It’s already been 10 days since I arrived in Seoul.  I try to keep a relaxed vacation pace, but that doesn’t seem to be working (not that I’m complaining).  Here are a few photos of my first days in Korea.

This was my first time to Tong Young (통영), a lovely port city on the south coast.  It was a quick day trip with an easy itinerary as I was still recovering from jetlag/fatigue/stomach-something, but I loved everything about the city and the food.

Anywhere from the top of Mireuk Mountain, you have amazing views of the coast with hundreds (…or so I hear) of small islands.  Although it doesn’t look it, it was a beautiful, sunny day only ruined by my photo skills as shown above.  You can walk all the way, but I liked that there was a cable car service then walk about 15 more minutes to finish off the trip up to the top.

For lunch, we went to a place that specializes in sea squirt (멍게 – meong ge) rice sets (10,000 won or about US$10 per person).  Freshest sea squirts transport you to the ocean with one bite, and this was it.  The side dishes were also flavorful and tasty, and showcase the fresh regional ingredients – kelp, fresh oysters, egg custard, spicy pickled squid, kimchi, lightly seasoned broccoli, fish cakes, and toasted & lightly seasoned anchovies (clockwise from top left).  Oh, and the lighty grilled and seasoned fish in the middle.

Sirakguk (시락국) in Seoho Shijang (시장 – market).  Shirakguk, known as shiraegi guk (시래기국) in Seoul, is a soup made with sun-dried radish stems and leaves usually seasoned with doenjang (된장 – fermented soybean paste).  It was a way of utilizing the radish stems and leaves after making a big batch of radish kimchi in late autumn, but it’s evolved to have its own identity.  This one in Tong Young was a pleasant surprise, partly because I didn’t expect much out of such a common dish.  A Tong Young native strongly recommended we try this soup, and we were all glad we did.  The soup is full of flavor in a subtle way – light yet deep, hearty and refreshing all in one, all for 4,000 won (~US$4) with self-serve side dishes of 10+ kinds.  I’ve never had shiraegi guk like this and never expected to develop such a strong opinion on this dish, but I’m still thinking about it….yum…

There must be 100,000 dried anchovies of all sizes in each store.  Tong Young is famous for its anchovies.

Back to Seoul, but I still found myself…

…in the back alley of Dongdaemun (동대문), known for grilled fish sets.

I got the gul bi (굴비 – yellow corvina) set (백반 – meal set), for 6,000 won (~US$6) because that’s something I can’t easily get at home.  The selection is limited to Spanish mackerel (삼치 – sam chi), Pacific saury (꽁치 – ggong chi) and hairtail (갈치 – gal chi) in addition to yellow corvina for fish meal sets, and that’s plenty.  It didn’t disappoint.  I got a small bonus piece of ggongchi (far left on the fish plate) once I started taking pictures, FYI. ^_^

I went to a traditional Korean fine dining for dinner.  Hmmm…I have to still think about this one.

I walked around in Insadong (인사동).  I have a thing for Korean clay pots.

A big lunch spread at Jirisan (지리산) with Professor Jo Hee Suk and a couple of friends.  Prof Jo is a well-known expert in traditional Korean food.  I was very lucky to meet with her and hear her wisdom and advice about cooking, food, my future, etc.  She has such a warm, comforting personality.

The food at Jirisan in Insadong seemed to be focused on bringing out the best side of traditional ingredients, and I was happy to indulge in Korean vegetables I missed so much.  My favorite was the roots of sseumbagui (씀바귀), a vegetable that belongs to the chrysanthemum family, on the bottom right.  Despite the color, spiciness is just one of many flavors in this side dish – spicy tangy seasoning supports fragrantly bitter sseumbagui roots.  The white milky kongbiji (콩비지 – soy pulp) soup in the middle was also amazing for its simplicity.  Usually, kongbiji is made into a stew with aged kimchi and pork.  This one is smoother, creamier – something closer to silken tofu.  It’s barely seasoned, which helped me actually taste kongbiji done right, as it’s supposed to be.  We finished most of the food on the table, were happy to be comfortably full and felt energized after such a big meal.

Thanks to Nanoomi, a group of English bloggers on Korea-related topics and tnm Media which supports a network of bloggers in Korea and to which Nanoomi belongs, I had a chance to attend a meeting with Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul, along with 30 or so other bloggers.  Living in New York and loving Korean food, I have to admit that my exposure to Korea has become pretty limited.  It’s rare to meet other Korean bloggers specializing in variety of topics, hearing their daily concerns and questions and the mayor’s personal response to those.  You can read about it here in Korean and see my face too. ^_^

That’s it for today.  Off I go again~

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