I’ve been looking back over my holiday pictures from the last 10 years and as the years have gone on more and more seem to be of the food rather than the surroundings.
Some of the early days of travelling have very few pictures and even less details of the food as back then I didn’t think I’d be writing about in 10 years time. So apologies to those who like detail…..these early posts may be lacking but i’ll be sure to take my notepad on further travels. 🙂
Back in 2007 I took my first long haul trip alone to South Korea to visit a friend of mine who had gone to work out there. I’ve known him since the age of 5 and we’d gone through school together but we’d often not see or speak for years and always be able to pick up where we left off. He joked that I never visited him in the 3 years he was at University in the UK but i made the 5400 mile trip to visit him in Seoul.
As he was working I was only going to meet up with him for a few evenings and at the weekend so the rest of the time was my own. So to get an insight as I’d no idea what Korean food was, I booked my first cooking course.
Preparing for the trip, in my usual fashion, I went out and bought the latest travel guides and a language CD with all good intentions but the reality was I only remembered the Korean words – Yes, No, Please, Thank you, Hello & Goodbye. The rest was a bit too complicated as it is a tonal language and as my friends will know my voice tends to just be loud and a bit deep so tonal isn’t my thing.
I arrived at Seoul airport at night and found a bus to take me to roughly the right area. All I had was a little printed map folded up discreetly so I didn’t look like a vulnerable tourist (in spite of the huge rucksack). The first thing that was apparent was how much further everything was compared to what it looked like on the map. I remember going into a shop and pathetically pointing at the map and saying ‘please’ in my best Korean. I was helpfully waved in the approximate direction and walked for ages up a side street past lots of shops until the road got darker and emptier. I didn’t realise until now how much I appreciate having google maps on my phone. It was way before I had a smart phone. Common sense told me to turn back and once back to civilisation an elderly man must have seen I didn’t have a clue and lead me to the accommodation which I’d blatantly walked straight past. Again, the whole don’t talk to strangers thing wouldn’t have paid off as I’d still be there now. I have to say, Seoul is one of the cities I’ve felt the safest.
Once I got settled in my little room in the traditional tea guest house (bed on the floor and a computer on a table about 6 inches from the floor) it was time to try and find some food as I wasn’t meeting my friend until the next evening.
I didn’t really have a clue where I was as I was jet-lagged and a bit disorientated so I ended up at a 7eleven coming back with a Korean pot noodle and some sushi.
The next morning I went to my first street food cart and picked up a strange thing which looked like pastry in the shape of a fish. I had no idea what it was but it certainly didn’t taste fishy and I didn’t die of food poisoning so all good 🙂
Turns out it was filled with a sweet red bean paste, nice but could have been fresher, it was a back street so she wasn’t exactly fighting off the customers.
Later in the day there were many other stalls but at that time I wasn’t brave enough to try some of the offerings.
When I got to the cooking course we were making Kimchi (chilli, fermented cabbage) and bulgogi which is a lovely sweet soy beef dish.
I quite enjoyed Kimchi and it is an acquired taste but you learn to love it as it is served as a side dish with almost every meal. That was one main thing which struck me about Korean food, whatever you order you usually get 5 or 6 small side accompaniments with every meal.
Whilst I was there and my friend was working I spent 3 days in the south of the country in a place called Gyeongju. I took the train down there with the name of the town scrawled in Korean and after deciphering the train station boards arrived in a beautiful part of the country.
However it was as good as deserted, I was staying in a huge hotel with hardly any guests. I remember the first night going down for dinner alone and there was no one in the dining room but me and 6 waiting staff and a lot of food. I don’t mind eating in restaurants alone but given the choice I’d prefer a meal for 2 any day.
Food highlight from South Korea for me has to be the Bibimbap with plenty of chilli.
Would I go back to South Korea? 100% Yes.