Local handicrafts and artisanal items to pick up on your trip
Arts and Crafts
Korean fine art includes traditional ink paintings and watercolors; popular subjects include bamboo leaves, forested mountains, tigers, and magpies. Calligraphy scrolls, done either in Chinese or hangeul (the Korean alphabet) are popular wall hangings. Arguably Korea’s most prestigious art form, however, is celadon, or glazed pottery. Small pieces, such as tea sets, can cost less than $50; fine vases, pots, or liquor flasks by master craftsmen can be priced at more than $10,000. Colored paper lanterns, large paper fans decorated with watercolor or ink paintings, wooden masks used in tal cheum (mask dance), and bright silk cushions are all affordable souvenirs, suitable for home decoration. All the above can be found in the souvenir shops, stalls, art galleries, and studios of Insadong.
Everyone from Luciano Pavarotti to Steven Seagal seems to have had a custom suit from an Itaewon tailor's shop. Prices start at around $400. Also, modern cotton hanbok (Korean traditional clothing) is becoming increasingly popular. Loose and baggy (think Buddhist, priestly robes), they are comfortable round-the-house casual attire. Off-the-shelf hanbok can be bought in Insadon.
Bought in cheap packs of various sizes, dried seaweed makes an excellent beer snack. This—along with such oddities as red pepper chocolates—is easily found in the tourist grocery shops in Namdaemun market.
Ginseng is another famed Korean export, ranging in price from a few dollars to thousands. Namdaemun has ginseng shops, where the fleshy root can be bought in jars, in tea form, in pill form, and even in gum.
Kimchi, or spiced, pickled vegetables (there are hundreds of varieties) is Korea’s most famous dish. Buy it from the shops in Incheon International Airport so the container will be sealed properly for travel. Also look for pots of salty red pepper paste or fermented bean paste, excellent additions to soups or as vegetable dips.
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