On a recent trip to Korea, I saw and tasted so many beautiful foods (and squeezed in some family time and took in some sights, too). The country has changed so much in the last 2 decades (yes, it's been that long since my last journey there - and yes, that does date me!). So much has changed; now, it ranks in my book as one of the most exciting, efficient, clean, and fun cities I've ever been to! But ahem, back to the food.
Like I said, so much has changed, but it's funny how a taste or a smell of a certain food can make you travel back in time. The only memories I have of this place are the foods I had as a small child: the taste of creamy ice-cream, the spiciness of kimchi, the smell of roasted chestnuts and steamed corn. It all fled back to me. Take, for instance, this delectable little treat:
This was one of my favorite things to get when I was a kid. It's a little pastry filled with sweet red bean. It's usually sold by a street food vendor who pours batter into a hot, goldfish-shaped cast-iron mold, then puts a few spoonfuls of the red bean inside. The outer layer is crispy and doughy, and the inside is sweet and soft. Definitely made me feel like a kid again. Oh - and here's a somewhat similar treat: a walnut cookie. But, it's really not a cookie - it's made of a similar dough as the treat above, but it's made to look like a walnut. And of course, it has sweet red bean and walnuts inside. Not only delicious, but so cute!
But Korea (Seoul, in particular) has really become a hot spot for cuisine. Take, for example, this creation I saw (but alas, had just eaten, so I didn't have a chance to taste it...bummer):
You're probably thinking something along the lines of "chocolate" or "dyed" croissants, right? Hang on to your seats: they're squid ink croissants! Can you imagine?! So inventive. And...perhaps a tiny bit icky, although squid ink paella or pasta can both be quite good.
Admittedly, there's nothing quite like homecooked food. When I visited my cousin's family, his lovely wife made these delicious (and gorgeous) rolls:
They're almost too pretty to eat, aren't they? She obviously put a lot of effort into them. The outer wrapping is made of daikon (a type of radish). Inside, she had gingerly placed matchstick red and yellow peppers, sprouts, and ham. The sauce you see on top is a peanut sauce.
Now, no Korean meal would be complete with kimchi, right? Kimchi comes in all shapes and sizes (and can be made with anything from green onions, cucumbers, radishes, and of course, cabbage). When we went to Namdaemun Market - a famous, traditional market in Seoul, we came across a noodle stand. Here's what the market looks like (there, you can find great deals on purses, accessories, undergarments, and load of other miscellaneous stuff):
At that noodle stand, the kimchi was served this way:
Cut-it-yourself kimchi! Such a neat concept. They give you small bowls, and you just take however much you want, and snip the kimchi leaves into your bowl. But on to the noodles - they were out of this world. These noodles were painstakingly made by hand:
It was a real treat to watch her make these noodles, as I happily slurped on mine. The noodles were perfectly al dente, and the broth was just so rich yet clean. Here's what the final product looked like:
Now, Koreans love seafood. After all, when your country is surrounded by water, you can take advantage of nature's bounty.
And in the days when refrigeration wasn't possible, Koreans would dry their fish to preserve them - like many other cultures. Dried fish or cuttlefish is a delicious snack. Don't knock it 'til you try it! It's usually roasted a bit over an open fire, which gives the meat a touch of smokiness. They're so good! Just...don't breathe on anyone after you eat some.
This lady is selling all sorts of dried fish:
This is a picture taken at Jagalchi, a famous fish market in Busan (Korea's second largest city after Seoul). I gotta tell ya - Pike Place Market ain't got 'nuthin on this place! Rows and rows of all types of seafood - a lot of things I didn't even recognize!
All in all, it was a great trip, and it was so heartwarming to travel back and experience my childhood all over again, and to experience Korea in new ways as an adult.