My boyfriend and I are visiting Korea for a few days on our way to New Zealand next January.
Since I have lived there for 19 months and miss it more each day, I am incredibly excited to return for a brief visit. I really can’t wait to show him the quirky digs that we used to frequent and eat my favourite dishes. Below is a rough itinerary of everything I hope to do and eat while we are there!
- Pajeon – Korean seafood pancake. These are incredibly yummy and traditionally served in a Pajeon hut served with Makgoeli a very potent fermented rice liquor served in big wooden bowls. As with most Korean food, the experience is just as important as the food.
- Galbi – still one of my major cravings. Better known as Korean bbq. Succulent cuts of beef are brought to the table. Usually a grill is in the middle of your round table and occasionally an additional device can be lowered from the ceiling for extra heat. One person is usually in charge of distributing the meat peices on the grill and turning them making sure not to let it stick to the grill and burn. My friend and I took a while to get this technique down and a few times were responsible for a burning stench left in the restaurant. Accompanying the beef as usual is a tray full of side dishes. A basket of lettuce leaves, garlic peices, onion, rice. At the best place I have been to they also bring a big black bowl of boiling scrambled egg type mixture and dwenjang jiggae a spicy tofu seafood soup. Heavenly.
- Kimchi. This spicy fermented cabbage dish is served with everything. I have to admit I stared clear of it for the first year I was there, then slowly I began having a piece every now and then with a Galbi meal and I began to.. well like it. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and it may take a while to appreciate it for what it is. A lot of my ex teacher friends have claimed to miss Kimchi more than they expected upon returning to their native homes.
- Mandu and Kimbap. These two snack dishes are really incredible, cheap and almost everywhere. Perfect post drinking food when you return from the ‘norae bang’ at 5am.
Mandu are steamed or fried dumplings with various fillings. A great little place opened up across from me just before I left and they had such a variety I cursed having to leave so soon before trying them all. Kimbap can be likened to Japanese sushi but it is very different. The fillings are different and the way it is wrapped is less intricate. You can pick up a stick of Kimbap or a tray of Mandu at a street vendor for around $3 or$4
- Jae Yuk or Daweiji Bokum – is a really spicy pork dish served with carrots, onions, and chillis on a bed of rice with lots of red sauce. It will clear your sinuses and leave you wanting more. It is so delicious! We usually get this at a Korean place in Berlin at least once a month so I can’t wait to show him the real authentic kind that you can order for around $4
As you can see we will probably spend most of our time eating and walking place to place in postprandial somnolence. 3 days is just too short for all of the fantastic food on offer!
We will be there in the dead of winter so I think a trip to the Jimjilbang is in order. This is the traditional Korean sauna. Entrance is around $8 and upon entering you are given a pair of shorts and a matching t shirt. Blue for the boys and pink for the girls. You then go your separate ways into the gender specific areas to undress or store your belongings. In the gender sections are the real deal saunas where you strip down and choose from a variety of baths. Some are steaming hot and others are freezing cold – bit of shock therapy. Its surprisingly easy to expose yourself, you just have to strip and get over yourself and make like a Korean and walk around like you don’t give a damn. I have of course heard stories from the boys side about some unwelcome staring and physical contact but on the ladies side I have never felt out of place. After the baths you can shower and make use of the hair dryers and other offers they have on hand. Then you can make your way into the common area where they have a selection of sauna rooms of varying temperatures and thematically designed spaces. One of my favourites is the not too hot room with stones all over the ground that you just sink into. In addition to all of this there are usually nail salons, a snack bar with a variety of fruit smoothies, massage chairs and sleeping areas. They’re such charmingly, active yet relaxing places and in the winter they are the perfect after work wind down.
Norae bang – literally ‘song room’. I think it would be hard to miss these bright rooms full of joy, even if you haven’t been to Korea you must have heard about them at some point. If you have seen the movie ‘Lost in translation’ you have seen the Japanese equivalent of these singing rooms. It’s karaoke the fun way, without the smoke filled, dingy pubs where you go for a laugh and end up feeling completely out of place.. or is that just me? Noreae bang: You go into a room with your friends, often the rooms are full of comfy couches, bright decor and musical instruments. There is a book full of the songs on offer much like a karaoke bar and a remote control you use to program in the songs you want to sing. These are open 24/7 so are often a great wind down to a night out. I remember emerging from one of these in the heart of soul at 7am after a night full of drinking and bar hopping. Definitely taking Him here, hopefully with a few old friends for a really great night.
Doctor Fish. There are a few of these establishments in Seoul but my favourite one is located at Gangnam station inside a health and serenity cafe. You have to order a drink and pay for the doctor fish experience which is about $2. Then you can help yourself to a selection of bread with butter and jam at a little toasting station. When you're ready for some squirming, you let one of the staff know and make your way up to the platform where you have your feet washed before plunging them into little pools which are about 60 x 30 cm and full of little fish ready to devour your dead skin. Sounds incredibly charming doesn't it? It is cryingly tickly and hard to get used to so be prepared to make a bit of a scene while you or your friends scream out as the raspy little fish mouths hook onto every little corner of your feet.
The palaces. These places are really beautiful. I have never visited in winter so this will be a nice chance to tick off another season of scenery. You can hire audio guides at the entrance and I may just do that this time because even though the palace structures are incredible to behold and the grounds are so lovely to wander around, it would be nice to get a little more history. My previous visits I have managed to eaves drop on a couple of tour groups so I have only bits and pieces of information. Though it really might be too cold to be outside for longer than 10 minutes at a time when we are there.
And of course visiting the old local pub in Bundang where I want to drink some Cass and play some darts and request some music. I hope the friendly bar staff are still there and the photos are still pinned up by the bar.