Friday, September 30, 2011

Korea: Nambu Restaurant

We were given the option of eating first or exploring Seongnyu Cave first.  We elected to start with the cave and then reward ourselves with lunch afterwards.  Conveniently enough, the restaurant was located just a short walk from the cave entrance:

Panchan galore, as usual:

We were brought a stone pot of doenjang jjigae to share among 4 people:

We did, however, each get our own bibimbap:

The egg was well done.  Sigh.  No runny yolk in sight.

The good news is, I learned a new way of eating bibimbap from CK's mom.  Instead of eating it as is (with gochujang, of course), she dumped in some doenjang jjigae.  Uh...GENIUS.

While the meal wasn't exactly spectacular, the cave ended up being one of my favorite parts of the tour.  To be honest, a good fraction of my enjoyment of the cave derived not from the cave itself (though it is rather awesome), but from CK's over the top reaction to it.  Okay, so maybe the walls were somewhat slimy, but still.  Her girly squeals were hilariously gratifying.

If you don't mind dark, damp places, do check if out.  But if you're like CK, spare yourself and go straight to the restaurant.

Oh, and a warning to all those who do go to the cave.  The helmets stink.  Like, really, really stink.

경상북도 울진군 근남면 구산리 397-8

Korea: Hwa Jin Service Area

Throughout our little road trip across Korea, we got little rest breaks at various service areas.  Just like in the States, a typical service area includes plenty of restrooms to satisfy all the passing travelers.  But unlike in the States, rest stops in Korea include FOOD COURTS:

Not only that, but lining the outside of the building are food stands offering snacks, such as potatoes, hotteok, and waffles.  We weren't hungry enough to have a full meal (we were also a bit strapped on time), so we headed straight for the stand from which the most incredible smell was wafting:

Mmm...squid grilled on hot coals:

Since each squid is grilled to order, we had to stand around and wait for a bit, but the payoff was worth it.  After our squid was done, CK's mom brought it to a side table to cut with the supplied scissors:

We were a little late getting back onto the tour bus, but we didn't care.  We had SQUID:

The meat was a little chewy, but you can't get find this kind of awesome road trip snack in a grocery store.  Yummy!

Korea: Hotel Hyundai

The second hotel we stayed at during the tour was Hotel Hyundai in Gyeongju.  No beachfront views here, but there was a lake.

As with the hotel before, there was a complimentary breakfast buffet waiting for us in the morning:

Here's my first round:

Sadly, there was no pineapple juice.  I may have cried a little inside.  The smoked salmon was also cut into small chunks and tossed in a salad.  Why?  But hey, there were eggs with runny yolks and look, the pain au chocolat made a reappearance!  (Do hotels use the same bakery?)

For my second route, I switched up my juice and served myself a bowl of doenjang jjigae (going Korean style, yo):

Since we had time to kill, I went back for a plate of fruit:

Fine, and a cube of cake too.  It turned out to be a thicker, square version of the polippang we had the day before.

Overall, nice hotel.  Would've been better with pineapple juice though.

Hotel Hyundai
477-2, Sinpyung-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Seoul 780-290

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Korea: Korea Buffet Chum Sung Dae

Our tour guide certainly kept us busy between lunch and dinner.  Within the span of a few hours, we crammed in the Gyeongju National Museum (where I hunted for free stamps), Seokguram Grotto, and Bulguksa Temple.  Lots of walking involved.

By the time our tour bus pulled up to Korean Buffet Chum Sung Dae, I was pooped:

After circling around once to survey the goods, I got in line:

I got a little bit of just about everything (that wasn't in the salad section):

Spaghetti?  Check.  Nigiri?  Check.

Sadly, the best thing they had was this:

French fries in Korea, baby!  They were freshly fried and actually quite yummy.  Everything else was a bit subpar.

After dinner it was back on the tour bus and off to the hotel.

경북 경주시 구황동 883-34

Korea: Bulguk Bread

Tumuli Park and the Cheomseongdae Observatory were interesting and all, but my eyes couldn't help but stray toward the line of shops selling Gyeongju bread:

Everyone in our tour group descended upon one such store while we were waiting for our tourbus to pull out of the parking lot.

As with all the other stores lining the street, this place sold 2 types of bread, Gyeongju ppang and chalpolippang:

Other people bought boxes, but we ended up just getting free samples.  Here is the polippang:

It was very much like a tongluoshao (in Chinese) or dorayaki (in Japanese), except the bread itself was...wheatier...healthier tasting?

And here's a cut of the Gyeongju ppang:

The filling was red bean and the overall effect was kind of like a Chinese moon cake, but with a bread-y exterior.

Good, but not enough for me to buy a box of 10.

경북 경주시 황남동 193-2번지

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Korea: Jeonju Cheonggukjang Bulgogi Ssambap

Our tour through the local seafood market whetted my appetite (why would the tour guide take us through a seafood market, tempt us with all the sights and smells...and then whisk us away on the bus?), so I was more than ready for lunch:

Unfortunately, it wasn't a seafood banquet as I'd hoped.

Instead, we got the usual panchan spread:

There was pan fried fish and japchae:

Pretty greens:

Perilla leaves:

These were my favorite.  They had a minty, almost spicy, flavor to them.

There was also tempura of some kind:

And an intensely kimchi-flavored jun (pancake):

Cheonggukjang was one of our main dishes:

It was yummy, but nowhere as pungent as the cheonggukjang we had back in Suwon.

The other main dish was some kind of pork:

To make wraps (ssam), we were brought 2 platters with different kinds of greens:

I was quite proud of my wraps:

How gorgeous is that?

Anyway, the meal was good, but rather mediocre.  The kimchi jun was a standout, as was the perilla kimchi.  Other than that, meh.

경북 경주시 인왕동 813-1

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Korea: Paradise Hotel

The morning of the first full day of the tour, we headed downstairs for a complimentary breakfast in our hotel in Busan, Paradise Hotel:

Gorgeous view of the beach.  Clean, modern dining room.  I was quite impressed.

Even the buffet spread looked good:

There was all the usual continental breakfast items (eggs, bacon, toast, etc), as well as some Korean stuff (panchan, rice, etc)

Here's round one:

And round 2:

As expected, the food was decent, but not particularly mind-blowing.  The best thing they had there?  Pineapple juice.  All you can drink pineapple juice.  I was in HEAVEN.

There were also thick slabs of smoked salmon.  Mmmm...I made sure to eat a slice in honor of every member of my family that wasn't there with me.

The pain au chocolat was also fairly legit.  Nothing like chocolate and pineapple juice to jump start a day.

In hindsight, I should have appreciated Paradise Hotel and its breakfast more, as it would be the best one out of the three places we stayed at over the course of the tour.

Paradise Hotel
1408-5 Jung-dong Haeundae-gu, Busan 612-010

Monday, September 26, 2011

Korea: Jjanggu Nehoetjim

After dinner, we were dropped off at our hotel and set free to explore Pusan on our own.  Thankfully, CK's uncle was there to take us around.  We strolled down the beach and then through the streets before sighting this place:

Crayon Shin-chan's restaurant?  Uh, awesome?  Crayon Shin-chan's seafood restaurant in Korea?  DOUBLE AWESOME.

I was a little disappointed by the lack of Crayon Shin-chan-ness inside:

The lack of Crayon Shin-chan decor was easily forgotten once this array of panchan was brought to the table:

Beondegi (silk worm pupae) made a reappearance.  I didn't like it any better the second time around.  Along with it came a dish of tiny cone-shaped shells.  You eat the little buggers by sucking on the shell opening.  The meat that comes out is salty, tiny, and ultimately not worth my time.

There were bigger and better sea creatures to tackle:

How's that for the weirdest plate of sashimi you've ever seen?  Sea cucumbers, sea squirts, sea worms...oh, my!

I didn't enjoy the sea squirts (right half of the plate).  The sea cucumber was acceptable, but it's almost crunchy texture came as a bit of a surprise.  Apparently, it's crunchy because the sea cucumber tenses when it's sliced.

My favorite of the night was the sea worm:

They wriggled when poked at with chopsticks.  No joke.  Kind of gross, but I ruthlessly quashed the queasy feel in my stomach and popped a squirming piece in my mouth before I could psych myself out of it.  Not bad.  Not particularly flavorful, but a quick dunk in gochujang remedied that.  Not as hard as the sea cucumber, but still dente.

The next day, we were brought to a seafood market, where I was able to get some pictures of what we ate.  Here are the sea squirts:

The sea cucumbers and the sea worms:

While I'm glad I gave it a try, I think I'm going to stick with my usual sashimi.  Sorry, Crayon Shin-chan.

부산 해운대구 우동 1378번지

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Korea: Dammie Restaurant

During my trip to Korea, I went on a tour with Ck, her sister, and her mother.  We flew down to Pusan and then gradually made our way to Seoul via tourbus over the course of 3 days.

We were picked up at the airport in Pusan Thursday night by our tour guide, along with the other 7 people on our tour (all of them over the age of 50).  Once on the tourbus, the first thing of interest our tour guide told us was that Pusan is known to be the second worst city in Korea for food.  Great.

Thus warned, we were shuttled to Dammie Restaurant:

The panchan was pretty standard:

All the food came as part of the tour package, so we weren't given a choice in what we wanted to eat.  For this particular meal, we were served sundubu (Korean tofu):

Nothing too extraordinary about it, but the tofu was supposedly made in-house.  Props for that.

I resigned myself to the fact that I would be having purple rice for the duration of my stay in Korea very early on:

Not a lot of beans in this one, which I was really thankful for.

All in all, it tasted a lot like what I could get in the States.  Bummer.

담미 감자탕
부산광역시 강서구 대저2동 2407-4

Korea: Cheong U

On my third day in Korea, I was introduced to something awesome...but stinky.  I'll admit that my sense of smell isn't always the most functional.  While CK was commenting on the stench the minute we exited the car, it took me two steps into Cheong U before I was hit with the smell of something akin to sweaty wet socks:

The culprit?  This simmering pot:

But before we get to that, I finally got to take some closeup shots of panchan!  (I always feel embarrassed about taking pictures when I'm eating with people I'm not particularly close to.  Especially if said people are the mother and uncle of my friend.  Awkward!)  Okay, so maybe I was only able to sneak pictures of the plates closest to me, but hey, it's better than nothing, right?

Here's a scallion one:

An eggplant one:

And my favorite widdle anchovies:

I wish I'd gotten a closeup of the pork (lower right of the table shot) because it was delicious -- or as CK likes to say, DEE-RI-CIOUS!

The huge simmering pot in the middle of the table was definitely the star of the show though:

Cheonggukjang, as it's called, is a stew made of fermented bean paste.  It's a lot like doenjang jijae, but much more pungent.  Don't ask me why.  When I start eating, there's no brain space for questions.

After letting the cheonggukjang cook down a little, the soup becomes thicker and yummier:

Trust me, after a while, you don't even notice the smell.  In fact, all you'll be able to focus on is how great the cheonggukjang goes with rice.  You won't remember about the small until you're driving away and you suddenly catch of whiff of it from your hair.

Luckily, I had no one to impress.  I wore my cheonggukjang perfume with pride.

For sure one of my favorite meals in Korea.  Plug your nose if you have to, but definitely don't miss out on this.
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