The Final Asia Post: Layover in Korea

I finally made it to the final post of eating my way through Asia. It’s only been like a month and a half since I was back, and I’ve been denying you, my readers, what was quite possibly the best meal I ate on the trip.

You see, we had a 12 hour layover in Seoul on the way home, from 5:30 am until 6pm. What’s a girl to do to maximize her time? Well, if you’re me, you go see the only tourist attraction that you know will be open and then you get breakfast while your there.

I’m talking about the Noryangjin fish market.imgp3493

We arrived around 6:30, as the airport is a ways from the city and just caught the end of the fish auction, with the big money changing hands. It was neat to watch–you could tell this was serious business. Then there were many tables lined with zillions of kinds of fish, clearly the wholesale aisles. I have more pictures of crazy fish species than you can shake an eel at. Then we got to the important part. Along the back wall there is a row of stands like this one above, each manned by a different fish monger. These guys sell right to the consumer. This was Bobby’s stand. Bobby was very friendly and spoke English which made the whole encounter easier. We were there for fish. Specifically baby octopus. I bought two, as well as an unidentified flat fish (Bobby: It’s flat fish. My Dad: What kind, though? Bobby: Nope. Just flat fish).imgp3509Here’s our little guy! Oh, wait, here he is 5 minutes later!imgp3514Seriously, it was pretty cool. We bought the fish, then took it just through a hallway and handed it to a woman in the restaurant. We ordered some drinks and nearly as soon as we got those, this guy was back on our table along with lettuce for wrapping, the ginger, garlic and daikon you see here and various hot sauces and jalapeno bits. If that wasn’t enough, later they brought us the carcass in a wonderful hot soup.

Remember the baby octopi?

imgp3515and 5 seconds later:imgp3517Can you see how they are in different positions? That’s because they are STILL MOVING. It was awesome. All dressed up in sesame seeds and sesame oil and still wriggling as I put them in my mouth. It was definitely a little strange, but they were very good and I would definitely be inclined to order them again. It’s one of those things I order because I’ve heard so much about, but you never know if that is because people like to make a big deal out of it (Durian, anyone?) or because it is actually delicious, like these were.

As we sat there and looked around at the people also sitting, eating breakfast in the restaurant at 7am, my father wondered aloud if these were people setting out on their day or just finishing up their night. The gentlemen next to us were pretty clearly fisherman, just in from the water. In front of us I watched a group of young people help a girl to her feet as she giggled and was unable to stand on her own. That was two answers for us.

A third table was just kitty corner from us, and in the helpful manner we found present in all Koreans, kept coming over to us and giving us bites of their food, to make sure we got to try everything. As they shoveled abalone wrapped in lettuce into our mouths, all I could think was how unlikely it would be that someone would hand you a piece of fish and give it to you at the Pike Place Market here in Seattle. Not to mention the cost of that fresh abalone here! We tried a few other unidentified but delicious items from our neighbors, then headed out to explore Korea.

After sometime of wandering, I was ready to get us our next meal–mid-morning snack. As an avid soup dumpling fan and practicing soup dumpling chef, I was not about to pass up a chance to eat them at the revered Din Tai Fung. Since I don’t know when I would next be in town with one, I thought I better get there. We sat and ordered a pile of soup dumplings. And you know what? I didn’t think they were all that. The skins were silky smooth, and there were no leaky ones, but these lacked the rich, delicious flavor that I found at Joe’s Shanghai. To me, though, the real champ is New Yeah Shanghai in NYC and Shanghai Shanghai in Vancouver is a close second. These, well, I wouldn’t travel halfway across the world for them, though I don’t think I’d ever pass up a chance to eat soup dumplings if I were near one again.

For lunch we found a restaurant, which, while I can’t remember the name, it had “nakji” in it, which is the one word I know in Korean–it means octopus. I like octopus (see above). We ordered more food than we could possibly eat, including two more amazing octopus dishes. Though, this time we got them cooked.imgp3542This was by far the best seafood pancake I’ve ever had. Oh, crap, my mouth just started wandering remembering the light, fluffy slices all covered in seafood. See, now look what you’ve done! I’ll have to go find myself some Korean food, stat.imgp3541And the cooked baby octopus. We order this dish all the time here in Seattle, but never has the quality of the meat been so good as it was here. Tender tentacles, perfect bite in the body, you can just tell these people care about their seafood. Our waiter was amazingly thoughtful and kept apologizing for his English–as he proceeded to patiently translate the entire menu for us. There was no need–we’re always happy to point and shoot–but he clearly wanted us to be able to enjoy everything as much as possible. It was yet another experience of the kindness of the Koreans.

Unfortunately, following all this delicious food, we had to go back to the airport and prepare for our flight home… Korea, Koreans, and their food had all made an impression on us though. I never thought it would be a place I would be dying to go–or plan to return after I’d been, but it is near the top of my list now.

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2 Responses

  1. Did you use the steel Chop sticks of Korea or did you try to find some wood ones? Steel Chopsticks are a treat… Thanks from Andy of HoboTraveler.com Travel Blog

  2. I haven’t actually had much Korean food, unfortunately, but I have met loads of Koreans who have been in Canada for ESL – and I have yet to meet one who wasn’t incredibly gracious and kind and helpful. I once felt like Korea was just about the last Asian country I would care to visit, but now it is very near the top of my list, almost entirely because of my experiences with the people.

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