My Own Travels
July 19, 2013
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Having taught English to countless Korean schoolchildren online, I have always been curious about South Korea. Needless to say, the curiosity was fueled by conversations I have had with my former students. So when the opportunity arises, a trip to what is touted as South Korea’s summer capital cannot be passed up. It is a mere two-and-a-half train ride from the capital, Seoul but the two largest cities of South Korea are completely different places.

Being a foodie, the foremost reason why I enjoyed Busan is the food. The prevalence of seafood made it sheer heaven for me and their cuisine is different from what is found elsewhere in the country, especially the cuisine from Seoul. Breakfast is what I particularly enjoyed in Busan, in a quaint open-aired restaurant in a fishing village. Customers can pick out the seafood that they want and owners carve them up and serve it in an area normally located behind the shop. They get the freshest seafood from local “haenyeo,” Busan’s famous “mermaids” who support their families by diving for seafood without using any diving equipment. Extremely amazing sashimi that is freshly served just minutes after it is taken from the waters or cooked and served with Busan Soju is an experience worth the trip.

Catches of the “haenyeo” are served fresh to customers on simple platters

Catches of the “haenyeo” are served fresh to customers on simple platters

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Pork stew, Busan style is also a discovery which I extremely enjoyed. It is served with humble vegetables and rice but is extremely delicious. Called dwaeji gukbap, the humble dish smells slightly from the fermented shrimp which masks the deeply satisfying flavors of this unique stew dish. I was told that this is a dish that is emblematic of Busan and is a favorite among locals to cure their hangover. Pig feet cooked in soy sauce, ginger and garlic which is called naengchae jokbal and served on a large platter with a side order of cold jellyfish in mustard is also one dish that is a great find in the food alley. A taste of Busan street food is not complete without enjoying their fried cake called ssiat hoddeok, a sunflower seed variation of the tasty hoddeok, where a burst of tasty, crunchy seeds and sugary goodness ooze out of the hotcake when you bite into it.

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Dwaeji gukbap or pork stew at left and naengchae jokbal or pig feet at right

Dwaeji gukbap or pork stew at top photo and naengchae jokbal or pig feet at the bott

Hot and tasty ssiat hoddeok is a fried pancake with a sweet sunflower seed filling

Hot and tasty ssiat hoddeok is a fried pancake with a sweet sunflower seed filling

 A savory, pan-fried green-onion “pancake” is the specialty of a 50-year old family-run restaurant in Busan. Called “pajeon,” it is the softest and the tastiest in the area and is offered by one of the region’s legendary restaurants, Dongnae Halmae Pajeon. Proof of the status of the restaurant is another one simply called Dongnae Pajeon without the Halmae in the middle, which is Korean for grandmother, which is obviously trying to ride on the success of the original legendary restaurant that is famous in Busan. Must try is the medium sized Dongnae Pajeon and the Utjiji, chewy sweet ddeoks or “rice cakes.”

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The legendary pajeon (left) of the equally legendary Dongnae Halmae Pajeon restaurant (right) in Busan

The legendary pajeon (top photo) of the equally legendary Dongnae Halmae Pajeon restaurant (bottom) in Busan

Finally, one cannot go to Busan and not try the different variations of soju of the region. The popular Korean rice liquor, Jinro Soju has been named the best-selling liquor in the world in 2012, outselling Smirnoff vodka, Bacardi rum and Jack Daniel’s whisky. The ranking was published by The Millionaire’s Club, an England-based catalog that ranks brands, liquors and spirits. The Busan variations are lighter and sweeter than the more popular brand. The men in the region drink the C1 Soju while women prefer the “Ye” series. They also order different variations depending on their mood:  Jeulgowoye (which means “happy”) for lighter occasions and Geuriwoye (which means “nostalgia”) for events such as funerals. These light liquors are perfect for the very savory meals offered in the region.

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The C1 soju variety from Busan is favored by men (at left) while the lighter and sweeter Ye soju are preferred by the women

The C1 soju variety from Busan is favored by men (top) while the lighter and sweeter Ye soju are preferred by the women

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