The Day Korea Broke Me

It’s pretty obvious that we love food.  We’ve been in Tokyo almost 4 months now, and I’m still not sick of Japanese food.  In fact, I crave it.  I will try (almost) anything once, and even if I don’t care for a particular dish or cuisine, I can usually still appreciate its existence.  And so, while on a recent trip to Korea I was excited to see what it had to offer my gullet.  When I asked a friend who recently visited Korea what she thought of the food, she replied, “A whole lot of spicy and raw.”  No problem, I thought.  I like both those things, so I was excited for a Korea Food Adventure.

Our first night in Jeju, we went after an island specialty — grilled black boar.  We were told that the pork came from the restaurant’s neighbor, which I believed, since we ate in a big tent over grills made from barrels.  Never mind that the old guy running the place was flirting with me, he’d never make a story like that up, right?

You see all the fat?  That’s right, we ate it.  They poured beer into that little cup and we used it as a dipping sauce.  And my friend was right, there was also a lot of spicy and raw, in the form of banchan (side dishes, including kimchi).

Our second night we tried another island specialty, hairtail fish stew (after a false start, which included a search for pheasant, a deserted hunting club, and a very scenic cab ride).  The giant clay pot of fish and potatoes was delicious (I think Dan licked that pot clean), though the rest of the spread looked suspiciously similar… spicy and raw.

Night #3 sent us to another outdoor restaurant (that’s island life, I guess) with more grilled meats and more, that’s right, spicy and raw.

Dan is only slightly bothered by the fact that I keep cutting off his head in these photos, in favor of the food:

Then it was off to Seoul, and on our first night I made the ultimate mistake — I picked a restaurant out of my guidebook and we took a taxi across town looking for it, only to discover it was no longer there.  Thankfully a very friendly salaryman took pity on us and led us to one of his favorite places instead.  I was looking forward to trying something different — not all Korean food is cooked at the table, right?  True, boribap was prepared in a location different from my table and was very tasty, though it was still very meaty, and very spi… well, you know.

On my last day in Seoul the weather was looking a little iffy (thanks, Typhoon Kompasu) and I’d had three straight days of museums and markets, so I decided to take a break from all that darn culture and went to N Seoul Tower, a bonafide tourist attraction that promises great views of the city. Well, it wasn’t exactly a clear day:

And that’s when I broke down and ordered the 4 course set lunch at an Italian restaurant in the tower.

It was either that or more spicy and raw, and I just couldn’t do it again.  So I did what I try never to do when on vacation — eat at tourist spots, eat cuisine that isn’t local, and eat gigantic expensive set meals by myself.

Damn you, spicy and raw.

So OK, we did have one awesome night of non-spicy and non-raw foods, a meal eaten entirely at street carts.  I feel like I wouldn’t do Seoul food (heh) justice if I didn’t show you these:

Clockwise, that’s a pronto pup with french fries fried directly into the batter, a doughnut cart, my doughnut of choice filled with black sesame and brown sugar, bindaetteok (mung bean pancake), and the night market where said pancake was consumed.

3 thoughts on “The Day Korea Broke Me

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