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South Korea

Seoul Food

Burpin’ Boshintang with April in Seoul

sunny 23 °C
View Asia '08 on Bwinky's travel map.

After our detour home and to Germany, we arrived back in Asia on Thursday, October 9th, landing in Korea, where our friend April Cardinal is teaching kids English in Seoul.

”Augh, my students were so naughty today!”

Hiking in the mountains over Seoul

I have to confess that we originally scheduled this stop primarily as a chance to visit April rather than out of an actual desire to see Seoul. Fair or not, Korea didn’t hold much interest for me; from my limited (read: from watching M*A*S*H) knowledge, it struck me as a limbo between Japan and China -- neither as dynamic as Tokyo nor as historic as Beijing.

Well, after visiting, I have to say that my opinion is somewhat altered; Seoul is quite a pleasant place. We had a terrific time with April, and it was fun to learn about a culture that we really had not put a lot of time into learning about. We did take a bit of time to see some of the historic sights, including the Gyeongbukgong palace, Korea’s version of the Forbidden City, where they do an elaborate changing-of-the-guards ceremony accompanied by incredibly discordant music -- I didn’t know it was possible to produce such screeches from a trumpet.

”Hmm, I hope none of the tourists notice that my beard is fake...”

Speaking of screeches, we also indulged in a night of karaoke. We were joined by Jane and Ami, two of April’s fellow expat teachers.

Butchering Switchfoot’s “Meant To Live” together

Jane and Ami are doing much better with their duet

By far the most interesting sight was the tour we took to the Demilitarized Zone at Panmunjeom.

The UN’s JSA (Joint Security Area) -- that bombastic white building is North Korea

Under the watchful eyes of soldiers of the South...

”I love how badass these glasses make me look!”

...and the North...

”Running dog capitalist pig tourists, I will not even bother to watch you with my binoculars...”

...you are ushered into the conference room where negotiations are held, and allowed to step ever-so-briefly into one of the world’s most reclusive nations.

The most moving part of the trip is the stop at the Freedom Bridge, where prisoners of war were exchanged after the cease-fire. There is a wall of memorials that has become something of a place of pilgrimage for those who fought, and families separated by politics.


What was unexpectedly fascinating, though, was learning about Korean cuisine. I came knowing very little about the food here, so the whole weekend turned into a bit of a culinary odyssey. We started with dinner at a Korean barbeque with Jane. Everyone sits around a grill and cooks their own yummy little strips of marinated beef or pork.

What’s Webber got that we ain’t got?

Contrary to what you’d think, vegetarian food can be tough to find in Asia. One that’s practically a national dish in Korea is bibimbop, a mixture of bean sprouts, pickled veggies, and a fried egg. And, as a bonus, it’s really fun to say -- try it... “BEE-beem-bop.” Bonus points if you can say it three times, fast.

”I don’t care how you say it, I’m just glad it doesn’t contain squid!”

Of course, you can’t discuss food in Korea without talking about the national culinary obsession: kimchi. The “cabbage that they ravage with the chili paste taste.”

”Kimchi, kimchi, it is good for you and me!”

Those quotes are from the English Village Boyz’ “Kickin’ It In Geumchon,” a hilarious hip-hop ode to being an expat in Seoul. Go watch it:


As they say, kimchi is cabbage that has been mixed with chilis and dried shrimp and other stuff, and left to ferment for up to a year, buried underground in big jars like these...

55 gallons of kimchi goodness

Hardly a meal goes by that Koreans don’t eat kimchi. After mealtimes, the subway has a distinctly spicy, vinegary smell -- and I swear I am not making that up. Koreans claim that the reason they never got SARS is the medicinal value of their kimchi. I can believe it -- if I was a germ, I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near the stuff either. In fact, I am not a germ and I still don't want to. It really smells bad.

Street food is big here, too -- especially food on a stick.

Various animal parts and balls of stuff

That, believe it or not, is a hot dog rolled in ketchup and french fries, all on a convenient stick

Of course, there is also plenty of western-style food in Korea as well...

Hey, I don’t write ‘em, I just take the pictures

They actually do not sell any cheese here

April’s favorite: sweet potato pizza with honey mustard sauce... much better than it sounds!

Without question, though, our biggest foodie adventure was our quest to go eat boshintang...

Dog stew.

No, it is not a myth, they do in fact eat dog in Korea -- specially bred food dogs that look like big huskies, not pet dogs kidnapped off the street. I guess it’s not as common as it used to be, because we had to hunt down a small basement restaurant in a very off-the-beaten-path neighborhood, and there we sat down and tucked into a big ole' steamin’ bowl of spicy Fido soup.

Don’t think about what you’re about to put in your mouth!

Mmmmm... Boshintang!

And the verdict? Well, it was...


Actually, pretty gross.

Neither of us could finish more than half our bowl. The meat didn’t taste too bad; it was kind of gamey and really fatty, sort of like mutton. The broth was so hot that it kind of killed the taste, really. But it was hard to get past the smell; it had a distinct scent of, well, wet dog. Which it was.

The mother and daughter who ran the place were really sweet. They wanted their picture with us; apparently not too many Westerners come through their doors.

I'm smiling on the outside, but I'm thinking, ”I have a doggy hair stuck in my teeth...”

A drawing we did for their wall

As our weekend together drew to a close, we sat in a cafe on Sunday morning, savoring a good cup of coffee. Savored it so long, we actually missed our flight to Beijing. Good food and good friends -- it can really be addictive.

All except the boshintang. That made me want to arf.

Posted by Bwinky 22:21 Archived in South Korea Tagged food Comments (0)

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