Category Archive for Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants

Hong Kong sushi restaurants & skyline harbor views! Causeway Bay, Lan Kwai Fong fine dining.

hong kong harbor view restaurant

Hong Kong is a fusion foodie paradise! It was Yukiro’s first time in the city, so I wanted him to experience the sky-high harbor views, and local spins on sushi.

My Pirates and I were invited to try some of Hong Kong’s newest restaurants, which are raising the bar on an already top-class food scene. We indulged in sexy naked rolls, got high on “magic mushrooms”, and drank wine with Miffy the blow-up bunny… Intrigued? Ready to laugh? Read on, and don’t miss the hilarious final photo.

(My skull dress is by Gladnews; more pics soon.)

hong kong fine dining, skyline view

We began at the top: or rather, on the 29th floor, at Sushi To (Soundwill Plaza II, 1-29 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay). Celebrated local chef Harlan Goldstein opened this Japanese restaurant earlier this year.

hong kong harbor buildings, junk boat

Causeway Bay is one of my favorite shopping districts, and this is the ideal place to stop for lunch — the iconic view says it all. From our window seat, we lorded over Victoria Harbor, silver skyscrapers, and traditional red junk boats.

harlan goldstein chinese chefs

Harlan has an immense local following, and is a rock star among Hong Kong chefs. He opened several European restaurants in HK throughout the past decades, and this is this first foray into Japanese cuisine. (More about our meeting with him, below.)

Sushi Tō menu, hong kong japanese food

Sushi Tō specializes in omakase, and Harlan honored us with a “La Carmina Tasting Menu!” The selection encompasses more than sushi: there are his unique takes on robatayaki, teppanyaki and more, with creative ingredients such as “magic mushrooms maki”.

(I know you’re staring at my Totoro nail art. It’s hand-painted, using bio sculpture gel, by Vancouver-based Glam Nail Studio.)

japanese salmon salad

We were speechless over the starter: a salad with slow-cooked salmon, 68 degrees onsen egg, and sesame soy dressing. Yukiro marvels: “I didn’t expect sushi to taste this good outside Japan. Its probably the finest fish I ever had the pleasure of consuming, and the way they served it was subtle and yet artistic.”

sashimi platter sushi to

And then: kampachi and salmon sashimi. Simple and ocean-fresh. We’re all still salivating over this photo.

John felt this was the perfect first introduction. “The fresh sashimi melted in our mouths as their simplicity prepared us for the fireworks of flavor in the sushi rolls that came later, including the dragon fire maki.”

sushi to pineapple cocktail

We sipped on a number of cocktails; the old fashioned and pineapple-infused one were winners. John adds, “Be sure to try the “sake-tini,” a refreshing summer cocktail to round out an amazing meal.”

hong kong sushi restaurants

My friends show their enthusiasm for the burdock pickle and wasabi konbu beef roll. “The panko crusted Hiroshima oyster with black truffle miso sauce was devilishly good too,” adds John.

clam stew hot pot

The non-sushi selections were just as delectable. This is Hokkaido scallop, crab meat clams, shrimp, rice and soup in a stone hot pot. Dessert was so enticing — white sesame tiramisu — that we ate it before we could take a photo.

Let’s leave the last word to Yukiro. “The way they personalized their menu just for us really showed how much they care about their customers. They should change their name to “Sushi To die for!”

mama san restaurant hong kong interior

For dinner, we went to the newly opened Mama San in Central. Chef Will Meyrick’s restaurant made waves in Bali, and now has a branch in Hong Kong’s hottest food district, Lan Kwai Fong.

The interior sets the mood: Indonesian tradition meets young nightlife.

lan kwai fong central restaurant

The PR team gave us this picture-perfect seat, overlooking the partygoers of Lan Kwai Fong. (Address: 1/F, 46 Wyndham Street, Central). As you can see, I had a special date with me… Miffy!

miffy balloon, central hong kong dining

Mr Skeleton describes Mama San’s menu as “an eclectic mix of items from countries ranging from China and India to Malaysia and Vietnam. Beef tartar and cassava chips helped us whet our palettes before shifting to heavier dishes like the “Dhania ghost” slow-cooked lamb shank.”

Miffy seems to be a fan of the appetizers…

mamasan menu hong kong

… and the cocktail menu, consisting of classics with a twist. My go-to is the “Dark & Stormy”, and Mama San put a nice spin on it: rum, house ginger beer, orange bitters and lime in a paper bag.

After walking in the humid weather, we were relived to have salmon sashimi with pickled radish, edamame, organic flowers and yuzu dressing.

miffy eating fish steamed fish

The southeast Asian spices stirred our senses: coconut, Thai basil, chilis, kaffir lime. Miffy dove head first into the salt-crusted barramundi fish, stuffed with lemongrass pandan and lemon basil, served with nahm jihm (Thai dipping sauce).

naked hong kong chef

John says, “After all of the amazing foods we tried in Hong Kong, I would have to put Naked Gurume Gyarari (グルメ画廊) at the top. Chef Justin Chan took us on a gourmet tour of Japanese tapas-style fusion cuisine.” (28 Elgin Street, 1/F Central District, Hong Kong)

Yukiro jokes, “It was so hot outside that we wanted to go in there completely Naked. At least our stomachs were naked on the inside, but when we went out, they were more than completely dressed in the finest materials from the world of Japanese-inspired food.”

ice vegetable salad hong kong

I agree with the praise! Justin and his team blew us away with dishes that look like art, and surprise the senses – yet, let the flavors do the talking. As John puts it, “The name of the establishment refers to stripping down ingredients to their bare essentials, but the creations that pleasantly assaulted our tastebuds were anything but minimalist.”

The scallops with crystalline ice leaves are a great example. I’ve never tried these glistening Okinawan leaves before, and they paired wonderfully with the seafood and sauces.

dim sum oysters

Many dishes are inspired by Chef Justin Chan’s childhood memories. He houses fried oysters in a traditional dim sum basket. Naked calls itself a “gourmet gallery” that mixes art and food; Yukiro describes the interior as “hip, with subtle inspirations from Japanese art.”

Naked Gurume Gyarari sushi

This Sexy Naked Roll left us speechless. John says: “The perfectly grilled “nigirizushi”, or seared tuna on butter-toasted rice, had us begging for more.” You must order this, when you visit.

japanese restaurant グルメ画廊

He kept serving home runs, like a rich and satisfying lobster risotto bisque, and this succulent hamachi collar.

Yukiro says, “Again I was astonished by the taste of the sushi and we had to order some dishes twice even though we were more than filled.” John adds, “For jaded foodies who are looking for flavor combinations you’ve never tried before, Naked might just be an eye-opening (and mouthwatering) experience.”

harlan goldstein penthouse restaurant

Now we’re back in the hands of Harlan, this time at Penthouse. (Same location as Sushi To, but one floor higher.) “Entering the bright and spacious restaurant, you would be forgiven for imagining that you had stepped into a hip Manhattan studio, but the ceiling window view of Hong Kong would soon convince you otherwise,” describes John.

The Penthouse restaurant by Harlan Goldstein

Harlan Goldstein opened Penthouse not long ago, and despite being a celeb chef, he’s as hands-on as it gets: we saw him working right in the kitchen, alongside his staff. Harlan took a break to sit with us, and we chatted over bourbon cocktails called “Wall St After 5pm.”

Originally from New York, Harlan’s a strong and passionate personality. He’s been in Hong Kong since the 1970s, and locals can’t get enough of his restaurants. John says, “Harlan described his vision for his restaurant as a cosmopolitan East meets West establishment.” Looking around, Penthouse was packed with “loyal local customers, in love with the no-fuss contemporary cuisine.”

causeway bay western restaurant buffet

We couldn’t wait to try the rustic dishes that draw upon Italian slow-cooking and handcrafted pastas. The meal begins with salad selections from the buffet. Someone couldn’t resist taking a bite…

italian salad burrata cheese

On the right: Yukiro died over this heirloom tomato tartare with burrata cheese, and balsamic jelly. On the left: I scraped the bowl clean of black ink bomba rice, with scallops and crisp baby squid.

slow cooked pork ribs

Penthouse has a Josper oven/grill that heats up to 500 degrees, retaining juice while adding sumptuous flavor. The Spanish Duroc Pork Ribs were tender slow-cooked for hours, and fell right off the bone. John reminds diners “not to forget the hanger steak and the well-stocked, unlimited dessert buffet.”

Yukiro says, “I am hooked on Goldstein’s creative and subtle ways of mixing ingredients. I now want to eat my way through all his other restaurants.”

A Symphony of Lights hong kong light show

For the grand finale, we had dinner on the 49th floor of our hotel, the Upper House (we’ll do a huge post about our stay soon). John sets the mood: “From the simple and elegant interior featuring natural tones and Asian touches, to the spectacular view of Victoria Harbor, the ambiance of Cafe Gray Deluxe is perfect for celebrating a special occasion.”

Café Gray Deluxe, upper house hong kong

You know the meal is off to a good start… when you photograph the table bread! Baked with sesame seeds and served warm, with a yogurt and olive oil dish… One of the best I’ve ever been served at dinner. Yukiro speaks the truth: “We stuffed our faces with it and had four refills.”

upper house hong kong luxury restaurant

Once again, the staff made us a special menu with a wine pairing for each dish. Cafe Gray’s cuisine is homey yet gourmet, with carefully culled ingredients. We started with lobster carpaccio, prepared with Thai chili watermelon vinagrette, and pickled green papaya. John says, “One memorable pairing was the plancha seared kingfish chimichurri with fennel and peppers, served up with a glass of 2012 Dry Riesling from Lakewood Vineyards in Finger Lakes, New York.”

wine glass colorful bokeh

The staff impressed us with their knowledge of wines, and the wines were so delicious that Yukiro says “they helped us forget all the misery in the world for a little while.” Here’s a bokeh-ful image of the French Chateau Bordeaux, a sturdy red fit for a royal. We finished with Greek yogurt mascarpone cheesecake…

Hong Kong International Commerce Centre 環球貿易廣場

… while taking in this epic sunset view of the harbor and Tsim Sha Tsui. Tip: time your dinner so that you can catch the 8pm “Symphony of Lights” show, when skyscrapers like the ICC glow with moving images. That’s your first taste of our Upper House adventures, with more soon.

balinese restaurant food mama san

The best part of fine food reviewing? Sharing meals with your friends. We always have fun — isn’t that the point? — and hope you’ll try these restaurants for yourselves.

miffy balloons hong kong

But don’t bring Miffy along… she drinks all the wine! (“Oh Miff-ehhhh!”)

For more local food recommendations, check out our previous reviews of Hong Kong bars and cool restaurants, along with a video. Soon, you’ll find out where these bunny balloons came from…

Do you consider yourself an adventurous eater? Are you as fond of Japanese food as we are?

Tokyo Decadance Bar at Christon Cafe Shinjuku. Pole dancing Goths & pride parade!

preta porco, tokyo decadance

Ohohoho! You’ve landed in Tokyo Decadance Bar — one of the favorite hangouts of Tokyo’s alternative, Goth and Cyber club kids. If you’re visiting the city, you must stop here for the absinthe and strange performances.

Enjoy photos from my previous two trips to “Decabar,” featuring the infamous Preta Porco in his signature yellow face paint.

tokyo japanese drag queens

Address of Tokyo Decabar: 東京都新宿区新宿5-17-13 or 5-17-13 Shinjuku, Oriental Wave Building 8F/9F
Directions: From Shinjuku East Exit, walk towards Studio Alta and Don Quixote. Take a right on this main street (Yasakuni Dori) and keep walking. Christon Cafe is on the left side of the street, right above the Lawson and before the parking lot buildings. Ride the elevator up to the 8th floor (Christon Cafe theme restaurant) and walk up the stairs to Decadance Bar.

The club space is small but laid back, and decorated in neon paint. The fashion is consistently fabulous, as Yukiro Dravarious, in one of his many guises, demonstrates. (He’s performing April 27 at Tokyo Pride; keep reading for details!)

japan mistress bar, drag queen makeup

On “Porco Night,” the spotlight shines on yellow-faced bartender Preta Porco. Mistress Maya also holds a regular “Snack Mayaya” event, where she helms a snack bar and does rope-tyling demonstrations.

sophia sama, tokyo decabar

On any given night, I’ll run into friends here. On the left, you may recognize Sophia, an impressive vocalist who recently debuted her solo project, “Season of Ghosts.”

adrien le danois, tokyo decadance party

Owner Adrien Le Danois (in the blue hair) welcomes guests to his lair. You’ll see lots of cosplay girls and colorful street style on the dance floor. Many of the people who come here speak English and French, so you’ll be able to strike up conversations even if you don’t know Japanese.

japanese club kids, tokyo clubbing

Porco’s scintillating smile will immediately put you in the mood to party. (My hair is pink because these photos are from last spring.)

tokyo party photos, shinjuku nightlife

The drinks flow… and the shenanigans begin. I always order the absinthe at Decadance Bar.

japanese nightclub, crazy bar

The space is decorated like a Day Glo carnival, and the staff dresses the part in wigs and glitter.

japan pole dancer, pole dancing girl

Between DJ sets, underground performers strut their stuff. Everyone smiled at this 1980s dance routine, peppered with pole-dancing.

clown makeup, japanese pole dancers

Porco squealed and twirled on a pole. I have no words.

drag performance, tokyo lgbt

On any given evening, you’ll encounter a theme event or bizarre performance. (Photography by Naomi – check out her latest illustrations!)

pole dancing inversions, asia pole dance

If it’s your birthday, beware: the drag queens sit on you and chant the “nonde nonde” drinking song.

yamamba, ganguro, makeup, japan

The special DJs played a bouncing, techno-electric mix. You can tell that everyone was having fun.

harajuku cyber goth girl

I returned to Tokyo Decadance Bar last December. It was “Sex Pot Night,” meaning there were events both in the upstairs bar and downstairs restaurant (Christon Cafe).

alamode market, lolita handmade

Similar to Alamode Market, there were handmade Gothic Lolita accessories for sale at tables.

japanese girl tattoos, back tattoo

A striking back tattoo with hearts and wings, on this barely clad Japanese lady.

christon cafe shinjuku

As you know from my Theme Restaurants book, Christon is bizarrely decorated with church relics, like chandeliers and altars.

christian goth theme restaurant tokyo

This makes it a haunting (and slightly kitschy) atmosphere for a Goth alternative party. The big Tokyo Decadance parties, which take place every 1-2 months, are usually held at Christon Shinjuku.

animals preserved in jars

That night, the area near the lower staircase was filled with tables. Vendors sold oddities like scorpions preserved in jars.

goth chokers

It’s a great place to pick up one of a kind Gothic accessories like these hand-studded chokers.

barbie purse

Or get a glitter tattoo, from a not-so-Barbie girl.

japan latex dress

If you get tired of shopping, then there’s plenty of singing, dancing, performances and other entertainment in the room.

japanese mistresses performance

I saw a slightly incongruous performance by a group of women dressed as mistresses, in tight leather corsets and riding sticks.

japan women with whips

Yet they sang Jpop and anime songs, with giddy choreography. The men in the back seemed to be having a good time.

japan cheers, drinking kampai

“Kampai” or cheers!

man in red wig, brolita

Much like the club night Department H, this is a place for you to be whoever or whatever you wish, without judgement.

weird doll art

The grotesque doll on the wall is indication that anything goes.

boy putting on makeup

Makeup on men is the norm rather than the exception.

tokyo goth club scene

Goth fashion looks especially bloody under red lights.

gothic lolita manga

My current blue hair matches these girls on the wall.

cyber eye makeup

For once, Yukiro isn’t the tallest person in the room… thanks to little help from stilts!

tying up girl

Mistress Maya (who is also DJ Maya at her event Midnight Mess) tied up an innocent victim.

shibari demonstration

The girl got a spanking and hot candle wax on her back, among other things that we can’t post on this blog… You’ll have to use your imagination, or come to Decabar to see for yourself.

horns hairstyle

For more photos from Tokyo Decadence and other Goth / Cyber / LGBT nightlife, take a look at my Japan clubbing guide.

PS: Yukiro is performing his spooky drag queen act, Die Schwarze Frau, on April 27th at Tokyo Pride Parade! For info on how to see him in action, check out his Facebook page. You’ll be entertained and frightened for sure.

Have you ever tried pole dancing? Would you visit a club like this?

6 Best Israel Restaurants: Tel Aviv & Jerusalem’s hottest food and wine. In LA for Oscars parties!

oscars parties 2014, invitation

This post contains a lot of “nom”… it’s about all the delicious restaurants we tried in Israel!

Before we dive into the food, some travel news: I’m off to Los Angeles, to attend Oscars events! Seby and I were invited to several Academy Awards festivities, including a celebrity pre-party and Oscars gifting suite. Can’t wait to bring you inside coverage of the Oscars on my social networks — add me, below, to join the fun.

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kimel restaurant tel aviv

On our most recent journey, the Israel Tourism Board went all-out, and treated my filmmakers and me to 5-star dinners every evening. Each restaurant offered us a hedonistic “tasting” — we picked any main course, and they served it with a humongous selection of appetizers and desserts, and unlimited wine.

I always say: when you’re traveling, eat to your heart’s content! There are foods you simply can’t find at home, not even in specialty markets (such as local cheeses and wines that don’t export out of the country). Might as well taste as much as you can, when you’re somewhere far away.

israeli wines, kosher wine bottle

And drink up. In Hebrew, “cheers” is “l’chaim,” and we did a lot of that. Israeli vineyards have been making waves recently, overcoming the not-so-cool associations with “Kosher wine.”

I enjoyed tasty varietals with names like “Issac’s Ram” and “Star of David”. My favorite was a tasty and easy-to-drink Teperberg 1870 Cabernet/Merlot.

beet pine nuts salad

The first night, we had a rustic meal at Kimel Restaurant Tel Aviv. We thought the meal was over, after filling on incredibly fresh beet and pine nuts salad, goat cheese ravioli, and olive toasted bread. Then, the waiter asked, “Are you ready for the main courses?” He came out with plates loaded with fish filets, beef and lamb… Needless to stay, we left Kimel very satisfied!

Thanks to our new friend, fashion journalist Roza Sinaysky, for joining us. She blogs about Tel Aviv and international high fashion at TelAvivian. (Food photography by me, Melissa Rundle and Eric Bergemann.)

vicky cristina restaurant, woody allen

The next evening, we learned that there’s a Woody Allen theme restaurant. Vicky Cristina is a Spanish eatery, located at the Hatachana compound (a collection of restaurants and shops, converted from the old Jaffa train station built in 1892). One side is more formal (like the movie character Vicky), while the other, where we dined, is loose and care-free like Cristina.

mia farrow pet cat

Side note: we should note that despite dining at this restaurant inspired by the Woody Allen film, we are Team Farrow all the way! (More images of our cat, Basil Farrow, on his Scottish Fold blog.)

seafood paella, vicky cristina tel aviv

Nonetheless, the Spanish tapas were delightful — Israeli food is always fresh, since many ingredients are grown locally. The seafood paella was so outstanding that we asked for a second order.

israel cocktail menu, drinks

We perched on high counters, and people-watched in the lively, open space. The drink menu says it all. Go for the sangria, and end the meal with mint tea.

turbot fish dinner, herbert samuel

Day 3 was a treat: fine dining at Herbert Samuel, run by top chef Jonathan Roshfeld. I later found out the restaurant is kosher, but that didn’t at all limit the flavors in dishes such as turbot (above) and the signature veal cannelloni.

chocolate cake, ice cream, gold leaf

As for the desserts, the photo says it all. Chocolate cake, caramel sauce swirl, gold foil and vanilla ice cream. I licked the plate.

jerusalem bagels, oblong bagel

I’ve been showing you high-end restaurants, but let’s not forget the street food. I loved trying Jerusalem bagels, (during my day in Jerusalem), which are long and large. And my mouth is watering when I think of the falafel (crispy chickpea balls wrapped in pita) I got from small stands.

machane yehuda restaurant

If I had to name one favorite restaurant among these winners, it would be Machneyuda in Jerusalem. The space is bursting with energy and personality. Between taking our orders, the waiters danced to upbeat Lana del Ray and Prince covers!

jerusalem best desserts, semolina cake

The food also has a personal touch, using ingredients from the next-door market. Some surprises included lamb and hummus, ceviche, and tomato cauliflower salad. I’m still thinking of this trio of desserts: tiramisu at the top, an incredible deconstructed cheesecake with berries in the middle, and “Uri’s mother’s semolina cake” dotted with tahini ice cream at the bottom.

jerusalem cool bar

If you think that Jerusalem is a serious, religious place… think again. At night, Machaneyuda has a happening bar scene with acrobatic cocktail mixing.

machane yehuda israeli restaurant

The open kitchen bursts with friendly calls between the chefs, and flaming dishes.

lively jewish restaurant

Outside, we saw locals hanging out in the streets, and going from bar to bar. If you visit only one restaurant while in Israel, I hope it will be this one.

boya tel aviv

However, we ate so well on every night. We joined Louise Kahn (glam singer of Terry Poison) at Boya, a top-rated restaurant at the Tel Aviv port. This is great place to take a walk, and watch big waves roll in.

grilled mushrooms, top israel restaurants

By now, you must be getting a sense of what’s loved in Israel: fresh Mediterranean dishes, with a touch of the Middle East. We tried a number of pastas, fresh baked bread from the “tabun” (traditional clay oven), and lots of seafood. We agreed that one of the standouts was a grilled cauliflower appetizer.

best hummus in israel, hommous restaurant

One cannot visit Israel without trying the hummus — sometimes called the national dish. We had it multiple times, and even visited a local “hummous restaurant” where Jews and Arabs happily sat down to eat this delicious dish together.

social club restaurant tel aviv

Finally, before a night of clubbing, we chowed down at Social Club on Rothschild Boulevard. It’s an ideal location for meeting up with friends before going out, and we especially enjoyed the grilled calamari with fava beans and tahini.

Coming right up: I’ll take you inside the Israeli LGBT nightlife, including a drag queen performance!

herbert samuel desserts

I leave you with a flower-topped napoleon dessert, from Herbert Samuel restaurant. Did you expect Israel’s food scene to be this exciting? Have you tried hummus, falafel, or other dishes mentioned in this post?

PS: don’t forget, I’ll be in LA with Seby for Oscars celebrations — previews will be on my @lacarmina social networks.

Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods in Vancouver! Seoul Goth guide: Korea Gothic clubs, bars, fashion.

Andrew Zimmern Bizarre Foods Vancouver, Canada, tv host

I’m still in shock about the response to my Belgrade post — over 5000 shares! A special thank you to the Serbians who left comments, telling me I captured “the heart and soul” of their beautiful city.

My current focus — telling personal stories of alternative culture around the world — was majorly influenced by my friend Andrew Zimmern (host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods TV show). A few days ago, we got to catch up in my hometown of Vancouver, BC.

Read on for the story, and the resurrection of my Korean Gothic clubbing and shopping guide.

Andrew Zimmern, Travel Channel Bizarre Foods, restaurants, eating

If you’ve been following my adventures over the years, you’ll know that AZ and LC (as we call each other) have a long history. He was one of my earliest supporters, and invited me to be his on-camera guide on the Tokyo episode of Bizarre Foods. I took him to some of the wild, crazy theme restaurants featured in my book, including the monster-jail Alcatraz ER. (Watch our Japan clip and see photos here.)

We’ve kept in close touch over the years, and this week, Andrew Zimmern came to Vancouver with his film crew to shoot an episode of Bizarre Foods. What a joy to catch up with him at Hawksworth Restaurant — I loved their historical cocktails, especially the one with yuzu, and the hamachi sashimi with sorbet melted in my mouth.

Bizarre Foods Vancouver BC, La Carmina, travel food tv hosting

Andrew is one of the most empathetic people I know, always keen to learn about people and cultures, and portray them with positivity (my Japanese Goth friends love him for it!). I’m grateful to know he is rooting for me, as I am for him.

Season 5 of Bizarre Foods premieres Monday, November 4 @ 9pm ET/PT on Travel Channel — hope you’ll tune in, and can’t wait to see the Vancouver, BC episode.

Speaking of spooky culture… A while back, I interviewed Goth insiders about their local scenes for a site that no longer exists. So here are the features, back from the dead. First is my guide to Goth Seoul, Korea through the eyes of Kit Ten Ita. Next is Australia!

korean goth fashion, gothic lolita korea

All Korean photos by Noopy except the third to last composite, by Kit Ten Ita.

La Carmina: First, can you tell me a bit about who you are, and what you do?

Kit Ten Ita: I’m an amateur bellydancer, has-been blogger and passionate about improving my photography, consuming more music, a polyglot, and general oddball misanthrope. I define myself by my context, having lived in 6 different countries, moved more than 21 times before the age of 21. I lived in Korea for 6 years, participated in nearly all the BRHF goth parties (except for 2 summer parties when I was revisiting Switzerland) My involvement has ranged from dancefloor participant, dark fusion performer, drunk bartender, helpful decorator and supportive volunteer. I am currently pursuing a degree in Interactive Art at LASALLE.

La Carmina: How did you first become interested and involved in Goth / underground subcultures in Korea? Which cities and areas are hotspots?

Kit Ten Ita: My first interactions with the culture were with music when I was in my early teens – starting with Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Aphex Twin, and of course NIN. Many years later when I first arrived in Korea, my first contact was a metalhead named Sungwon who introduced me to both the Death Metal and Korean Goth scene. I had a Goth MeetUp Group and Counter Culture Forum and brought in the expats to the local scene.

Seoul and Busan both have a scene to my knowledge Seoul has a large population, but I hear the one in Busan has better attendance. But I could be incorrect about that since I’ve never been to the parties down South.

seoul goth clubbing, goth clubs

La Carmina: Can you tell me how the Gothic scene in Korea originated and evolved? Are there aspects that are distinct to the country?

Kit Ten Ita: To my knowledge the BRHF started with Hye In and Dosu, who are an indomitable pair in charge of organizing the Goth and Metal festivals. They had quite a challenge in trying to please all the participants from the ones who wanted somewhere to be entertained, have somewhere to sit and chat, to the ones who wanted to dance. But with an influx of people who wanted to dance, that soon changed. And it has transformed once again the past year…

The musical choices have usually been more thrash and metal, though now through cultural intermingling we are seeing more and hearing more EBM. But the musical choices are still generally more thrash and metal, and the culture is laced with death metal philosophies and antichristian rhetoric. It makes sense, considering Korea has the the highest number of Church attendees and Christian devotees.

What makes Korea special and particular is the prolific smoking and drinking culture, and after most concerts there are after parties that are open to people to mingle with the band members. An interesting fact to note are the laws against skirts above the knee and men with long hair (both of which are prevalent in the scene). Only recently has the former been amended. The tattoo culture was never really big until 2 years ago and since then it has really exploded. Stars and words are common. The piercing culture is very normalized with university students and it’s common to see very drastic piercings on very unassuming people. Androgynous men are viewed with a great degree of appeal.

seoul, korea goth punk fashion, runway show

La Carmina: How would you describe Gothic fashion in Korea? Which styles, brands, looks are popular? Has it changed over the years?

Kit Ten Ita: Gothic fashion in Korea is similar and influenced by Japan – whether aware of it or not, the Lolita look was extremely well adopted and popular in early 2000. But often with minimal makeup. These days the people in the scene are becoming more and more adventurous with their clothing choices, makeup choices and are more prone to putting on more makeup, predominantly thanks to a doom and Alex. Alternative fashion always goes into the mainstream so zippers, black and have become trendy post 80s fashion revival the past few years. But with the younger local goth crowd they tend to dress really pretty and sharp, new and clean clothing.

seoul korea street fashion, gothic lolitas

La Carmina: Can you recommend some Korean Gothic clothing brands, designers and shops?

Kit Ten Ita: Beetlejuice is perhaps the most well-known in both local and expat circles. They’ve held quite a few fashion shows. It is also the most-easily found and most well-priced, unless considering a Japanese import. The owner is a woman in her thirties who decided to bring back some of her designs influenced by being in London. Unfortunately for anyone above a UK size 14 or US size 12, which includes me, will have difficulty finding clothing that fits. Unless you have close connections with the tailor. The shopping areas of Ewha, Sinchon, Dongdaemun, Apgujeong all have affordable punk and Goth influenced wear, especially accessories. And imported clothing from Japan. So you really gotta explore the little nooks and crannies.

But if you’re interested in having tailor made boots, they start from 60 to as much as 250 dollars. Just make sure to have them redo anything you’re not happy with. There are several leather shops, and Dongdaemun for fabric if you make your own clothing or need new drapes. There was a place in Dongdaemun that had a variety of platform shoes but I’m not sure if its still there. (Address: Migliore 7th floor #122-126 02 3393 1995)

goth bars, gothic parties, seoul korea nightlife

La Carmina: If I came to Korea and you were my tour guide, where would you take me? What is the club scene like?

Kit Ten Ita: Seoul is limitless in terms of how many places there are to go, the number of distractions, entertainment and festivals, multimedia and interactive installations throughout the city – but to get a whole experience you would definitely have to experience the PC BANG (internet and gaming cafes) JIMJILBANG (public baths and saunas) NORAEBANG (karaoke) DVDBANG (rent and watch DVDs in your own personal stereo surround room with projector) and check out a MOTEL. All of these places are practically on every corner of the city.

As for shopping, university shopping areas such as Ewha, Sinchon, Hongdae provide a suitable variety of affordable clothing and shoes (both under American size 8) and more upscale areas in Cheongdam and Apgujeong. As for parties and events, there is a limit to the scale of parties in the Goth scene. There is a great availability of trendy clubs playing house, RnB, techno, rock, etc. Keep an eye out for posters on the streets of Hongdae – there are usually several in a row. And keep an eye out for plastic surgery and prostitution! There’s plenty of diversity as well in Itaewon – where homo hill and hooker hill (near a shopping area commonly populated by tourists and local American army base people) lead to a mosque on top.

For Goth parties in Seoul, check out BRHF Blood Red Halo (Hallow) Festival. Hye In is THE organiser for Gothic/Industrial events, and Sungwon is prominent in the scene. (La Carmina’s note, check Groove Korea for upcoming Goth clubs)

As for music, I recommend a doom (Pain’s Goth Rock Band), KOM-POUND (EBM/Electro/Industrial) and Oathean (Dosu’s Death Metal Band).

seoul, korea fashion week, models, asian goth girls

La Carmina: What do you predict for the dark fashion / scene in Korea? Is it growing, changing?

Kit Ten Ita: As for the people within the scene itself, makeup usage and experimentation in general has usually been limited in the past to simple eyeliner and powder, but I’ve seen them experimenting more and more recently thanks to external influences, such as our Korean-fluent German friend Alex, which have made theatrical makeup more accessible and acceptable. I’ve also seen more and more people modifying and tinkering their clothing rather than buying it ready-made. This particular feminine style of Gothic fashion itself has always been appealing and as people enjoy dressing up it’s more than obvious and likely that both fashion and the scene will continue to grow – especially with better exposure through bloggers.

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Have you experienced Seoul’s underground scene? Got tips to add?

For more blasts from the past, you can access my blog archives from the drop-down menu on the right sidebar. Here is a collection of my TV hosting clips, including Bizarre Foods. Enjoy — “and remember, if it looks good, eat it!”