Anam-dong: Korea University’s Playground
Korea University constitutes one-third of the infamous ‘SKY’ Universities, the top three universities in Korea. It is situated in the north of Seoul in Anam, towards the end of line 6 and far away from the bright lights and bustling streets of Seoul’s university quarter, home to Yonsei, Hongik, Sogang and Ewha Universities. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the students who made it into Korea University have nowhere to play and blow off steam; even if they had the time, where would they go? Anam is indeed small and not necessarily as cosmopolitan or hip as familiar student hangouts such as Hongdae, but Anam definitely has its own charms that make it worth a visit, including the community feel, plethora of food and, of course, the drinking culture.
The main street in Anam feels like a small town; it has all the regular cosmetic stores and coffee shop chains, plus one or two small clothes stores. Standard, really. For its small size, Anam boasts an impressive number of independent cafes, some cosy and perfect for getting away from the textbooks for a while, others more geared towards providing quiet study spaces and venues for group work. Naturally, it is essential for students to maintain their health and Anam is littered with pharmacies, opticians and even trendy juice bars. There are three gyms scattered throughout Anam, and even more on Korea University campus itself. Having so much on offer in such a small town really caters to the needs of the students, making Anam an awesome area to study. The students can get everything they need without travelling far from the campus and get the opportunity to live in a small community of other students – often hard to come by in a big city. Living in a capital city as large as Seoul doesn’t really allow for bumping into friends and it is, therefore, a true delight to bump into friends around Anam almost every day. This is probably most important for international students who are bound to appreciate their friendships while living in a foreign country more than anything.
Everybody needs some down time though, especially students! Anam is smaller than some of the other university towns in Seoul but it is practically bursting at the seams with eateries and bars. As well as familiar chains like McDonalds, Burger King and Hansot offering cheap fast-food, Anam has so much Korean and international food on offer. You can find typical Korean dishes found anywhere else in Korea, in addition to slightly less popular dishes – maybe less well known by the international community – and a wide range of foreign cuisines on offer. You’ll never get bored or eat the same thing twice in one week (although some restaurants are so delicious that you probably will be back within the week..!). As one might expect, there is a large choice of Japanese food joints serving ramen, sushi and donkatsu, plus a handful of izakayas, or Japanese pubs/bars. Other delights waiting to be found are Vietnamese Pho joints, American-style brunch cafes, Indian curry houses and one authentic-to-China Chinese restaurant – usually fairly difficult to find outside of China. It might be surprising to learn that such a small part of Seoul is infused with so many international flavours, though this is perhaps due to the influence of having large numbers of foreign students living in the area right next to the university. Possibly the best thing about the food in Anam is the prices! Being a university town, yet far from the glitzy streets of Hongdae/Sinchon, Anam’s eateries cater to a student budget and you can eat until you burst for a mere 5000 won.
Alcohol plays a huge role in Korean culture and students are no exception! Korea University has earned the title of the ‘makgeolli university’ on account of the number of places to drink makgeolli in Anam. Makgeolli is a traditional rice wine that is drunk from a small bowl and is famous not only for its smooth, almost creamy texture but also for causing a splitting headache to those who get a little too keen with it… (easily done since it is so easy to drink) Makgeolli houses practically line the streets of Anam back to back, most of them offering a dazzling array of dishes to compliment the alcohol. The most traditional combination across Korea is makgeolli and a savoury pancake, usually made with kimchi and/or various vegetables. These days makgeolli’s popularity among Koreans and foreigners is growing at such a high rate that bars are beginning to offer variations of the popular drink, playing with both texture and taste. At most bars you will be bombarded with fruit-flavoured makgeolli options, but the best secret is the ‘Maktails’, makgeolli turned cocktail. These are mainly flavoured versions of makgeolli, usually blended with ice, and the result is brilliantly refreshing and delicious. A trip to Anam is incomplete without at least a sip of makgeolli, and if you want to try makgeolli, Anam is the place to get it.
During the weekdays, Anam’s streets are bustling with students but Anam is interestingly one of the few places in Seoul that gets quieter at the weekends since the students aren’t attending classes. This actually makes for a pleasant Friday or Saturday night in the area’s many bars and restaurants because it isn’t overly crowded, unlike the aforementioned apocalyptic streets of Hongdae on a weekend night. If you’re looking for somewhere to spend a cheap and relaxed day or night in Seoul, Anam is not to be overlooked! Take Line 6 to Anam Station and after coming out of exit 3, turn back on yourself and take the first left to arrive at Anam’s main street.