One of Seoul’s most famed quarters, Itaewon (이태원) is something of an enigma. It has, for years, been popular with American soldiers, thanks to the major military base situated nearby. Expat businessmen and visiting foreigners have followed suit, and until English teachers started pouring into Korea by the planeload it was one of the only places in the country in which you could buy “Western” items such as leather jackets, deodorant, tampons or Hershey’s Kisses. While it remains a great place to shop for cheap tailored suits and shoes, Itaewon’s popularity also made it a byword for transactions of a more sexual nature – hostess bars sprang up all over the place, particularly south of the Hamilton, a hotel that marks the centre of the area, on the affectionately named “Hooker Hill”. Times are changing, however. Most Western goods are available in cities across the country, and the gradual withdrawal of American troops has coincided with the opening of an ever more cosmopolitan array of restaurants, possibly the hippest in the city outside ultra-fashionable Apgujeong. The area is also heaving with clubbers on weekends, and from Hooker Hill also sprouts “Homo Hill”, Seoul’s only real gay area.

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Seoul food: the transformation of a neighbourhood

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