Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Seoul Food and Night Lights

10 June 2014

Yes, this is the flag of South Korea - a red Yin/Yang symbol in the center of a white flag, surrounded by black lines that symbolize basic combinations from the I Ching.

Yes, we are in a very foreign country, where we can't read most of the signs, we don't know the language (although we've learned to say "good morning" - it's sort of "choe notchim" but almost like "Joe not Jim").  

We've met a few people who speak a little English, and we're managing.  This definitely is an adventure!

Our neighbourhood has very interesting manhole covers and symbols on the road - don't you love this little spigot cartoon figure?  I'm not sure if he's saying the open end is on the right, or just cautioning anyone who might dig up the road, or what.  He's just cute.

And there are all the rest of the lovely manhole covers, some in multiple colours!  Of course, with all those manhole covers, we also found the manhole cover store!

In addition to the great manhole covers in this part of town, Dongdaemun-Gu seems to be the neighbourhood for car repairs and detailing.  Really, there seems to be a garage on every corner, with tire stores, car painting shops, car seat vendors, and who knows what else - everywhere!  Barely any other kind of store!  There are various jacks set up along the side of an intersection, possibly for do-it-yourself car repairs - you can buy your car part, pull over on the side of the road, jack the car up, and put in the new car part.  (Or maybe there are free-lance mechanics who do this, we aren't sure.)

I found a shop that specializes in taillights, which makes for a great display.  Much prettier than the headlight store next door.  Or the muffler store a few shops down the road.  Really, that's what our neighbourhood looks like.  With a few random hotels scattered around, and apartment buildings upstairs from all the car part shops.

To be fair, there also are coffee shops and cafés, with one Starbucks amongst local places.  A variety of restaurants, with all kinds of Korean culinary options.  We see office workers walking to all these places at various points during the day, groups of people in matching uniforms (a few seem to scream "bank teller") or business wear - so we know there are office buildings nearby.  We just don't know were, or what the businesses might be.

But, especially after Bali, Thailand, and Malaysia, South Korea seems rather grey and plain.  It's the pre-rainy season, with partially overcast skies and occasional light rain - but the buildings are grey, and there aren't a whole lot of flowers around.  Okay, we're in obviously an industrial part of town, or an industrial outskirts of the city of Seoul.  For whatever reason, things are just rather grey.

I found a small park across the side street from our hotel - it's a lovely little park, between the street and the major highway up the hill.  There's a little pond and stream, complete with a bridge, and various ornamental maple shrubs.  A path leads up the hill to the highway and a little sidewalk plaza full of flowers in planters.  Of course, the cars speeding by don't really notice this little potted garden, but there are sidewalks, running paths, and bike trails branching off from here, because the highway crosses the wetlands and a tributary of the major river that winds through Seoul.  It's kind of a strange mix of highways, wetland and parkland, and light industry.

There's the occasional vendor - this little cart is full of pillows and comforters provided a nice pop of colour.  As do the trucks selling gorgeous green watermelons, fragrant pineapples.  And this stand of chamoe - a kind of melon - bright yellow with pale indented stripes.  We plan to try one of these and we'll report back.

Or how about the bright colourful lettuce, that you can buy leaf by leaf.  Seriously, we didn't see an entire head of lettuce - just piles of leaves, neatly stacked, and grouped by type of lettuce.  Creating sort of a mosaic of lettuce leaves in greens, reds, and almost blue.

And the socks - apparently cute and bright socks, with some three-dimensional aspect to the figures, seems to be trendy.  I'm not sure if I love the penguin best, or the kitty.  Or the rainbow bear?

Adventures in eating - always fun!  We aren't able to read most of the menus - every so often someone has a menu in English, although sometimes the names are transliterations of the Korean, so we really don't know what the food item might be.

But we're experimenting.

Our first night was bulgogi (marinated and grilled beef) with a variety of traditional accompaniments.  Our second night, we braved the mysteries of Korean barbeque.  

The process - we go in and are shown to a table.  We get a menu that has odd names like charcoal pork.  We make a selection and tell the waiter what we'd like  (after asking him questions that he can't really answer).  And we wait to see what shows up.

Someone brings over a pan of burning coals and inserts this into a well built into the table.  Someone brings a grill and puts that on top.  Various dishes appear - some kind of a coleslaw, a bowl of salad that turns out to be a cross between kimchee and wakami (Japanese seaweed salad) which is delicious, a few sauces, and a bowl of lettuce leaves.  Someone else brings over a few boiling bowls - one with the reddish soup, another that looks like a boiling and bubbling fritatta.  Then a bowl of garlic and oil is placed on the edge of the grill to cook into garlic oil.  And a platter of meat appears, with shears and tongs.

We put some meat on the grill and begin with the fritatta thing, which is very tasty but a little wet.  Apparently we've left the meat on the grill too long, one of the waiters comes over to turn it and trim off any charred bits.  Then someone else comes over to change the grill.  I guess we weren't turning the meat quickly enough, or something - we cooked like Americans, not Koreans, so we have no idea what we were doing wrong.  But we'd take off cooked pieces of meat, dip it into either the sweet or spicy sauce, and eat it.  Delicious!  

We noticed that some people wrapped their meat in a lettuce or basil leaf, which would have been tasty.  But we were out of meat by then.  So we ate the coleslaw and kimchee salad, and had some soup.  There were one or two other dishes that we never finished, because we were full by then.  One was something soupy with greens (but served cold), another was maybe pickled and peppered onions, or maybe radish curls, we aren't sure.

Anyway, the barbeque was an adventure, and I want to try it again!

The streets featuring the cafés and restaurants light up with neon at night, making a blinking and bright display - including hotels with chase lights in rotating colours.  Delightful in a tacky, holiday lights display kind of way.  Night really is way more colourful than daytime, so it's fun to walk around and watch the changing colours and designs.

There are the occasional architectural details, like these door pulls and the door, but for the most part everything is industrial modern box.  

And my new question is, what is this weird little creature on the side of the taxi?  

When we find out, I'll let you know.


  1. Bibimbap pronounced BEE BIM BOP! is my favorite all-time Korean food. Have some for me, please! Now I am green with envy. Wish I could join you. chong mall chall mukko ee-soon nee dah! is how you say "the food was spactactular at the end of a meal. Greatest complement you can give. xoxoxox ss

  2. Love bulgogi, and all the sides that come with a Korean meal!

  3. Love all the sides - especially the "egg soup" that is sort of like an omelet or souffle thing - yum!