Tuesday, Oct. 07, 2008

3. Shinsegae Department Store

If you want to see Seoulites drop the equivalent of a couple of hundred dollars on a few melons or a handful of locally grown oranges, Shinsegae's flagship downtown store is the place to go. This is one of the "big three" department stores in the city (the other two are Lotte and Hyundai) and it's a dazzling emporium that sells all manner of merchandise. In the basement, Korean women jostle to buy prepared dishes and staples like fresh fish at the end of the day. The selection of Korean fare is mind-boggling; step up and sample Korea's beloved kimchi, a spicy cabbage traditionally fermented in huge jars dug into the earth. Upstairs, the city's uber-brand-conscious consumers snap up the latest Ferragamo shoes and Hermes silk scarves. On the rooftop, Shinsegae's new garden is also a welcome respite from the megacity's hubbub.

The store is directly across from the Bank of Korea on Chungmuro, between the Namdaemun market and the Myeongdong shopping district. Get here by taking subway line 4 to Hoehyun Station. Rival Lotte department store, about 10 minutes by foot down the road, also has an exotic grocery store and a popular food court.