Korean Delicacies

Who doesn’t love food?  Eating is a primary reason for many people to travel and Korean cuisine happens to be incredibly diverse with hundreds of dishes to try!  The best part is that each meal comes with a handful of 반찬 banchan (sides) that accompany whatever you order so you always get to taste a few treats.  Living in South Korea for a year I’ve sampled the lot but still have tons more to try.  Have you tried any of these, which was your favorite?

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Soy Sauce Crab Stew ( 간장게) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Actually I don’t know what this is. Its an internal organ based on what the vendor was saying and my Korean coworker insists its from a fish. You can find it at Kwangjang Market (광장시장) and let me know!

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Kimchi Baby Crabs ( 김치 아기 게) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Kimchi Banchan/Sides 김치반찬 ) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Kimchi (김치) at a North Korean style Restaurant in Sokcho (속초)

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Dried Squid (Ojingo 오징어) in Sokcho (속초)

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Dried & fermented school of jogi (조기/yellow croaker) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Fresh Crab (게장) at Sokcho’s Fish Market (속초 수산 시장)

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Fresh Crab (게장) at Sokcho’s Fish Market (속초 수산 시장)

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Adventure’s in Boracay, Philippines – New Years Eve

Boracay Fireworks

One of the main reasons I decided on New Years Eve on the Filipino island of Boracay was to meet my best friend Josh and his wife, Christine.  They had been traveling islands in the Philippines for a few weeks with her family & friends (who happen to be Filipino).  Our reunion began in the afternoon of December 31st and promised to lead to a fun-filled week of reminiscing and making new memories.

We grabbed my bags from the hostel and dropped them off at our hotel before wandering down to the beach.  Christine’s brother Adrian joined us as we caught up while strolling through my mini island tour.  The main event was tonight and we quickly went back to the hotel to change for New Years Eve dinner!

We dressed in slightly above “beach attire” and went to the White House Hotel to check out the buffet and drinks.  There I was introduced to Tito Francis, Tito Rei, Tita Susan and Tita Anali.  They were highschool friend’s of Christine’s parents (Nancy & Rudy) who still lived in the Philippines.  Lucky for me that meant I was sure to get the authentic Filipino experience!

White House Hotel and the other resorts we visited were managed and owned by their old friends so we got VIP treatment.  Or perhaps it was just that they spoke Tagalog so the waitstaff didn’t inflate prices for us white-folk.  But enough of that, lets skip ahead to what we’ve all been waiting for.  FOOD!

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A truly Korean dinner

After getting 2nd place at my first fencing tournament in Seoul my club invited me out to dinner.  It was a successful tournament with 5 medalists from our club, Seoul Fencing Club, and I got invited to join everyone for dinner.  One catch; I was the only white guy and they barely spoke English.

The majority of the conversation was in Korean so I clearly understood none of it but was able to follow clubmates to a barbecue joint near the tournament; we sat on the floor filling up this restaurant with our group of 10 fencers.  It was a diverse group with a few highschoolers girls who were “too good to compete today” and were coaching.  After all they are the best team in all of Seoul!  We had a few young adults along with an older gentleman who was very animated and I’m sure hilarious but also embarrassed at his lack of English.

Most of the others could understand me if I spoke slowly and between their joint vocabulary we were able to have some basic conversations.  While I had seen most of them 2-3 times a week at practice this was the first time I’d really gotten to know anyone other than my English speaking fencing buddies.  I went through the basics about where I was from, that I was a teacher and broke the ice with a few funny fencing stories as the bacon-like pork belly, known as Samgyupsal, came out.

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More importantly was the arrival of Mekju & Soju (beer & a rice-wine) which we combined for a more potent Somek.  It was delicious and I’m glad I learned a few of the customs earlier like not pouring your own drink how to accept/give a drink while showing respect.  With a quick “ganbei!” the drinks began flowing and the meat started grilling.

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The Koreans took care of all the cooking and the banchan came out shortly after.  Conversation went back to Korean and I learned a few new words when a new banchan came out.  I didn’t know what it was but it looked spicy so I grabbed a small portion.  It was tasty and i took a little more.  This time it crunched hard.  Turns out it was fried soft shell crab and the older gentleman and bonded with me over this savory treat with another toast.

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The sizzling pork created a delicious aroma and soon was ready to eat.  We dipped each piece into a sauce of our choice (I prefer the red bean paste but there was a sweet soy sauce tonight too), added garlic, potatoes, rice, sprouts, crab or whatever else we wanted to our lettuce wrap and ate up!  As usual I loved every bite; it may have been the Korean touch but it seemed like this pork was tastier than the last time I ate Samgyupsal and followed it up with some bugs…

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Tonight, no bugs!  Although the crunchy crab resembled a larger cousin of bundaegi it was much tastier!  The evening got a little crazier when I looked over and half the table was gone.  I saw them huddling by the kitchen when my neighbor explained that one of the girls had a ring stuck on her finger.  I suggested using ice to try and reduce swelling but it was too late, they were already cutting it off!  The poor girl was in tears but a trooper about the whole thing while the older guys chuckled at her unfortunate situation.

I took it as an appropriate time to ask if she was right handed or left handed; upon finding out it wasn’t her dominant hand I told a few stories about some my old teammates punching walls in frustration and injuring their fencing hand.  Tonight may have embarrassed her but at least she wouldn’t leave disarmed while it healed up (oh fencing priorities).

We had a few more glasses and finished up the meal.  I think I successfully impressed my new clubmates with my fencing and 2 month old knowledge of Korean culture!  Can’t wait till the next tournament on the 24th!

Lost in Namdaemun Market

Namdaemun Market was recommended to me by a coworker last Friday.  Its a market at the South Gate of the royal palace.  Namdaemun translates roughly to “South Gate” and my Sunday plan was to wander around the market in the afternoon and grab lunch.  I googled the market and took out my map, it appeared to be near Seoul Station so that’s where I headed.IMG_20130908_151248

After a few stops and a transfer on the subway I found myself exiting Seoul Station up a long escalator that took me into a vast open pavilion with towering skyscrapers surrounding me.  There was a taxi stand and an abundance of people flooding in from all directions.  I heard hundreds of Korean phrases but that didn’t hep me figure out where to go.  I took out my map and found Namdaemun to the south and west of Seoul Station.  I oriented myself with a quick glance at the afternoon sun and off I went.

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Walking down the busy streets I saw an assortment of art and sculptures.  Their addition to the already vibrant cityscape helped brighten the scene.  I walked past a number of restaurants as signs of poverty became more frequent. The sidewalk grew dirtier when suddenly I saw a sign for a homeless shelter and foodbank.  At the next intersection I took out my map and found a sign indicating that the Sookmyung Women’s University was to the right.

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The streets climbed uphill and the shops became livelier.  The sidewalk was lined with college students and brightly colored advertising.  I had to be close.  The street I was looking for is parallel to this one, now to find it.  I turned down a sidestreet in search of Namdaemun.  As I left the university I saw more garbage on the side of the roads and small unkempt apartments.  The backdrop of luxurious skyscrapers gave an odd aura to the scene.IMG_20130908_153441

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Namdaemun had to be here somewhere.  I kept going weaving in and out of the main road; the market is supposed to be massive.  How could I have missed it?  I turned the next corner and saw the entrance to, well, something?  A huge rock and banner likely told where I was, unfortunately it was in Korean.  I kept walking up the steps and quickly realized I had stumbled upon a school.  There was a middle school baseball game being played not far ahead but no market.

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Heading back to the main street I found a map indicating that I was near Namyeong station.  I took out my map to try and get my bearings with the two when I heard in nearly perfect English, “can I help you?”  A couple noticed I was lost and offered some much needed assistance.  I told them I was looking for Namdaemun Market, apparently I was 3 subway stops away with a transfer.  I had been heading towards Namdaemun on my map but apparently that was just a street name.  The actual market is at the Hoehyeon subway stop. These two stops flanked Seoul Station.

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A quick ride corrected my error.  Inside the subway station there were even signs for the market; I followed them and as I exited the subway I could hear the bustle of the market growing louder.  Upon exiting the subway I was thrust into the middle of it all.  Hundreds if not thousands of people surrounded me as we all perused the goods.  The first shop I saw was selling fruit on a stick; I had my choice of watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple and a few I didn’t recognize.  I opted for pineapple and began chowing down as I headed deeper into the market.

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The sights and smells were overwhelming; everywhere you turn there was something new being sold.  There were all kinds of jewelry, clothing and footwear; exotic snacks and tourists struggling to understand how much their souvenir cost.  Locals came through for their groceries and household goods while others like myself were simply enjoying the atmosphere.

I turned down a corridor with permanent shops.  The path was narrow as I was forced to walk between a merchant and his wares.  He mumbled something in Korean.  I kept walking having no idea what he was telling me.  There was a tailor measuring a customer not far up while his counterpart or perhaps rival sat meticulously sewing away.  A store with glimmering kitchenware caught my eye.  I could use a new frying pan and perhaps a couple dishes.  I browsed his wares but, finding nothing that suited me, kept walking.

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The corridor ended abruptly in a T.  To the right I could hear traffic on the street although it was hidden from my view.  I went left and the path opened up again to the crowded market.  Was this the same section as before?  I couldn’t tell but was enticed into an haberdashery.  I took note of a few items but decided I didn’t want to accrue more luggage until my school situation was sorted out.

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At the next intersection the bustle came back to the market.  The smells were tantalizing here.  Fried dough, fresh fruit, seafood of all kinds and other exotic delicacies.  I passed a pile of steaming crabs, the chef had to keep dragging them back to the pan; they were obviously unhappy at their predicament.  I opted to try a snack that resembled a corn dog.  It was some kind of fried doughy coating surrounding a choice of sausage, cheese, crab, squid or mystery vegetable.  I got the sampler with a small piece of each.

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I strolled past a bar with foreigners struggling to order while Koreans chatted away.  Having finished my snacks and realizing I wasn’t buying anything I decided it was time to head home.  Finding the subway turned out easier than I expected.  In my latest wanderings I found myself next to the fruit stand from earlier. Getting home was much easier than getting here but then again now that I know where to go next time won’t be so bad.