korean market meals

One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to wander around the local markets and sample as much food as I can. Korea in particular was an amazing market meal experience for me, partly because I know and love the food. Much of the stuff in these markets I can find in America, but I found that everything was so much tastier here.

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In Seoul there’s the Namdaemun market. I spent the better part of a day eating my way through this market. The first thing I had there was the ddeokbokki, which is rice cakes stir fried in spicy sauce. The ddeokbokki was okay, but the best part of this meal was the bit of fish cake soup that came with it. All together it was super filling for less than $3. In hindsight though, I wish I had eaten less of it so that I would have room for other stuff later.

kimchee dumpling. awesome.

These kimchi dumplings were ten for 5000 won. I didn’t have room in my belly for ten of them, so I asked for one, and they charged me 1000 won. In hindsight I should’ve just bought the ten, and saved them for later because they were incredibly good. It was a revelation to me, how good these could be when fresh, because I’ve only had the frozen ones before.

grandma's pig feet, with legit grandma.

Grandma’s pig feet stall, complete with a legit grandma. I’m a big fan of pig’s feet, and it’s been a while since I’ve had one, so this was really satisfying to me. Apparently it’s pretty popular in Seoul, since I saw a lot of pig’s feet restaurants and stalls in Seoul.

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In the heart of the Namdaemun market there’s a tiny hole in the wall restaurant that specializes in kal-gook-su. Literally translated it means knife noodles. I eat these noodles from time to time in America, but I’m pretty sure the noodles are store bought and made by machine. This place still makes them and cuts them with a knife by hand. It was super tasty, for the equivalent of about $4 you get all this food, a huge bowl of kal-gook-su, a bowl of spicy naengmyun (cold noodles) and a bowl of barley rice.

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In Busan I went to the famous Jagalchi market with my nephew to grab lunch. There are some foods there that I didn’t see in the Seoul markets. They had spicy pig skin, sunji soup (sunji is coagulated cow’s blood), and gamja-tang (literally translated this is potato soup, traditionally it’s made with pig spine). My nephew and I split a bowl of sunji soup. Typically I’m not a fan of food made with blood, but this was quite tasty. The lady was super nice too, she refilled our bowl for us, even though we were splitting a 3500 won bowl (equivalent of about $3). In hindsight I wish I had some of the gamja-tang too, since I like that stuff. I figure if something I don’t typically like tastes good here, stuff that I normally like should taste incredibly awesome. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough stomach space.

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Jagalchi market is famous for seafood. There are literally seafood stalls as far as the eye can sea. It’s all super fresh, and much of it is still alive. Many of the stalls had little restaurants in the back, so you can pick out the seafood and they’ll make you a meal right on the spot. You could get the famous live octopus here. I was planning to eat it here, but I chickened out at the last minute when I saw how lively they were.

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My nephew and spent some time just wandering through the Jagalchi market looking at the various fish for sale. We were pretty full, so we weren’t planning to eat anything. All of a sudden I heard this lady yelling (in Korean), “If it’s not good I won’t take the money.” So I stopped to take a look at the fish her husband was grilling. It certainly smelled good.

Before I knew it, this lady started dragging me and my nephew into the little restaurant behind the stall. So I’m thinking okay, I’ll order just one piece of fish, just to try it. But they said the minimum I could order was a meal for two people. So at this point I’m thinking, “Dammit I’m about to get ripped off, this is gonna be really expensive and probably isn’t gonna be very good.”

So we proceed to order the minimum for two people, which ended up being 20,000 won (about $18). At this point, I’m thinking “Shit, I just got ripped off really badly.” But then as my nephew and I start eating, we find that the fish is super tasty, and the meal came with a lot of side dishes and a bowl of miyuk gook (seaweed soup) that’s also quite good. And by the time we’re done eating, the little restaurant was completely full. Whether it’s from people that the lady dragged in, I’m not sure, but everyone in the place seemed very happy to be there. And in the end I was pretty happy too. I left with a smile on my face, so when I asked the lady if I could take a picture of her, she was all smiles too.

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I enjoyed everything I ate at the Jagalchi market so much that I ended up returning to the market. My main mission at the market the second time around was to eat some raw fish. There’s a section of the market where there’s a ton of hwae-jib (raw fish houses) lined up one after another. How do you pick which one to go to in this situation? I ended up going into one that seemed to have a good number of customers and ordered hwae-dub-bap, which is basically the Korean version of chirashi, raw fish over rice. The fish is incredibly fresh, they chop it up right there in front of the stall, and it comes with a few other seafood side dishes.

Almost all of the meals that I ate alone in Korea was at the markets. There was so much tasty stuff, sadly I just didn’t have the stomach capacity to eat everything I wanted to try. And one thing I liked was that each market seemed to have its own regional specialties. If I ever get a chance to spend a good block of time in Korea, I’d like to just travel around the country and eat at a market in each town along the way.

blood in busan

My final stop on my crazy month of travel was to my hometown of Busan. For many reasons it was the place where I was most looking forward to visiting.

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First and foremost, I have the most family in Busan, and I was looking forward to seeing all of them. We had dinner together, and its the first time I can remember three generations of my family all eating dinner together. I was looking forward to seeing my nephew too, I’m pretty close with him since he went to school in San Francisco and lived with my parents for about half a year. He was shorter than me when he left, but now he’s way taller than me.

sunji gook bab

My nephew only had one day to hang out with me, since he was going to a boarding school for a month. We hung out like old times, wandering around and eating food. He introduced me to sunji soup, which is a soup made of coagulated cow’s blood. I’m not usually a fan of food made with blood, but this was actually really tasty. And it was ridiculously cheap too! My nephew and I split a bowl for the equivalent of about $3.

Cousin and his family.

After my nephew went off to boarding school I spent most of the rest of my time in Busan with his family. Even though I rarely see them, I felt like we were close. I guess being blood relatives makes it that way. Family is family, even after long periods of not seeing them or even meeting them for the first time, as in the case of my nieces in Busan.

Busan seaside temple.

Many of the tourist sites in Busan are near the ocean, including this Buddhist temple built on the ocean side cliffs.

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There are several beaches, including Haeundae beach. In the summer time it would be crowded here. Since it’s the middle of winter I wasn’t expecting too many people, but there were a surprisingly large number of people wandering around the beach still.

This is the maritime college that my dad graduated from

The maritime academy that my dad graduated from is in Busan.

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At one of the restaurants we went to there was a cage in the parking lot that held these two dogs. I felt a pang of sadness on account of them, partly because they were caged, but mostly because they remind me of Dannie and Annie, the two dogs I had growing up.

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My time in Busan and Korea as a whole was sort of a journey of discovery for me. Part of me wonders what life would be like if my family never left Korea. It got me thinking about what part of us is caused by blood or genetics, and what part of us is because of environment? I wonder if I had lived in Korea, would I be the same guy that loves the outdoors and loves biking? Would I be the same guy in a different city, biking along the beach in Busan instead of biking along the river in Sacramento? Or would I be someone else completely different?

korea family TAG

Aside from my short solo stint in Seoul, my time in Korea was devoted to family. I have a cousin in Taegu (also spelled Daegu) and a cousin in Andong and together with my cousin’s son (my nephew?) we went to Gangwon to ski, hence the TAG in the title of this post.

skiing with the cousin and nephew at high1 in Kangwon

My cousin in Taegu picked me up from my hotel in Seoul. It was nice of her, I could have just as easily taken the train from Seoul to Taegu, but she insisted on picking me up. After a night in Taegu we went to Andong, where her parents and brother live. From there we picked up her brother and went to the High1 ski resort in Gangwon where we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Her son is kind of a spoiled brat in my opinion, but he’s cute and lovable in his own way. He actually kind of reminds me and my bro when we were young. We were pretty much spoiled brats too, but I’d argue that we both turned out okay.

an exhibit at one of the caves near Jeongseon

On our way back from Gangwon we stopped at a few of the tourist sites in the province. One of them was an old gold mine that was turned into some sort of tourist trap.

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We stopped for lunch at one of the markets in Jungseon, a small town in Gangwon province. It’s interesting how the different markets in Korea have different food specialties. Here the specialty is rice cooked with a mountain vegetable called gonduhrae. We looked it up, apparently there’s no English translation for it, and apparently it’s related to thistle.

Steamed chicken dish from my dad's hometown.

The market in Andong is famous for Andong steamed chicken. There are tons of stalls in the market that specialize in this dish.

uncle pouring liquor out for grandfather and grandmother

The graves for many of my ancestors are in Andong, so my uncle took me to the hillside where they are buried so that I could pay my respects.

paying respect to great grandfather

They told me to bring alcohol and newspaper. The alcohol I understood, since we pour alcohol on the graves (it’s not unlike pouring one for our homies here). The newspaper I didn’t understand until I got to the graves and found them surrounded by snow. It was for me to spread on the ground while I bowed with my knees on the newspaper to prevent my pants from getting wet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy uncle took me to another hillside so I can get a view of the town. We brought along Turbo, my cousin’s dog.

One major regret is not taking a family photo in Andong. It’s been almost twenty years since I had last seen them. But even though it’s been twenty years, they haven’t changed much from how I remember them. To them apparently I’ve changed a lot though, from looking more like my little nephew to looking more like my dad looked before he left Andong. Hopefully it won’t be another twenty years before I see them again, I’ve resolved to try and go to Korea more often to see my family there, and for sure next time I’ll take a family photo.

seoul

Cambodia was the last stop for the rest of my travel companions, they flew back to California while I continued on to Korea to visit family. The first part of my time in Korea would be in Seoul though, where I didn’t have any family. I still wanted to explore Seoul, so I ended up getting a hotel room for a couple of nights in the Gangnam district (hotel Gangnam Style!!!) using my Marriott reward certificate and some points.

it was cold and snowy most of my time in seoul

When I arrived at my hotel I was not feeling very good. My stomach was still hurting from something I had eaten in Cambodia, and I had just come off of an overnight flight. And to make things worse, it was seriously cold in Seoul, it had snowed recently and the temperature stayed below freezing for the entire time I was there, so the sidewalks were constantly covered in snow and ice. I ended up sleeping most of my first day in Seoul, and was on the toilet for most of the rest of that day. It was a pretty miserable way to start my time in Korea, but thankfully my hotel room was very comfortable.

frozen pond. these ducks look like they're pretty cold.

After spending a day recovering, I went to see some of the sights in Seoul. It was almost unbearably cold for me, but I think these ducks had it even harder. They looked miserable on their frozen pond.

inside the seoul national museum

For a little while I was able to escape the cold inside the Seoul National Museum.

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My stomach was starting to feel better, so I started to eat again. I was curious about McDonald’s bulgogi burger, so I stopped by and tried one.

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McDonald’s bulgogi burger was kinda nasty in my opinion. The combination of mayonnaise and bulgogi sauce doesn’t work for me. On a friend’s advice I tried Lotteria’s rice bulgogi burger. That actually tasted pretty good. Instead of buns it had two patties made of rice smashed into a bun shape. I’ve eaten a lot of burgers that have fallen apart as I ate them, but this one literally disintegrated because the rice “bun” didn’t really hold together.

namdaemun gate

One of my favorite stops was to Namdaemun, not so much for the gate that’s there, but for the market that’s nearby. I spent a couple of hours eating my way through the market. I’ll probably devote an entire blog post just to market food in Korea.

another view from bukchon

Bukchon Hanok Village was one of my favorite spots. It’s a neighborhood of old style Korean homes, but there’s a nice view of downtown Seoul from the neighborhood, so you can take a picture here that shows both old and modern Korea. If I had more time in Seoul I’d probably spend a night here, since there are many hanok houses that serve as guest houses which have Korean cultural programs.

Seoul is incredibly huge, so it took me a long time to get to the few places I wanted to visit. That plus the fact that I wasted a day recovering meant that I didn’t get to see as much of the city as I wanted to. I definitely need to return and really explore and eat my way through the different parts of town.

angkor within the frame

When taking pictures at a place like Angkor Wat it’s very easy for all your pictures to start looking pretty similar. So to try and make things a little different from usual I took a lot of pictures that were framed by doorways or columns. Here are some of them.

towers in columns

Two towers of Angkor Wat framed by columns.

the view from the top

The view from the top of Angkor Wat.

steep steps up (i think it was bakong)

Steep steps to the top of the temple.

buddha

Many of the temples had a Buddha shrine in the center.

face in a frame

One of the many faces of Ta Prohm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are many parts of the temple where the roots of a tree grow over the stone wall. Ta Prohm is especially famous for this.

tree framed by doorway.

Sometimes an entire tree will grow into the stone roof.

monkey guardian in a an intricately carved door frame

One of many monkey guard statues at Banteay Srei. The door frames are very intricately carved at Banteay Srei, they’re actually more detailed than the statues.

frame within a frameFrames within frames.

fallen blocks

Many sections of the temples within the Angkor Wat complex had caved in. What’s amazing is that they’re still open to the public. In America something like this would probably be closed to the public.

When I opened up my pictures from Cambodia in Lightroom, I found that I had almost 500 images. Many of them look pretty similar to each other. Framing my shots with a frame in the image helped to alleviate the monotony a bit. I found that shooting like that made it hard to get an acceptable exposure, because typically one side of the frame would be indoors and the other would be outdoors. It shows in these pictures that my camera’s dynamic range was stretched. My little Olympus OM-D camera gives up almost two stops of dynamic range to my previous Pentax K-5 camera. In most instances I don’t miss those two stops (and don’t miss lugging around an SLR), but in situations like this I sometimes miss having a camera with a larger sensor.

My dream camera at this point would be the recently announced Sony A7 II (I know my dream camera seems to change on a daily basis…) That Sony mirrorless camera seems to be the best of both worlds, a large sensor with great image quality, but still fairly compact, the only downside is the price. The lens and camera combination I’d want would be almost $2500. That’s more than I spent on my entire month of traveling, so yeah, I’ll probably stick with my OM-D for now.