6 Ethnic Enclaves of Seoul

Not all of Korea feels Korean.

Korea is approximately 96% ethnically homogeneous, but also serves as one of several central business and international relation hubs for all of Asia. Similar to large cities in the USA, Seoul also has different ethnic enclaves with authentic foods, residential housing and services dedicated to their respective nationalities.

Here’s a short description of where to find these ethnic enclaves and some things you can find there:

1. French- Seorae Village

The French neighborhood, Seorae Village, can be found in Banpo-Dong, Seocho-Gu and is home to about 40% of the French residents in Korea. It’s not the vibrant neighborhood it once was since the large French businesses pulled out of Korea in the 1990’s, but it’s still a fairly quiet and clean place with a few remaining French restaurants and cafes. There are also several international food and alcohol import stores. The most predominant feature of Seorae Village is the Lycée Français de Séoul (French School of Seoul).

For directions & details, click here.

Credit: InSapphoWeTrust

2. Central Asian- Dongdaemun

The Central Asian enclave, sometimes nicknamed Little Russia, is a busy and active neighborhood found near exit #12 of Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. It can be a bit loud as it’s located in a busy section of the city with industrial shops constantly running, but the signs in Cyrillic, smell of fresh breads and other delicious foods, and small import stores give a relaxed and welcoming feel. If you find yourself with the opportunity to eat around here, you won’t be disappointed with the choices of authentic Russian, Mongolian, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan restaurants.

For directions & details, click here.

MRobertMarks Bike Path-1035
Credit: MRobertMarks

3. Japanese- Ichon

There are restaurants offering Japanese food everywhere in Seoul, but authentic Japanese foods can be predominantly found in Ichon 1-Dong (Exit #4 out of Ichon Station ); an area south of Namsan Tower, dubbed ‘Little Tokyo.’ Home to over a thousand Japanese residents, Ichon may not look or feel different from the rest of Seoul at first glance, but as you explore the maze of well kept side streets you’ll find some of the most delicious hidden restaurants, a few stores selling only Japanese products, and Japanese doctors, banking, and other services. If you’re studying Japanese, Ichon is the place to exercise your language skills.

Credit: jeje0702

4. American & Islamic- Itaewon

Itaewon is known as a generic international center, where pretty much anything goes from all nationalities, cultures, genders and orientations. If any heritage were to lay claim to it, Itaewon would probably equally be shared by the Americans (because of the nearby American military base), and the Islamic nations. The area consists of 2 hillsides and a fold, the fold and Northern side is constantly evolving and contains most of the restaurants and nightlife. At the top of the Southern hill, exit #3 of Itaewon Station, is where you’ll find the Seoul Central Masjid overlooking the city, and the surrounding neighborhood populated with many Arab, Turkish and Pakistani businesses, schools, and of course delicious halal restaurants. The mosque even holds free language classes for those who are interested in learning Arabic.

For more details about Halal Food restaurants, click here.

For general places to visit in Itaewon, click here.

MRobertMarks Bike Path-1176
Credit: MRobertMarks

5. Filipino- Hyewha

Although Filipinos don’t claim a specific neighborhood in Seoul, the Hyewha-Daehangno area comes alive when everyone gathers at the Philippine pop-up market on Sundays after church services conducted in Tagalog at the Hyewha-dong Catholic Church.

Paul Stafford
Credit: Paul Stafford

6. Chinese- Incheon

And finally, Chinese make up the majority of foreigners in Korea, including foreign residents, businesses, students and tourists. The officially recognized Chinese enclave, now in it’s 3rd generation, is China Town located in Incheon, but if you’re not interested in traveling that far, then Myeong-dong and Yeonhui-dong are great alternatives within Seoul. These two areas feature Chinese primary schools, traditional medicine shops, and some of the most authentic Chinese cuisine around.

Jay Hwang Incheon Chinatown
Credit: Jay Hwang

Honorable mentions:

Namhae Island is home to both the American and German villages, and a second American village in Songdo has plans to be completed by 2017.

Ansan is home to growing Indian and Sri Lankan populations.

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