Continued from Part 1…
When we woke up after our rather exhausting two day journey from Russia, we were hungry. Really hungry. We’d been craving and thinking about Korean food for weeks, and now finally we were here, ready to stuff ourselves like crazy. We went days without eating in Mongolia and both of us had lost 10+ pounds, so least to say, we were ready to just gorge ourselves in this country.
We asked the owner of our hostel a good place to eat in the area as we had a train to catch down to Busan in the early afternoon. He recommended a place that did sets and after a little wandering around we found the place he was talking about (it’s a little hard when you don’t read Hangul. Ironically, Hangul is one of the easiest alphabets to learn.) Sora got herself some long overdue mackerel and I attempted in a mixture of really bad Korean and charades to ask for no pork to be in my kimchi jjigae (aka kimchi stew). I managed to succeed and burn my tastebuds off.
What I really love about food in South Korea are all the sides. Rice, soup, noodle soup, egg, and allll the pickled veggies and kimchi you could ever want. At every meal there will be something similar and at every meal there was some sort of variation of kimchi. It wasn’t until we’d hit a supermarket a few days later that I understood just how many types of kimchi exist. You can literally make any vegetable into some type of kimchi. I wanted to try them all. I probably came quite close.
With full bellies, we wandered back to the hostel and grabbed our bags. We were off to Busan for a week before heading back up to Seoul, so with a brief goodbye and a promise to return, we got on the KTX bound for Busan. I sometimes forget how large a country the United States is. We got across the entirety of South Korea by high speed train in less time than it takes me to get the train from DC to NYC. It was a fast, smooth ride and we arrived to South Korea’s second largest city ready to do absolutely nothing. And Busan is the perfect place to do that. It’s a beach city and Sora many times said it reminded her of San Diego, where she’s from. It’s laid back, a place to put your feet up, have a drink, and watch the waves. Sora had family friends that we could stay with who lived right on the water. It was quite the change from hostels, camping, and curling up in a car for weeks at a time. From the Mongolian steppe to the high life!
They were lovely hosts and on our first night took us to a place with a buffet that had SALAD! Fresh vegetables! Least to say, we both had our fill and slept in amazing beds. It was more than needed. We ended up going to a beach side bar that had a wheel you could spin to win free drinks or, if you’re unlucky, have to tip the bartender ₩40,000 (roughly $35). And you have to do what the wheel tells you if you spin it. I went first and won a free draft (woohoo!) and then it was Sora’s turn. She got Spin again, double up! TWICE, much to the shock and worry of the bartenders, and then free Jager shots. Eeew. Well, we couldn’t really complain as hey, free shots, but uuugh Jager. As Sora’s friends are stationed over there, they’re a big part of the ex-pat crowd and so most of the places they brought us had a fairly international feel from the patrons to English being prevalent to there actually being an American bartender (work in South Korea is easy to get for English speakers if you want to teach, but this was the first time I heard of a guy just getting a regular job over here). While it was nice to see English and things I recognized, I wanted to get my teeth into the Korean experience. Prayers were answered the next night when we went and got ourselves some Korean BBQ.
It’s simply one of the best meal experiences you can have in Korea. It’s interactive and there is a plethora of food to be had. I bathed in kimchi jjigae again and the variety of sides from kimchi to soup to noodles with gochujang and rice (known as bap) galore. There are no closed walls because of the rich smoke that permeates the place, letting the fumes and salivating smells roll out into the street to entice more customers in. Everyone around is there with family or friends, grilling meat, vegetables, and pungent whole cloves of garlic.
Soju flows like a fountain here and we treat ourselves to a pomegranate flavored one. You can never tell, because it goes down smooth and is delicious, but soju will knock you on your ass, with the the most common bottles having an alcohol content of around 20%, but they can be anywhere from 16% to 45% (fun fact: did you know soju is the most consumed alcohol in the world? The Koreans are fish for this stuff). Bottles also generally only cost the equivalent of $1.50. It’s dangerous. It’s delicious. It also turns out I’m unable to drink it (woe is me and my alcohol intolerance to various liquors. Sadly soju made that list :(!!). Sora took many for the pair of us though. You go Sora.
South Korea simply has an amazing food culture. They enjoy making food and they really enjoy eating it. I felt this more keenly in Busan than I did in Seoul. Here in Busan it’s a part of the chilled out lifestyle. You work, you walk along the beach, you go to BBQ eith your friends and get drunk in soju, maybe hit up some noraebang (Korean karaoke) and do it all again next week. Apparently Wednesday was the big night to go out in Busan, for whatever reason. I like this idea. Why wait until Friday? I think breaking up the week with a hump day splash of socialization is just what the rest of the world needs. Take note!
So, Sora’s friends were going on holiday themselves and a few days later, Sora and I found ourselves house sitting. Suddenly we had a whole apartment and a city to explore. But first things first. Grocery shopping. Friends… we tried to be good. We really did. We got lots of fresh veggies and fruit and tofu and juice and everything nice. We marveled at the massive selection of kimchi and pickles and played match-the-symbols trying to find soy milk. But then we made the mistake of going to the snack aisles. It was like out a sitcom. I pushed the trolley down the aisle and things just fell into it. I don’t know how! Chips and crackers and candy. We hadn’t been in such a large super market with so many options in months. We were kids in a literal candy store and ended up having to buy multiple bags to actually get everything back to the apartment. Remember when you learn that you should never go grocery shopping hungry? NEVER go grocery shopping after The Mongol Rally without supervision.
Why are all of South Korea’s crisps covered in sugar by the way?
Part 3 coming next! Sora and I get naked with a bunch of old ladies!