SOUTH KOREA: A LITTLE BIT OF SEOUL
As you may have noticed, there have been precious few blog posts from the West coast recently. There are lots of good reasons I could offer up, but the main one is, if I am truthful, a continuing state of wretched indolence.
Hopefully, this lethargy will pass and I shall soon be regaling you again with oh so amusing stories of my eating adventures around the globe. I have my doubts, though. I am swamped with real ‘writing for money” work right now, which must come first and am additionally hampered by the fact eating in L.A. continues to leave me less than whelmed in a way that London, however infuriating, never did.
However, I have found solace in the fact that, if the mid level and fine dining scene here in The City of Angels fails to inspire, the plethora of ethnic restaurants do their level best to make up for it. I am never happier than when Sybil suggests we head out to one of the joints she and her friends frequent and find myself fighting over a plate of noodles, slurping up a bowl of ramen or seeing if I can eat a tamale in one bite.
As I have mentioned before, more than once, nowhere have I been as content as when we have found ourselves at one of L.A’s exceptional Korea restaurants, arguing over the last crisp piece of BBQ belly pork or playing “duelling chopsticks” over the Panchan. Both the quality and variety of Korean food in L.A. is astounding and our regular outings confirmed my view that I had made a major mistake leaving Korea out of my itinerary when I travelled around the globe.
Sybil agreed and, when it came time for us to organise our vacation time for the end of 2010, it did not take long before we both plumped to spend a little time in the Southern end of the Korean peninsular. Further discussion brought up the possibility of adding a return visit (for me at least) to Malaysia and Singapore and, before you could say “bibimbap” we were on our way.
First stop, naturally, Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Our thirteen hour flight had us arriving early and, after depositing our bags at our traditional Hanok, we headed out to explore and find something fantastic to eat. We found it in the form of some nourishing North Korean style Mandoo (dumplings) served in broth and Panjeon in the nearby neighbourhood of Insa-dong. It was just what we needed and enough to send us back to our guesthouse to sleep the sleep of the self-righteous and prepare for a hideously early start the next day.
When Syb had turned her considerable skills at organising towards our holiday, the first thing on her list were the letters “D.M.Z” and she had scoured the internet to find the perfect tour to take us to the border between North & South Korea. It’s quite an experience and begins with a two-hour journey to the buffer zone between the two countries before being taken to the Joint Security Area to actually cross momentarily into North Korean territory, while being watched every step of the way by rifle toting members of the North Korean Army.
We only had a short time to spend in Seoul. However, thanks to its efficient subway system, we made a very good stab at visiting as many districts as possible to sample the food. Itewon, the “Foreigner’s District” left us both a bit cold, but the chaotic university area of Hongdae, with nightlife going on until the early hours, and the business district of Gangnam made up for it with great BBQ restaurants and even better street food.
God, how the Koreans love their street food and just about every corner of the city seems to be taken up by stalls selling boiled, fried or stir fried snacks. There are skewers of pork doused in soy and grilled over charcoal, eomuk skewers, made from fish paste and served with a light fish broth. Tteokbokki, which are stir-fried rice cakes tossed in a bright red, fiery sauce and best of all, for both of us, small pancakes stuffed with noodles that we found on sale near Gyeongdong Market (any help with the name, anyone?)
After only three days in the capital, we were due to move on to Busan. We had barely had time to scratch the surface of this amazing city, but I am certain I shall be back.
P.S. Just in case anyone is wondering, I resisted the temptation to buy a suit at Wank Custom Tailoring