Seoul equivalents of your Toronto Life

Seoul equivalents of your Toronto Life

Café Bene for Tim Horton’s

Tim Horton’s is probably the most distinctly Canadian among all the Canadian brands. Where else would you get a double-double for less than a loonie? The Tim Horton’s of Korea would be Café Bene.

When it first ran their tacky advertisements in 2008 with Han Yeseul artificially sipping a featureless cup of house-blend coffee, I had no idea Café Bene would dominate South Korea. Now it beats Starbucks in number of shops nationwide, with 750 dispersed all over Korea. There’s at least two Cafe Benes in each of Korea’s busiest districts!  The biggest difference between Tim Horton’s and Café Bene is obviously the price – Café Bene’s pricing would be more aligned with Starbucks or Second Cup. Another thing Bene is well known for are their gelato waffles and “Honey Bread” (See photo below). Gelato waffles are self-explanatory, and Honey Bread is a super thick sweetened toast with whipped cream and cinnamon powder. The most striking and alluring feature above all is their Mediterranean-inspired interior design that seduces you into their door steps.


Naver for Google

Just as Google is the go-to search engine for most Canadians (and North Americans), Naver is the most popular search engine in Korea. People in Korea don’t usually use Google. The bright green rectangular box you see on top of their website is probably as familiar to Koreans as the Nike swoosh is for the rest of the world.

Two Computer Engineering students from Stanford founded Google. Similarly, Lee Hae Jin, a Comp Engineering grad from Seoul National University founded Naver in 1997 as a project under Samsung’s Data System division. He is currently the CSO (Chief Strategy Office) of NHN, one of the biggest web firms in Korea.  Naver got its name from the word “navigator” and began as a government’s internal search engine.

Their marketing campaign, “Ask Naver” was so influential that the phrase “ask Naver” is as common as Canadians saying “Google it.” Naver also developed a texting app called “Line,” which is apparently the most popular text app in Japan.


Kakaotalk for Whatsapp

If you have any Korean friends, you’ve probably heard of an odd, baby voice screaming an indecipherable phrase from their phone – and most likely at least a dozen times a day. That odd baby voice belongs to the most popular messenger/free text message app in Korea called Kakaotalk. (카카오톡) You can think of it as the Korean version of WhatsApp, except cuter and more colorful. The baby voice is actually saying either “kaokaotalk” or “Katalk” depending on which ringtone you chose. Most Koreans refer to Kakaotalk as Katalk.

I’m not going to do an actually app review here, but I think the one cool feature is that you can have an ID (independently of your phone number) linked to your katalk, so if you happen to meet some cute guy at a party but aren’t sure if he isn’t a creeper, you can give him your kaokaotalk ID and still keep in touch easily without baggage. There is also blocking, hiding (where a contact is invisible on your list but you can search them and they can still msg you) deleting options like many other apps of similar service. Recently, Katalk did a test run for Kakaotalk PC messenger version, attesting to its popularity. There are currently 830,000,000 Kaokaotalk users worldwide – crazy impressive, I’d say.


Song Hae Gyo for Rachel McAdams

Rachel McAdams is a Canadian gem in the movie industry, most well known for her roles in Mean Girls and The Notebook. She was a student at York University right here in Toronto and is constantly ranked as one of the most beautiful women in Canada.

It’s quite debatable who the Korean Rachael McAdams would be, but my personal pick would be Song Hae Gyo. Most famous for her roles in Autumn in My Heart and Full House, she’s known for her roles/image as the “sweet first love” just as Rachael is known for the sweet-lover roles. She’s constantly ranked the prettiest (often in competition with Kim Tae Hee) women in Korea, and is known for being cute and sexy at the same time because of her distinct but often hidden curves. I personally just love her for her sometimes-awkward acting.

Ddokbokgi for Poutine

If poutine is the dish/comfort food of Canada, Ddokbokgi is unarguably the meal, snack, comfort food, and in-between meals meal of South Korea. It used to be most commonly sold in red tents (pojangmachas), the trend recently is to sell Ddokbokgis in indoor, temperature-controlled, café-like canteens, akin to indoor pochas I previously wrote about.

The Ddokbokgi (stir-fried spicy rice cake) has two best friends that are always eaten together: Soondae (stuffed pig intestine) and O-deng (stewed fishcakes). A plate of Ddokbokgi would cost around three CAD. The juice/milk like thing on the side is a fruity drink called “Cool-piece” which is a common drink Koreans have with spicy food because it apparently subdues the intense tingling sensation you get when hot pepper sauce destroys your lip+mouth. I’ve tried it – it kind of works. I think it’s the milky substance inside the fruit juice that does the trick.


Club Ellui for Guvernment

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s right to compare Guvernment and Ellui. But based on the few brief, informal facebook questionnaires I’ve done, Guvernment is the biggest, more frequented clubs by many and so here I am comparing it to Ellui.

Ellui is a fairly new club, but has been on a roll, taking the spotlight of Korea’s club scene. Dress to impress, as it’s located in the trendiest neighborhoods in Seoul. I would suggest heading in around 1 or 2 a.m. on a weekend to experience the most packed peak of the night (they close at 7 in the morning, so no worries)


Olive Young for Shopper’s Drug Mart

Though not as big as a typical shopper’s drug mart, Olive Young is one of the biggest health and beauty drug-store in Korea. Like many of Shopper’s beauty boutique section, Olive Young carries relatively mid-price ranged cosmetics (think urban decay/ Clinique). The layout of Olive Young is a bit more upscale than a regular Shopper’s, but it is also relatively small (maybe similar to Sobey’s) It is a common place for Korean consumers to test/purchase imported products such as Avene sunscreens or Kanebo oil cleansers.


Galleria for Holt Renfrew 

Like Holt, the provider of all luxury needs in Toronto (and Canada), Galleria is the most famous luxury retail store in Seoul. It’s located right next to Apgujeong Station – the area most famous for its hot people, plastic surgeons, imported luxury brands, and expensive cars.

Galleria, like Holt carries most common high-end brands like Chanel, Burberry and Prada. The coolest part of Galleria, imho is Gourmet 494 , the first ever Grocerant In Korea [Grocerant= grocery + restaurant]. It’s basically a super upscale food court with awesome food, groceries, and dessert.



Cheongdam-dong for Yorkville

I live just a block and a half away from Yorkville, and man does those few steps change sceneries. Yorkville is so in the city yet seems like its own bubble world.

So if there is Yorkville in Toronto, there is Cheongdam-dong in Seoul. The recent popular Korean TV series “Cheongdam-dong Alice” probably made this little area more familiar to your ears. Like how it was portrayed in the TV show, Cheongdam-dong is indeed the high-end art and fashion mecca of Seoul. The streets of Cheongdam are filled with exotic cafes, luxury brand’s flagship stores, and modern art galleries. Like you would at Yorkville, be prepared to pay $10 or more for your lattes at Cheongdam-dong.

Read “Hand Scribbled Guide to Top 5 Korean Drinking Games”

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