For the month of November, I’ll be participating in BootsnAll‘s Indie Travel Challenge. Click here to go to the beginning. Today’s question: tell us about an experience you had from information you got from a local.
A Local’s Perspective
Back in April, Andy and I visited Turkey. After a great time in Cappadocia (to be outlined in a future post), we flew to Istanbul for a few days. Istanbul was such an amazing city and I really think it should be added to any traveler’s short list. The people were so welcoming, the food was excellent, and there is so much to do and see. That goes for the rest of Turkey, as well!
Understatement of the blog: winter in Korea is cold. Really cold. Hailing from the northern US, I thought I knew what cold was, but I had never really walked for long durations outside before. We regularly get cold fronts from Siberia (it sounds like a joke, doesn’t it??) paired with icy winds. Can you say brrrr?
Overlooking the pebble beach
Regardless, a little cold won’t stop me from enjoying all Korea has to offer.
Every country has its corporate holidays; South Korea has Pepero Day. Pepero (known as Pocky in the US) is a chocolate-dipped cookie and comes in a few different flavors. November 11 is Pepero Day because the date resembles pepero sticks (11/11).
Happy 빼빼로 Day
Friends and family members exchange boxes, and teachers are no exception. Andy and I received many boxes from our students, despite the fact that the holiday fell on a Sunday. The green boxes are my favorite – almond flavor!
Every region of Korea has its own culinary specialty. A group of friends and I found ourselves in Jinju (Gyeongsangnam-do) last weekend, and we decided to sample some local flavor. Jinju is known for yukhoe (pronounced yook hway) bibimbap – raw beef mixed rice. While some people may have eaten raw beef before, I hadn’t. In Japan, I had a dish with raw egg and felt squeamish… surely I would contract salmonella or worse! But it was fine (and delicious), and part of being a traveler is trying new things. Otherwise, why bother?
A new Korean friend took us to a local market where we could find a few restaurants, including one that specialized in this dish. There was literally a line out the door and around the corner, always a good sign!
We went upstairs. Sat down. Looked at the neighboring table. They had ordered an entire plate of raw beef, which looked pretty scary. Hesitantly, we ordered our dishes and awaited our future food-poisoning…
But then this came:
It was delicious. The bibimbap alone was really great, with lots of veggies and other goodies, but the meat was super flavorful. The beef seasoning included soy sauce, sesame oil, and even Korean pear, which is pretty traditional. I ate an entire bowl and half of Andy’s!
This particular restaurant also served a bowl of beefy, oniony soup with each order. The banchan were radish kimchi, pickled radish, and ojingeojeot (fermented squid – sounds gross but is amazing). All in all a great place!
Get ready for part 2 in the Freaky Food series! I anticipate many more will follow – for better or worse.
Ordering food in Korean restaurants is a big challenge. I can read Korean, but I don’t know what I’m reading. To get around this problem, I’ve learned some key words on menus. Guk, tang, and jiggae are all kinds of soups or stews. Jeon is pancake, bap means rice, bokkeum is fried, etc. Korean food is listed very literally on a menu, so once you learn the basics you can order a good amount. For instance, kulgukbap is oyster soup with rice. Kuljeon is oyster pancake. Not too bad, right?
When I go out to eat, waitresses like to wait by my side like a little vulture while I squint at the distant wall menu. This turns the already challenging restaurant experience into a high-pressure situation. Tonight, Andy and I tried a local barbecue place and I noticed the word dalk (닭) on the menu (chicken). To get rid of the pesky lady, Andy just ordered it. His phone has a nifty Korean-English dictionary, so while we waited, we decided to look up the other two words in our order. Our dish was called 불닭발 (bool dalk bal). Andy’s facial expression quickly changed from mild boredom to trepidation as he looked up each word.
불 – fire
닭 – chicken
발 – feet
In case you missed it, that last one says feet.
The waitress immediately started bringing us our sides and setting up the grill at our table. I wondered if we should try to order something else, but it was too late. Like it or not, the waitress was setting down a tremendous plate of chicken feet. I’d say at least 25 chickens worth.
When in Korea, do as the Koreans do… right? We grilled the heck out of those feet since we have no idea when they’re fully cooked. They were possibly cooked from the start. I don’t know… all I know is they were blackened and crispy when I finally wrapped them in my lettuce leaf.
And they weren’t bad! Would I order them again? No. Definitely not. The taste was all right, but the random crunchy bits of cartilage were enough to put me off them for a while.