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.

mercado de san miguel

The Mercado de San Miguel is a food market located close to the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. When I travel I like to visit these sorts of markets. I’ve been to some of the famous ones, like the St Lawrence Market in Toronto and of course Pike’s Place in Seattle. Up until now my favorite has been the Nachsmarkt in Vienna, but it’s now been dethroned by the Mercado de San Miguel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mercado is built with glass walls all around, so you can see a lot of the awesome food from the street outside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe market is quite crowded in the evenings, but it’s much quieter in the morning.

fish-tapasThere were many different vendors, and it seemed like each had its own specialty. This one, for example, specialized in seafood tapas. The ones on the left are topped with octopus and salmon, in the middle there’s various anchovy tapas, monkfish liver, and tuna tapas. I tried one with salmon and one with crab salad topped with caviar. In hindsight I should’ve just tried all of them, but I especially regret not trying the monkfish liver. I’ve heard it described as “foie gras of the sea” and seeing as how I like foie gras (and don’t get to eat it often since it’s banned in California) I definitely regret not trying that one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is of course a vendor dedicated to Iberico ham. This guy slices it up for you and you can eat it right on the spot.

drinks-olivesThere were also vendors dedicated to various beverages, like this one that had casks of different types of sherry, including a cask of amontillado (haha I wonder how many people would get that Edgar Allen Poe refernce…) I tried one glass of sherry (I forget which), one rebujito, which is a light sherry mixed with soda, and a glass of sangria. Each glass came with olives, which were the best tasting olives I’d ever had. I’d order drinks just to get the olives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpeaking of olives, they even had a vendor that pretty much just sold olives. In hindsight I should have tried some of these, even though they seemed pretty expensive. On the other hand, paying for olives doesn’t seem like a hot deal when I can buy a drink and get olives for free…

IMGP5225There was paella, of course, but I decided not to try any, since our next stop would be Barcelona. I figured paella would be better there since it’s on the coast. And also I figured freshly made paella would be better.

octopus-urchinThese were probably my favorite. On the left is an octopus salad. It seemed pretty simple to make, I might have to try making it, if I can find somewhere to buy fresh octopus. It’s just boiled octopus with a bit of bell peppers and red onion, with a sprinkling of sea salt and a drizzling of olive oil. I think the difficulty for me would be in finding good fresh octopus and cooking it so that it’s tender. My other favorite was stuffed urchin. This I have no clue how to go about making. Next to the urchin is a tortilla espanola, which is basically a potato and egg frittata.

We ended up eating at the Mercado de San Miguel a few times in the couple of days we had in Madrid. It was definitely one of the biggest highlights of the trip for me.

the maine lobster roll

After a whirlwind tour of Montreal, we headed back across the border to the US, crossing back into our homeland somewhere in Vermont. Vermont for the most part was forgettable to me, we had one meal in the state capital, Montpelier, which was a surprisingly tiny town where we ate a surprisingly terrible meal considering how much we paid. From there we headed east to the coast of Maine.

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Our first stop was in Kennebunkport, Maine to a place that, despite being called the Clam Shack, was famous for its lobster roll. A lobster roll is pretty simple– a pound of lobster sandwiched between two toasted buns, slathered with some mayo and butter. At about $15, it was one of the most expensive sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, but worth every penny.

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Right next door to the Clam Shack was a bar/restaurant that served steamed lobster. The place was packed, both with tourists and locals, probably because they served a steamed lobster combo for $15.

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We stopped at another somewhat famous clam place–it had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives. This one was famous for its lobster stew.

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My favorite place ended up being a tiny roadside lobster shack. It was the complete opposite of all the places we had been to so far in that it was completely empty.

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Here they had live lobsters in various sizes. We picked four of the #2 size, which came to around $30 in total.

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They had a big steam pot outside which they tossed the live lobsters into. About ten minutes later they pulled them out and tossed them into a shopping bag. They gave us a couple of paper plates, then we chowed down on the lobsters on the picnic table outside.

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Our last stop in Maine was at the Chauncey Creek lobster pier. This was a more touristy sort of place, so the lobster was quite a bit more expensive here.

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Instead of lobster I ordered some steamed clams and raw oysters. They were super fresh too, simply prepared, but super tasty.IMG_20131010_164905I’m a huge fan of shellfish in general, but lobster actually has probably always been my least favorite. I’ve always enjoyed crab more. From eating lobster in Maine, I came to the realization that I wasn’t a huge fan of lobster mostly because I’ve never had access to any good fresh lobster. I’ve always had access to super fresh crab– one of my family’s traditions is to buy live fresh caught dungeness crab off the boats in Half Moon Bay. I’ve never had access to that same sort of fresh lobster– most of the lobster I’ve had up until now had been crappy frozen lobster at places like Red Lobster or random seafood buffets.

So yeah, eating fresh lobster in Maine was a revelation to me. Like many revelations, this one will probably end with semi annual pilgrimages to a holy land– in this case I’ll be rolling back to the holy land of lobster that is Maine.

steam whistle brewery

Across the street from the CN Tower is an old train roundhouse that has been converted into the headquarters of Steam Whistle Brewery. The brewery brews one kind of beer, a pilsner, and offers a brewery tour. This tour ended up being one of the unexpected highlights of Toronto for me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe brewery is near the Toronto waterfront, directly across the street from the CN Tower.

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The tour takes us through the brewery. We visited towards the end of the day, so workers were busy filling up pallets of beer.

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Beer apparently is pretty simple. Steam Whistle only uses four ingredients. Hops, malt and spring water, to which yeast is added to start the fermentation process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA technician monitors the fermentation process. The monitoring happens 24×7 because apparently beer never sleeps.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople in lab coats monitor every step of the process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis crazy machine is the heart of the operation. It cleans, fills and caps the bottles of beer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the end of the line the bottles are packed and loaded onto pallets by hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the working day is done, boys just wanna have fun… Apparently workers at the brewery get free beer, and often enjoy a few bottles at the end of their shift. It’s a pretty cool place to work, just across the street of the CN Tower, which you can sorta see the base of in this picture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe finished product, a bottle of pilsner from ‘The Good Beer Folks!’ The tour was $10 and included a bottle of beer which was bottled just hours ago, a souvenir glass, and a couple of tastings of beer. Not a bad deal in my opinion.

st lawrence market

When traveling I like to visit the local food market. So when I discovered that Toronto had a pretty famous one, the St Lawrence Market, rated as one of the best in the world by National Geographic, I had to check it out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe market is housed in what appears to be a converted brick warehouse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst order of business: find some coffee. Then roam around the market looking for food.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were several coffee dealers. I was tempted to buy some of ‘Mike’s Blend #3’ since it had my name on it. But I don’t own a coffee grinder. I should probably buy a grinder and a french press.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe market is a large indoor market with many different seafood and meat vendors, kind of like Pike’s Place market in Seattle, but smaller and not as crowded.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey had fresh oysters and clams.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey shuck the oysters and serve them right there for you if you so desire. In hindsight I should have ordered more than three. They were quite tasty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe smoked salmon from Mike’s Fish Market was calling out to me. How could I resist fish from a market with my name on it?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter wandering around the market for a bit, I settled on what to buy for lunch. A bit of smoked salmon, some herbed goat cheese, a few sun-dried tomatoes, and a small french baguette. It was quite a tasty meal, though not as tasty as the magical market meal I had in the Nachsmarkt in Vienna. Overall I was a bit disappointed with the St Lawrence Market. Because it was rated so highly by National Geographic, I was expecting it to be truly amazing, but I found it to be more or less on par with the other markets I’ve been to.