Seoul - Korea April 2012

We have  been to several Asian capitals and they are all radically different from each other. Different foods, languages, cultures, religions and cuisines. Even countries that directly border each other or are distances of just a few hundred miles. Every one of them offer a significantly different experience which is why we love Asia so much.
Our flight didn't get us into Seoul until early evening and with a eleven hour time change we were determined to stay awake as late as possible so we could try to get back on a normal  schedule. We were all exhausted so we just roamed around the Meyongdong neighborhood and stayed close to the hotel. We were excited that there were dozens of shops and street food vendors so we could try a few different treats before turning in for the night.

There were some mainstream chicken skewers and yummy candy but the most exciting thing to Elliot was the Korean version of the corn dog.  Instead of a corn crust it was coated with french fries before it was cooked. It didn't seem all that Korean but it was delicious.  Who wouldn't like that?

Despite our best effort to stay awake late, it didn't help us sleep late,  and we were all up by 4:00am.  There are not a lot of things to do at that time of the night/morning. Fortunately the Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul is open 24 hours so we hopped on the subway as soon as it opened. Aside from being a major retail and wholesale fish market there is one dish that the is famous (at least on travel TV shows) is sannakji  (live octopus).

Even though the market  is open 24 hours it was  deserted at 5:30am, except for the vendors who were busy preparing their displays for the day. Our objective was to find the live octopus, but while walking around we noticed that some of the vendors had prepared sashimi plates. We walked around trying to figure everything out before we finally chose a vendor. "Sashimi?" was the only word uttered by us and he held up 3 fingers indicating 30,000 Won (about $26 USD). We said OK and he preceded to pull a live fish out of his tank and then clubbed it on the ground right in front of us.
It didn't take more than a few minutes to turn the live fluke into a sashimi plate.

I think most people take it back to their home but we went around the back of the stalls and sat down on the curb in the parking lot to eat it. When the vendor noticed this he had one of his assistants bring over a table, chairs and set up a rather nice spread.

The end result: Korean style sashimi with the fish wrapped in lettuce, spicy chili sauce and pickled garlic.

Elliot found what we were searching for - sannakji 

The very alive octopus was quickly put in a bag for us as well as a dozen prawns (Total cost about 20,000 won). Usually there are a lot of restaurants on the upper level of the market where they will prepare the dishes for you but we didn't really know where to go and may of them were closed.  I'm sure we were not the first clueless tourists that came for the octopus and it must have really been obvious because without hesitation the octopus lady took us to a small restaurant in a back alley of the market.

We sat down while the octopus was prepared. The preparation is very simple because after several dozen whacks with the knife the plate of still alive octopus tentacles was placed in front of us. Other than some sesame oil for dipping the dish was complete. 
This is the ultimate dish if you like to play with your food. It literally is the food that likes to play with you. The octopus is not as chewy as we expected it to be and the sesame oil gives it a nice flavor. The hardest part is gripping the moving tentacles with chop sticks.

Later that morning, we went to Gyeongbokgung Palace which is a 78 acre compound was built in 1395 had has been used by kings throughout the centuries. It has been damaged several times and almost completely dismantled during Japanese occupation. Today only 40% of the buildings still stand but it is so huge that you would never know that the amount that remains is less than half of what should be there.

When you are on the opposite side of the globe it is difficult to get on a normal schedule so each morning we awoke around 3:30am.  Fortunately in Seoul there are a lot of places to eat breakfast in the middle of the night.  Sinseon Seolnongtang is a popular restaurant with several locations in Seoul.  Even in the middle of the night there is a good amount of action inside.  This is probably the equivalent of an IHOP in the US but instead of pancakes the specialty is oxtail-brisket soup and Mandu which are dumplings.

Absolutely delicious soup with a mild peppery broth and tender brisket slice
And delicious mandoo dumplings.

The day was completely dedicated to Elliot so we took a train to Lotte World which is the largest indoor amusement park in the world.  Imagine taking the largest indoor arena and converting it into a full blow indoor amusement park.  In addition to the theme park there is a shopping mall, ice rink, arcade, monorail.

Basically this is the Korean version of Disney Land but we liked it a lot better, especially since it was a school day and there were no crowds.

If there is a grandma making something in a market stall we want to eat it  We didn't even know what it was but it looked good (and it was).  This is nokdujeon which is a pancake made from mung beans.  What are mung beans?  They are the what your normal run of the mill supermarket beansprouts grow up to be.

Navigating the subway system was easy with help from the interactive giant i-pad devices at each station

Korean BBQ is readily available in New Jersey but this was different because it was over wood coals instead of a gas flame. 

First, start with some very high quality meat.Place in a crisp lettuce leaf with some roasted garlic and sauce.  Enjoy!

The hazard of trying to stay up too late with a jet lagged kid - wait, did he switch his Coke for the Soju? 

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is the 2.5 mile buffer zone between North and South Korea but it is also a major tourist attraction that really makes you understand that these two countries are not friends and still technically at war.  There are several variations in the DMZ tours but not all of them allow children.

The first stop on the trip was to the third infiltration tunnel.  This tunnel was one of several discovered tunnels dug by the North Koreans with the purpose of providing them with quick access to move troops into South Korea for a surprise attack.   Only four were found but it is believed that there could be 20 more that were never discovered.

The DMZ area is land mined so everything is well secured to keep people out.  

Another stop on the tour is the Odusan Observatory.  This overlooks the DMZ and on into North Korea.  Unfortunately photos over the wall are not permitted but you can look through telescopes when you are there.   We had a pretty cloudy day so we couldn't see that much.

By the end of our trip we were almost able to sleep to 4:30am.  On This middle of the night food journey  we went in a different direction and went to the first place that was open.  Not that busy but a few businessman types and  their "girlfriends" who were still up after an evening of partying.

We were well beyond  the tourist zone here so there was no English spoken and we had to order from a signboard in Korean.  We pointed to a couple of random items based on price and waited to see what would come out.

Lucky for us we ended up with pork belly and bulgogi.  Both were great.  

An often occurring phenomenon in Asia is random people ask to take photos with us.  We always say yes as long as we can take one of them.    

If Elliot had a Korean grandma this would be her.  We have no idea why she was so fond of him.  

We spent our last day with a visit to the War Memorial of Korea. It was a great history lesson,  We enjoyed the Outdoors Exhibition which featured tanks, vehicles, submarines and airplanes that were used in WW2 and the Korean War.  The best part is that you can go inside of them.

Statue of Brothers

Elliot left a note on the memorial wall

All in all, Seoul is a very cool place, balancing its past and present.

곧 당신을보고
Corinne, Keith and Elliot

No comments: