful personnel. Hotel staff and guides are also excellent sources of information.
Daily except Sunday, El Rayo (tel. 03773/42-0184) and Itatí II (tel. 03773/42-1722) operate bus services from Colonia Pellegrini back to Mercedes (3 hours, US$8). The El Rayo bus leaves around 4–5 p.m., but Itatí II departs around 4 a.m. This allows locals to make shopping trips and return in the same day, but it’s not so great for travelers who want a full night’s sleep. They will pick you up at your accommodations in Pellegrini, however.
From the Posadas airport, it’s possible to arrange direct transfers for four to six people in a 4WD vehicle for about US$200–225 with Anamatours (tel. 03752/42-0199). From Pellegrini, Trans-Beto (tel. 03757/15-51-5862) and Hugo Boccalandro (tel. 03773/15-40-0929) offer similar services.
Today Mulholland Books celebrates the publication of Ian Rankin’s THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD, the second in the Matthew F. Fox series that began with THE COMPLAINTS–now available from Reagan Arthur Books. Rankin discusses a case from the 1980s in Scotland that provided the inspiration for THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD in the below essay.
On the morning of April 6th 1985, two Australian tourists were driving along a desolate stretch of the A87 in north-west Scotland. They saw that a maroon-coloured Volvo had come off the road. There was a man in the driving-seat, alive but in bad shape. They flagged down another car, which happened to contain a doctor as well as a Scottish National Party councillor. The councillor recognised the man in the Volvo as Willie McRae, a fervent Nationalist who had run for the SNP leadership in 1979. An ambulance was summoned and McRae was taken to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, before being transferred to Aberdeen. It was here that a nurse washed his head-wound and noticed something startling: a bullet-hole. At this stage, McRae was still alive, but had suffered massive brain damage. The following day, with his family’s consent, his life-support was turned off. His car meantime seems to have been removed from the scene of the crash, only to be re-sited by police once they knew about the shooting. A search was made, and a handgun eventually found some distance away. The gun, a Smith and Wesson .22 revolver, belonged (albeit illegally) to McRae. He had taken to carrying it with him. Why? Because he was afraid.
No Fatal Accident Inquiry (the Scottish equivalent of an inquest) was ever held. McRae was deemed to have committed suicide, though not everyone was convinced. When a journalist got access to the official paperwork in 1995, he noted that the death had been ruled ‘undetermined’ rather than ‘suicide’. Continue reading “The Death of Willie McCrae”→
Any place that bills itself as a “legendary” bulgogi (marinated beef barbecue) house runs the risk of inflating expectations, but in the case of Sariwon it’s not mere bombast—this really is one of the most renowned and consistently excellent places to sample a much-loved Korean specialty.
Sariwon’s beef is soaked in a blend of fruit juices and spices that gives it a tender, melt-in-the-mouth quality, and is accompanied by a generous range of fresh vegetables and dipping sauces.
The restaurant is large and perpetually bustling, but with its simple wood decor and warm service maintains traces of down-home character. Visitors are also likely to appreciate its extensive, reasonably priced wine list and innovative grills, which include vents that suck barbecue smoke away from diners.
Hongik Sutbul Kalbi
Run by a former butcher, this no-frills, raucous barbecue house is renowned for its fine cuts and generous portions of beef and pork grilled at your table in the traditional fashion.
Proof that all Korean barbecue joints are not created equal, Hongik Sutbul Kalbi is probably the only one of the dozens of meat restaurants in this district that is swarmed on a nightly basis.
It has amassed a legendary reputation due to the owner’s keen eye for quality—he’s a butcher by trade—and for offering a variety of types and cuts of meat for very reasonable prices.
All the meat served is fresh, not frozen, and grilled over red-hot coals at the table. Orders also come with a generous spread of side dishes and “bottomless” pots of doenjang jjigae (a spicy bean paste stew).
It’s extraordinarily good value, but don’t expect much in the way of sophistication here—it’s loud and crowded, and a downright bizarre gallery of cartoon characters painted on the walls is the only attempt at decoration.
Service can also be spotty, but that’s forgivable given the sheer volume of customers staff are usually dealing with.
Namsangol Sanchae Jip
This country-style restaurant serves a delectable bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables, meat, egg, and red pepper paste) crammed with fresh mountain herbs and vegetables.
8-16 Yejang-dong, Jung-gu
HOURS: Daily 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
COST: Entrées less than ₩10,000
SUBWAY: Myeong-dong (Line 4)
Given the visitor traffic the neighborhood enjoys—the cable car to the landmark N Seoul Tower is just steps away—this restaurant should by all rights be a tourist trap, but somehow it remains a welcome taste of rural cuisine in the middle of downtown Seoul.
Done up like a mock countryside home, with plenty of wood, farm bric-a-brac, and paper lanterns, it has an intimate, unpretentious air, with patrons and prices to match.
The menu is heavy on healthy, largely organic choices like sanchae bibimbap (a mélange of rice, pepper paste, and vegetables) and boribap (a set meal with barley-infused rice as the centerpiece). Meals can be washed down with dongdongju, a creamy rice wine frequently enjoyed by the country’s farmers.
Try this bean-centric restaurant for a healthy bibimbap livened by a savory soybean sauce.
Seoul Museum of History, 2-1 Sinmun-no, Jongno-gu
Museums aren’t generally known for fine dining, but Congdu has enchanted visitors since it opened its doors in the Seoul Museum of History in 2006.
Defining its cuisine as “new” Korean, the restaurant emphasizes fresh, organic, local produce, particularly soybeans or kong (hence the restaurant name), which take center stage in dishes like tofu seafood steak and doenjang bibimbap (rice mixed with savory soybean paste and vegetables).
Much like the venue, service is hushed and unobtrusive, and the expansive views of the museum’s grounds contribute further to Congdu’s serene air.
Korean Fried Chicken
Perfectly cooked chicken in a flavorful batter is the specialty of this small but soulful restaurant near Hongik University.
Run by some free-spirited flower-children types, Reggae Chicken is a temple to the blissed-out vibes and heady idealism of the 1960s and ’70s, from its psychedelic wall prints and cheerful staff to the roots reggae (naturally) that’s nearly always on the stereo.
But it doesn’t get by on warm feelings alone; it also whips up some of the tastiest fried chicken in Seoul, and in a city where there are chicken shops on nearly every block, that’s saying something.
Reggae Chicken’s specialty is coated in a delicious wine and curry-seasoned batter and accompanied by homemade salsa/dipping sauce, home fries, and onion rings. There’s also a good range of cold imported beers on offer.
Do arrive early if possible—with only a half dozen tables and a city-wide reputation this place tends to fill up fast.
This Buam-dong chicken restaurant is justifiably lauded for its golden fried chicken served on a bed of crispy potatoes.
You can’t throw a rock in Seoul without hitting a fried chicken and draft beer joint, which are among locals’ favorite spots to socialize. So why do so many people flock to this particular one?
The lines to get in frequently extend down the block, patrons are forced to sit cheek to jowl, decor is nonexistent, and the service is pretty gruff, when you can get a server’s attention at all.
But then there’s the chicken—crisp, cooked with just the right amount of batter, and served in a heaping basket on a bed of delicious home fries, accompanied by an addictive sweet chili sauce. Wash it down with a couple of cold local beers and the buzz surrounding this place will make perfect sense.
This restaurant’s hearty, garlic-heavy take on handmade wheat noodles in broth continues to draw crowds on a daily basis, and the fantastic kimchi (pickled cabbage) served as a side dish only adds to the attraction.
25-2 Myeong-dong 2-ga, Jung-gu
HOURS: Daily 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
COST: Entrées less than ₩10,000
SUBWAY: Myeong-dong (Line 4)
Don’t expect much in the way of luxury, relaxation, or variety here—this perennially packed eatery has a vaguely assembly-line feeling and only a handful of items on the menu. But there’s a reason it draws such a large, diverse crowd.
Those few things it does—basically noodles and dumplings—it does exceptionally well, and at near rock-bottom prices. The kalguksu noodles are delightfully chewy and come swimming in a substantial beef broth, while the pork dumplings are the size of small fists and cooked to perfection.
If there’s a lineup to get in, and there probably will be, it’s worth the wait.
The ginseng chicken soup at this legendary restaurant, containing an entire small chicken stuffed with rice and ginseng and a rich broth with no fewer than 30 medicinal herbs, is a good cure for hunger and a lot of other things.
This rustic restaurant has been serving up samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) for decades, amassing a reputation that’s seen it frequented by everyone from pop stars to presidents.
As in other samgyetang shops, Tosokchon’s version consists of an entire small chicken in a bubbling pot of soup, stuffed with glutinous rice and ginseng, but it’s distinguished by a rich broth made from over 30 ingredients, including many Chinese medicinal herbs.
Locals swear by this dish in the summertime, when it’s believed to restore a heat-drained body, but for those who can contend with occasional crowds and somewhat curt service it’s likely to prove therapeutic any time of year.
The little kimchi, pork, and vegetable-stuffed dumplings at this eatery not only look exquisite, they’re loaded with flavor.
Setting, skill, and experience help this restaurant take the art of mandu (dumplings) to entirely new heights. Based in a bright, airy house with generous views over the laid-back Buam-dong neighborhood, Jaha Sonmandu basically only does dumplings, but does them exceptionally well—these are fresh, handmade bundles of goodness with taut skins and flavorful pork, scallion, or kimchi stuffing that are served steamed or in savory soups and stews.
Prices are a bit on the high side for these dishes, and service is frequently rushed—a byproduct of the restaurant’s enduring popularity. But the place fully deserves its city-wide renown, and the generous portions will satisfy all but the most severe hunger pangs.
Have it your way at this Apgujeong-area restaurant, which serves multiple variations of this classic stew of silky tofu, egg, vegetables, and potent red pepper.
654-14 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu
HOURS: Daily 24 hours
COST: Entrées less than ₩10,000
SUBWAY: Apgujeong (Line 3)
Tofu comes in all shapes and forms at this Apgujeong-area institution—pan fried, in salads, minced with beef and nuts—but the star of the show is sundubu, a rich, spicy stew of silky-soft tofu, egg, and vegetables in a chili-heavy broth.
Sundubu is typically made with a bit of seafood, such as clams or shrimp, but Cheongdam Sundubu has upped the ante by offering around a dozen different versions, incorporating everything from beef to curry and ham and cheese.
Note that despite the prevalence of bean curd very few items on the menu are actually vegetarian.
The decor and service here are pretty bare-bones, but the quality of the food can’t be faulted.
If you can’t make it all the way to the city of Chuncheon, the hometown of this fiery but delicious medley of stir-fried chicken, vegetables, and a chili marinade, visit this Seoul-based dalkgalbi specialist.
This is the slick, polished Sinchon outlet of a nationwide chain that specializes in dalkgalbi, a tongue-numbing dish of chicken and vegetables in a potent pepper sauce that’s stir-fried on a hot plate at the diner’s table.
Dalkgalbi may be about the only thing on the menu, but there’s a surprising number of ways to introduce variety to the dish—optional additions include rice cakes, thick or thin noodles, sweet potato, even cheese topping.
Make sure to order rice near the end of the meal—the servers will mix it with what’s left on your hot plate and a few additional toppings, such as sesame leaves and seaweed, for a flavorful (and hearty) finish.
I Love Sindangdong Tteokbokki
You’ll love tteokbokki (rice cakes simmered in red pepper sauce) too if you stop by here for a taste of Korea’s spicy-sweet street food favorite, served with vegetables, fish cakes, and even cheese, fresh seafood, or extra chili on request.
302-4 Sindang 1-dong, Jung-gu
HOURS: Daily 24 hours, but closed on the first and third Monday of each month
COST: Entrées less than ₩10,000
SUBWAY: Sindang (Lines 2, 6)
This sprawling eatery is the result of the merger of seven smaller restaurants that populated Sindang-dong Tteokbokki Town, an area specializing in (as the name implies), tteokbokki, a popular street snack of cylindrical rice cakes, fish sausage, and vegetables simmered in a sweet but fiery pepper sauce.
The district has been around for decades and there are other tteokbokki venues that are better-known or older, but none can compete with I Love Sindangdong Tteokbokki in terms of scale or variety.
In addition to the standard version of tteokbokki, the restaurant offers beef, seafood, cheese, and ultra-spicy variants, at low enough prices that enthusiasts can probably afford to sample all of them. A laid-back, festive atmosphere is cultivated further by regular retro DJ sets and live guitar performances.
On the far side of the Lagoa (across from Ipanema) is the lush upscale neighborhood of Jardim Botânico. While wealthy residents may lack sea views, they are handsomely rewarded by being in between the jungly slopes of Corcovado and the exotic flora of one of the world’s best botanical gardens. Aside from possessing some of the city’s chicest restaurants and bars, Jardim Botânico is where the Globo television network has its Rio headquarters, ensuring the presence of lots of celebs (and paparazzi).
[pullquote align=”right”]Created by Dom João I, who planted the park’s signature double row of imperial palms, the Jardim Botânico is a wonderfully tranquil refuge during the week (on weekends, it fills up with Cariocas and their kids).[/pullquote]A 138-hectare (340-acre) urban oasis (it has been scientifically proven that the temperature is always a bit cooler here than elsewhere in this often humid city), Rio’s botanical garden, also called Jardim Botânico (Rua Jardim Botânico 1008, tel. 21/3874-1808, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, R$5), offers an unparalleled green mix of native Atlantic forest, lagoons covered with giant lily pads, and over 8,000 plant species. Many of them—pineapples, cinnamon, and tea among them—were introduced here prior to their cultivation in the rest of Brazil. Created by Dom João I, who planted the park’s signature double row of imperial palms, the Jardim Botânico is a wonderfully tranquil refuge during the week (on weekends, it fills up with Cariocas and their kids). Highlights include the scent garden, the cactus garden, and the fabulous orquidário, featuring over 1,000 species of wild orchids. Kids (and adults) with a fondness for the mildly gruesome will enjoy the carnivorous plant collection. Near the entrance is a pretty café and a great gift shop with lots of eco-souvenirs.
Adjacent to the Jardim Botânico is the Parque Lage (Rua Jardim Botânico 414, tel. 21/3257-1800, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, free), designed by 19th-century English landscaper John Tyndale. Its winding paths snake around small ponds and through the lush tropical landscape that covers the lower slopes of Corcovado. In the midst of the greenery is the early-20th-century mansion of Henrique Lage, a wealthy industrialist who built the stately abode for his opera singer wife, Gabriela. The internal courtyard with its arcades and turquoise pool reflecting the mountains is Alhambra-esque. Even better is the fact that you can throw yourself onto a tatami mat and indulge in cakes and coffee at the Café du Laje. The palace houses the Escola de Artes Visuais, an art school where temporary exhibits are often held.