Thursday, March 6, 2008

Part One: The Taste of Seoul

What a great trip we had! Thank you to Ellen and Nancy Lee and everyone else who gave us some really great recommendations - we covered a ton of ground for only having been there 6 days. Most prominent in my recent memories of the trip was the COLD. Turns out I am a beach girl, who knew? It ranged from 30-45 degrees the whole time we were there, and actually snowed on the last day. The core group of travelers consisted of John, Clay (a fellow JAG lawyer) and me, but we were joined by many other friends of friends throughout the trip which made it a really good time.

We really ate our way through Seoul, never passing up an opportunity to taste the nuances of the culture. That, and because it was darn delicious.

First morning we woke up in Incheon, just outside of Seoul. Upon a breakfast inquiry, our concierge pointed us toward a Dunkin' Doughnuts. "Ha! Sir, you have us mistaken for unadventurous Western tourists! Show us the Kimchee, and NOW!" Well, we dove right in and had one of the best meals of the trip. "Kimchee" is a Korean standard, served at every meal. It is cabbage soaked in vinegar and spices. It is an acquired taste (one I've not yet fully acquired). One of our tour guides later in the trip said her mother told us if she ate her kimchee everyday, she would become Miss Korea. Apparently even the natives have to be talked into this unique flavor at some point.

One of my favorite Korean dishes is the "Bibimbap" which is a mix of raw egg (sometimes chicken egg, sometimes fish eggs), rice veggies. It is served in a sizzling heavy stone bowl, kind of like the fajita platter, except this bowl stays sizzling literally the entire meal. You stir up the ingredients and it cooks right in front of you. I made a fool out of myself eating it with chopsticks (it is supposed to be consumed with a spoon, but I felt like a four year-old eating rice with a spoon). At any rate, I tried about 3 variations of this dish and it was outstanding every time.

Clay betraying his Western roots by eating bibimbap with chopsticks. Still tastes just as delicious.

The boys, of course, loved the Korean Barbeque, which I'm sure many of you have had in the US. The amount of food they give you is really amazing and so cheap! Many of the authentic Korean meals we had varied from $11-20 per person and that included giant CASS Beers!

Sidewalk "street meats" are another authentic part of Korean culinary fare. I generally try to steer clear of food prepared on the street, but Koreans take this cuisine to a whole other level. In the fuh-reeeez-zing cold, people are huddled around steaming carts of meats, squids, fish, corn, chestnuts, SILKWORMS, nuts, fruit and moshi candy. My favorite curbside treat were these piping hot sweet doughy biscuits filled with red beanpaste, at $2 for about 8. Those biscuits were so tasty that I ate them all before I remembered to take a picture. I did, however, document many other streetfoods below....

Seoul is a really international city, as you would expect in a city with 23, 800,000 inhabitants (yes, that's almost 3 times the pop. of Los Angeles.) We stayed in Itaewon, which is the "foreign" part of town. Rather than it being an American enclave, as we had been warned, we found it to be pretty diverse. We played darts and drank Guiness at an Irish pub. We played the quiz game with Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians at a Canadian Bar (and were spanked on our knowledge of current events, greek mythology and movies embarrassing). Unlike Okinawa, the foreign food was pretty authentic. The best restaurants would be found by ducking down dark and narrow alleyways, again, not something I would recommend doing in the US. The alley way behind our hotel had some fantastic finds. We indulged in some French, Moroccan and Indian food, all of which were outstanding.

Clay, John, Jen, Charlie and other John enjoying Moroccan food. Charlie and John both live in Korea.

Indian cuisine...lots of garlic naan and spicy sauces...yum!

More tomorrow!


Tracey said...

Wow, that looks so fun! Did you try Korean-style fried chicken? That is my fave.

JP said...

no we didn't....our tour guide recommended it but we never did happen upon a chix place...maybe next time!