Korea is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world, but you’d never know that walking down the streets of Itaewon. Located smack-dab in the center of Seoul, Itaewon is home for the majority of expats that reside in Korea, making Itaewon a mini melting pot of cultures and religions from all over the world. The Seoul Central Mosque is also located in Itaewon along with a number of halal food stores, and large numbers of US military personnel can be seen here as the Yongsan Garrison that is stationed nearby. Due to the area’s diverse inhabitants, Itaewon has become one of the most cosmopolitan areas in Seoul boasting restaurants, shopping and nightlife that are equally diverse and cater to international tastes, attracting many other foreigners and tourists. It is safe to say that Itaewon is almost better known by foreigners and non-Korean residents than Koreans.
Itaewon is more than just food however; it is the most popular shopping district for foreigners visiting and living in Seoul. While Myeong-dong, another popular shopping district for foreigners, is preferred by Japanese and Chinese tourists, Western tourists or people on business trips generally prefer to satisfy their shopping needs in Itaewon. This is because the stores and services offered in Itaewon not only cater to foreign tastes, they cater to foreign sizes.
Most stores in Korea offer clothing that fit Asian builds well but are unfortunately too small to fit those with “Western builds”. This leaves many of those with bigger and taller builds struggling to find clothing that fit. Fortunately many of the stores in Itaewon offer imported clothing in sizes that are difficult to find elsewhere in Korea. And if you still can’t find what you want, experienced tailors can create customized clothing. The same problem goes for shoes. In Korea, shoe sizes are measured in millimeters with the largest size being generally about 280 – 300 mm (US size 11 or 12). Foreigners that require larger footwear can find their shoe needs met here.
Itaewon also specializes in leather and fur goods, luggage and handbags, as well as jewelry and antique furniture. Trinkets and souvenirs can also be found here.
Itaewon boasts some 100 antique stores clustered together on a single street. Originally these stores only dealt with second-hand U.S. Army furniture, but nowadays the selections at the stores have expanded to include antique furniture from around the world.
Itaewon is known as the place to go when you want to get your foreign food fix. Restaurants featuring cuisine from all over the world can be found here including Indian, Thai, Pakistani, Greek, German, French, Italian, Australian, English, American, and Mexican, cuisines which are not easily found in Korea. There are also Korean, Chinese and Japanese restaurants in Itaewon famous for their traditional fare.
Le Saint-Ex, named after Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of “Le Petit Prince,” is a restaurant that is situated at the end of one of the alleys behind the Hamilton Hotel. Since its opening in 2002 it has become renowned for its French home cooking and its special dessert table that offers a wide assortment of treats.
Also located in one of the alleys behind the Hamilton Hotel is Santorini, Korea’s only Greek restaurant. Santorini is manned by an actual Greek chef who personally prepares every meal. Although it is not a very big restaurant (only about 10 tables altogether), its charming blue décor makes it a real Mediterranean gem.
For mexican food look no further than Pancho’s. Opened in 1997, Pancho’s is a popular Mexican restaurant with two Mexican chefs at the helm, guaranteeing authentic Latin flavor with every dish. Pancho’s also has a pool table and darts, and every Friday and Saturday night Pancho’s hosts a vibrant Mexican party with live traditional music.