Thursday, October 23, 2008

South Korea Part 2: Seoul Searching

Seoul intrigues me. The capital of South Korea is a constantly a case of extremes... tradition and fierce patriotism trying to remain relevant in a modern society thriving on capitalism and a fascination for the West. An urban sprawl of skyscrapers sprouting amongst the fertile crop of century old buildings. Impossibly expensive high end shopping proving just as popular as underground markets selling knock offs of their counterparts. And so it is with the food.

During my two days there - I was able to sample the most amazing and affordable street food which koreans simply adore - dok bokki (spicy korean rice cakes) and odeng (korean fish cakes) were just some examples of the widely available morsels, particularly at nightfall when the streets really come alive. We also had bi bim bap - probably the most popular korean dish outside of korea. But the mixed rice in a sizzling earthenware pot with the most colourful of vegetables topped with a raw egg was unlike any that I've tasted prior to this visit. The delicate balance and unique taste and textures of the assortment of vegetables and kim chee are quite a contrast to the often uniform, sweet tasting versions that you get outside of Korea.

On the other extreme, we also had the pleasure of the most decadent (and expensive of meals), courtesy of our extremely generous hosts. This was a once in a lifetime experience - a 10 course meal of the finest seafood you'll probably be able to get (some say even better) outside of Japan. From the sweetest lobster sashimi, to US$10 a serve of ottoro maki sushi. Run by an ex-trawler (pictured above) who is infectiously passionate about his craft, we are patiently told about how to appreciate each dish and its origins. The climax of the meal however was a sight to behold - the most incredibly marbled sashimi platter of the best tuna you will probably ever taste. Arranged in sections on the platter to represent the various parts of the fish, each mouthful was just pure bliss with the delightfully oily fish melting in your mouth with a touch of freshly grated wasabi root. Awesome.

And so - my two days in Seoul was without a doubt a sensory overload - the constant rush of extremes in this intriguing city was in itself a direct contrast to the quiet and simple experience in Jeju-do just 48 hours before... but that is exactly what makes South Korea an unforgettable destination.


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