Seoul is glittering skyscrapers. Seoul is a contemporary urban marvel.
JK, no one needs another Lonely Planet-replica travel blog. Speaking of Lonely Planet, I actually own my first copy. It’s on Korea and it’s in my apartment. I use it to kill mosquitoes.
Occasionally I enjoy the consumerist romance of travel guides, but in some ways it’s the worst way to write about a place, and I definitely can’t pretend it’s journalistic or has any modicum of ‘experience’ in it. So in the spirit of this being ‘a blog’, and ‘my blog’, I will be ruthlessly subjective, like youshz. I’m going to include the good and the bad for a sense of cohesion, just like Dante, and as a guide for myself when I look back on all this. If you find yourself in this flyover country and are looking to sate your basic biological impulses towards pleasure, let me hold your hand and take you through the Land of the Morning Calm.
Myeong Dong is a well-stocked shopping district with a variety of Korean street food (all of it) – stuff like nutella bbopkki, pomegranate juice and hotteok. There’s a Frisbee store if you’re an Apple slut and need a charger for your i-whatever. If you’re crunched for time in the country and want to get culture-vulturing through the gamut of every Korean street food, make way around Myeong Dong.
Hongdae a.k.a. Hongik University Station: Come here to feel the true gravity of the earth’s crushing overpopulation. If you’re catching the subway in or around this area, be prepared cuz the trains are so tight you can only breathe in. The streets are flooded in all directions with one raging, unbroken sea of university students ready to lose their minds. Walking down any street in Hongdae you’ll pass wall to wall ‘couple’s’ cafes, clothing boutiques, cosmetics shops, gelato joints, darts bars, claw machine arcades, video game rooms and hookah lounges, along with the visual blight of usual suspects (CVS, Olive Young, etc.). Hongdae can be a fun place to check out if you’re new to Korea, or to grab an early dinner/drink and then GTFO, but if you live here the place gets old real quick. I don’t even live in Seoul and I was sick of it in a few weeks. Korea is already crowded – B.C. is 10 times the size², but Korea has 10 times the population. And when the most populated city in the country gets together and decides “let’s all go party in this one little neighborhood” it becomes something of a clusterfuck, which for all intents and purposes could be what you want on the weekend when you emerge from your hobbit-hole in the sticks of Gyeonggido.
♦Clubbing in Hongdae♦
Surgical masks and bucket hats seem the quintessential clubbing accoutrements, along with dressing like you’re rich AF. Status is very important in Korea, in fact it’s the most materialistic country in the world, and you see this reflected in how hard Koreans try any time they leave the house. My fav sight is slowly becoming bloody heels in ill-fitting shoes, a thing that gets in my eyes a lot when I’m stationary on the subway escalator. I’m not sure if the surgical mask hides the rhinoplasty scars or it’s just a preventative, completely ineffective/cosmetic measure for lung disease against the pollution. Probably both. Hot tip: according to Korean media, ‘foreigners’ are amoral sluts, so don’t be shocked if you’re treated as such. Watch out for pig stimulants and learn how to land a short elbow from the clinch (not enough space to throw a punch). If I don’t mention the music, it’s electronic.
NB1/NB2 (Noise Basement 1 & 2) stand parallel to each other and they’re as bad as any clubs you’ll go to on this planet. Don’t be fooled by the lines dipping around the block, trust me, the trendwhoring here is grotesquely misguided (see: bowl cuts). If you find yourself queuing up you’ve made a mistake. Thankfully there were friendly looking foreigners in line and we just walked right in. Noise Basement delivers its titular promise. The club is big and its layout is nifty, there’s a balcony overlooking the music pit which is like the 4BF. There’s only a few tables per capita in these overglorified sardine tins, so be prepared to bump shoulders with the proletariat going from A conversation to Bar while the gliteratti ㅋㅋㅋ from their bottle serviced tables and shitty blazers. These clubs have poor air circulation, so apologies in advance if some asshole like me blows smoke in your face. Smoking indoors is gross and is not only permitted, but basically encouraged due to the draconian ‘in and out’ rules. Don’t be too sober for an experience like this, it’ll make you rethink your time in Korea and perhaps even life from a more existential POV.
Recommended for: being dragged to for friend’s birthday parties, people who don’t know any better.
Zen – Don’t forget your oxygen mask, cuz there ain’t much space to breathe in this underground lounge. Pretty poppy but it’s a fun place to start the night. There’s a “famous” playground a hop skip and a jump up the hill which is a good place to pregame. I somehow love playgrounds more now than when I was a kid. Be wary of the well whisky, I had to be careful not to projectile all over the bar patrons.
Thursday Party/Mikes Cabin – While Korea lags behind Japan in many areas, one thing it has up on Sapporoville are known expat enclaves and droves of waygooks to fill them on a reliable consistency. Thursday Party and Mike’s Cabin are two ‘foreigner’ chains (pubs) sparsely placed around the country. They’re great places to make westerner friends or to give married Korean women a “free English lesson”.
Vent – Drink tickets that somehow got placed in my hand on the street led us to free tequila shots and floating dizzily between strange conversations for a good time. The dregs of the Seoul pillow fight washed up here and it was fun to stop by. Like Mike’s Cabin, it’s got that “dismal single lightbulb on a beaded string swinging slowly back and forth from the ceiling like a pendulum” vibe that after an hour makes you start thinking things like “okay, well, what’s the goal of this place?”
Cocoon – Two guys in line told me I was handsome and I had ooohh aahhhh much good beard about 6 times, and then proceeded to give me their stuffed Vulpix doll which they spent hours and a lot of money at the claw machines winning. Typical male Korean behavior. There’s a funktion-1 sound system and cannon shaped speakers on stage. We were dancing at the front and some spectrumy dude was aggressively bleating into a whistle next to our faces. Not to the music, of course, just hangin out, solipsistically screeching this whistle as if nothing existed but his own mind. After about 30 seconds of auditory assault, this girl Emily from exchange in Hong Kong violently slapped it out of his mouth. She didn’t know about women’s place in Korea. Holy fuck, you should’ve seen this guy’s face, it was a moment of glory. You could actually see the gears in his head turning until the moment they jammed and his whole brain just short-circuited.
Aside from clubbing and watching some public
attention whoring street performances, Hongdae isn’t exactly a bastion of culture, beyond the tectonic cultural forces of alcoholism and electronic music. The gentrification of an area once for artists and creatives is loud and in your face, everything is an ugly polished product. Rent for businesses is expensive. Hongdae is exhibit 1 evidence that South Korea is where trends come for seconds before receiving the cultural human-centipede treatment. For what it is though – a snafu of young people getting weird, there’s definitely something to enjoy.
Jamsil hosts the cherry blooms in spring, and composing the festival encircling the lake are ajummas in comically oversized floral visors hawking bangles and plastic jewelry. You can take a stroll around the pink-strewn lake on one side and opposite on the islet lies Lotte World. I went there with my middle school students and indeed, it was an amusement park for kids. A couple train dots south from Jamsil station is the Sports Complex, which hosts riotous, raucous baseball games most weekends with surgery-Barbie cheerleaders propped up on soapboxes hitting bongos and leading chants in the stands. Baseball is a big deal here and you can see the games most weekends with decent seats for 12K. The way the orange summer light spills off the skyscraper glass in the background is pretty picturesque. Sponsored by Cass™.
Itaewon is my fav neighborhood in Korea. It’s the waegukin neighborhood, even though it’s still about 70% Korean. Itaewon’s theme is that a strange brew of people turn up here, as South Korea simply isn’t on many people’s radar. Everyone, at least where I’m from, wants to hit up destinations like Japan or Thailand or Vietnam – known cool places with plusses like tropical weather and manga culture. “I’ve played Pokemon and seen three Miyazaki films and I want to live in Japan”, said most people I know from Canada. “I want to try up to 250 different kinds of fermented cabbage and K-pop is a big deal for me” exists, but the chances of meeting one of these lunatics is like getting struck by lightning, until you come to Korea, and then you’re being struck by lightning constantly.
Itaewon is a blend of GET’s, American military GI’s, Africans doing I’m not sure what, Turks, Uzbecks and Indians who own restaurants and perhaps work for the tech conglomerates, though it blows my mind these people have become theoretically proficient in Korean enough to work a white collar job here. At least in terms of mass marketability as a travel destination, Korea has little to “sell” you on, and so what you end up with in terms of who visits is like a box of human chocolates, where the contrast between chocolates can be so outrageous there’s an element of black comedy to the quotidian.
IS@K Guest House – We had a long weekend for Teacher’s Day. In the traditional Hongik Ingan spirit of institutionalized corruption and genuflecting to the overlords of academia, kids’ parents used to sway teachers with lavish gifts in exchange for good grades – not so, now that Teacher’s Day has been made a holiday. I would’ve been cool with cash bribes but a weekend at IS@K’s was a suitable alternative. It has a 6F rooftop with a mismatched patio set and panorama views of the city. There’s a vinyl record shop down the block and a lot of dicey Russian restaurants around — like, I’d get vaccinated before drinking that cocktail. I went out with a group of brainwashed koreaboo Israeli girls I met here and apparently “Jews love this place” because it’s a stone’s throw from the Itaewon synagogue. After drinking the night away and interjecting many normal conversations about their faith (mazel tov) they woke up at 5am Sunday to attend the religious service.
Korea. It’s like a box of chocolates.
Halal Uzbeck Restaurant is located in the pocket of alleys south (down the hill) from the Hamilton Hotel. Great pilaf and bread so fresh Paris Baguette should stop transacting altogether. Our waiter was nervous on a level like he just hid the bodies somewhere, like if an Arabian Gil from the Simpsons was our waiter. Kind of like me when I used to do that shit.
Canucks is a restaurant I’m supposed to like. Absolutely McDonalds-tier poutine.
Taco Amigo was otherworldly. Good glob, this was the best meal I’ve eaten in months. You can get vegan food and pretty much any Mexican you could dream up. I had a soy-steak burrito which isn’t even proper Mexican but it was a transcendent experience, delicious beyond words, like every happy emoji having group sex. I chalk this up to Hispanic staff; authenticity feels like a rarity here. It’s close to exit 5 on the main drag.
♦Clubbing in Itaewon♦
Cake Shop has 20K entry and 10K maekju. Boo urns. At least the bottles of ‘Buddha beer’ were cool. We rolled up early (11:30) like a bunch of keeners and danced til 12:30 when there was no longer space to dance/breathe. Too many Koreans smoking beneath a claustrophobically low basement ceiling in a compact little room. Blogs will doubtlessly tell you to go to Cake Shop, but the problem with looking up spots online here is that this country is a cesspit of conformity and as soon as a www decides a place is “trendy” it is swarmed like the 1945 Red Army on the northern peninsula in such a choking, frotteuristic fashion you’d wonder how it ever could’ve been fun in the first place. 12 hour school days of rote memorization do not allow much room for individuality or independent thought, so there’s a widespread ‘follow the herd’ mentality on what’s cool. I realize the irony, like a backpacker who whines a place is “too touristy” (m8, you’re a tourist!), but I came here for the music, not to feel hip. One of the great things about Itaewon is that there are comparatively less people here than other nightlife necks of the Seoul woods, so it can be annoying to be assailed by the opposite. Overhyped/10.
Smash Palace is the 3rd floor icing atop the Cake Shop at the end of the strip. Round one it was an average cocktail bar with average prices. Bonus points cuz of the low volume of patrons. Round 2 we show up, and the atmosphere has been transformed, there is an perfume of party in the air. Tables and benches have been removed, there is a intoxication wafting. Only a few seats remain next to the opened bay window overlooking the roundabout below. DJ’s are pumping the room with dubstep Zelda remixes, hardstyle tracks and rap music. 10K cover was three free drinks and unlimited free beer with some microbrew promo going on. It was wild – the music was bangin, drinks were being poured in mouths, lots of Korean moshing turned grabbing strangers into human dance tornadoes and a fair share of Korean on white molestation. A solid night of debauchery for my quasi-birthday. The other day we walked by around sunset and some people skipped Church to have the same dance party on the roof.
EDIT: weekly rooftop parties @ Smash Palace for summer 2017!
Skrt had the nicest DJ set I’ve seen so far in Seoul, a Korean+global smoothie of rap, trap, funk, glitchy minimalist house and well-blended eclectic electro tunes that had me n Hannah gettin down hours past declaring fatigue. There was about 10 people in the club on a Saturday all night, which was sick. I used to like a happy medium of people around me when I go out but after living in Korea three months I’ll settle for an empty club.
Fountain club bouncers refused me entry as I wasn’t dressed appropriately the first time I arrived. Apparently sweatpants would’ve undermined the class and sophistication of this elegant establishment. How graceless! How tactless of me! With all my poise and composure, I duly apologized to this fine gentleman for upholding the strong moral backbone of his club, and I bade him adieu.
The second night I couldn’t even describe the music. What kind of music is this, could someone tell me? They serve pizza by the slice which should be in more clubs, but despite the free cover, its layout is designed for rich dudes and their gold digger dates. 70% of the space is devoted to tables and bottle service on two separate balconies literally looking down on the dancefloor peons below. In the sea of people I poured IPA in my dance partner’s hair and shared an overpriced negroni with some dude’s shirt. Being on the dance floor at club Fountain offers the kind of involuntary immobilized rocking back and forth felt only wading chest-high through choppy ocean waters and the dance floor of a club in Seoul. “So this is Asia”, you’ll ponder.
UPDATE: Browsing today through the hard-hitting journalism of the Korea Times, I came upon this. From the maw of the same bouncer who denied my entry: “No Indians. It is a rule. No Kazakhstan, No Pakistan, No Mongolia, No Saudi Arabia and No Egypt. It is a rule.” Classic Korea.
Yongsan has an Electronics Market, somewhere. We walked around where it was meant to be and we saw shops full of frayed wires and household appliances that would appeal to old married people. I wanted to fly drones and dance with a robot. You failed me, Yongsan!
Near Yongsan KtX station is the Dragon Hill Spa and Resort, which is the second closest jimjilbang when Itaewonland is inexplicably closed and it’s 4am and it’s strung out. There’s something twisted in the way jimjilbangs call themselves ‘spa’ and ‘resort’, I chalk this up to mendacity rather than poor translation. The picture on the marquee is one of palm trees and a swimming pool (???). They should replace it with a realistic image, one of you passing out in the shower and waking up sweating on a yoga mat next to sweating human hangovers when at 9am some guy turns on the lights and starts screaming at everyone in Korean to wake up. At Itaewonland, the palatial jimjilbang atop Hooker Hill, you can find yourself a peaceful nook. Dragon Hill is an abomination.
The aquatic artery of Seoul is called Cheonggyecheon, snaking 9km from the Han River to the Yellow Sea and it’s a laid back place to cool your feet.
At Garosu-gil, ginko trees flank the thoroughfare of upscale clothing boutiques and ethnic Asian cuisine. You can get pho and pad Thai here as good as anywhere. Sunday walks through this sleepy neighborhood feel like a fitting bookend to a weekend of raging, regrets and dehydration in the party hoods. As I clearly haven’t scratched the surface, all the filthy details of Gangam will be featured in a future installment of FHFF.
Busan is a coastal city in the southernmost tip of the country. It’s better than the rest of Korea.
Gwangalli is an electric beach district near the end of Busan’s green line. It’s got a lot of “trendy” shops along its coast and some killer views, which if I just arrived from somewhere that actually had killer views I wouldn’t think much of, but after being conditioned to expect the unswerving homogeneity characteristic of the rest of the country, as soon as a minor change presented itself, everything became WAY cooler. And that’s what you get when you visit Busan and Gwangalli beach. With soju so cheap and public drinking so shameless, it feels necessary to navigate far from the city streets of Seoul, post up on a waterfront and soak up a moment. It felt like a lot had happened to me in my 7 days in Busan. I must’ve met a hundred people. I think I lived a month in a week. I ate a final bowl of ramen from the GS25 patio on the beach avenue with two Dutch guys, one of whom we just met on the street, staring down the twilit sandy expanse, soaking it all up and there was that same feeling of serenity that presents itself every time a big new experience comes to a close.
HQ is located on the fourth floor peering over the bustle of Gwangalli. Out the missing wall window we watched helium propelled tea lanterns and fireworks pillaging the night of Buddha’s birthday, three hours of bright birdflights of gunpowder smoking over the L.E.D. bridge. I’ve heard about bars like these, mostly from blogs. These expat haunts haven’t the Seoul party vibes of places populated with American military bros and tourists, but a quietude befitting the aging English teacher crew. It’s filled with people who have enough years on their contract they don’t mind paying 10K for a bottle of import. They’ve survived the first year stooping with the cheapest soju, paying off student loans for their degree in basket-weaving or ethnomusicology, the second and third making peace with the idea “this is what I’m doing now” and eventually they’re making 3M at a hagwon tutoring the son of a doctor for an extra third of their salary on the side. They get long paid vacations they take around Europe, not Asia, and live a comfy life doing stuff like poorly designed bar trivia at HQ on topics like ‘Golden Girls’ which I wish I made up.
Dongbaekseom Island is at the east end of Haeundae if you’re facing the horizon. It’s a nice walk if you’re hungover on vacation and don’t want to commit to a full hike but you want those feel good ‘I wasn’t a complete piece of shit today’ vibes in a hilly 40 minutes around the islet. Don’t forget your selfie stick! You won’t enjoy it unless you take a selfie every three minutes. I have little to say about Haeundae Bitch, it’s under large scale construction. It’s like Gwangalli but with wind storms stabbing sand in your eyes. Apparently it’s the best place in the city to party, but at this moment it’s impossible to tell.
Jugalgi is a series of giant interconnected open air fish markets next to the sea at the end of Nampodong Street. I didn’t think fish were kept in factory farm conditions but evidently, sometimes they are. Considering how dogs are treated here this is unsurprising. Mostly it just made me sad, I saw flounders stacked vertically like pieces of cardboard in little bins of water, just eating each others asses in a purely cannibalistic and non-sexual way. Some of them flipped out from the pain, like literally flipped out of the baskets through the air onto the floor, like bottle rockets fueled by asspain.
Seomyeon is the golden jewel of Busan, brimming with Japanese-Korean fusion restaurants and fun free clubs. Follow the music blasting onto the street for your club of choice. Seomyeon is also the the major commercial/shopping nexus, if you give a shit.
Kim’s House is located in Daeyon and is literally just this dude Kim’s house. It has no business being a hostel. One toilet for 14 people? Bitch pls. About the size of a dollhouse and overcrowded with Chinese tourists with comically oversized luggage and smelly feet, juxtaposed with a window maximally cracked to the girth of pencil. Abysmal. The downtown Daeyon area is a greyscale experience but thankfully only a few metro stops from the beach. Oh ya you can’t turn on the light in the main area when you come in at night because some middle aged fat guy (Mr. Kim, presumably) sleeps on the floor beside the creaky entrance door. One might assume Mrs. Kim, who sleeps in the main bedroom, no longer wants to have sex/look at Mr. Kim for reasons involving Filipina prostitutes or corruption or [remember to insert more of the classics], relegating him to a sleeping bag on the floor and leaving the guesthouse patrons feeling awkward. Even if you don’t turn on the light coming in, you’ll still wake Snorlax and he’ll be visibly pissed. I’m gonna give this a 4%, undercutting what I believe to be HostelWorld’s overly generous rating of 91%.
Despite strong reservations about the name choice, Kimchee Hostel is a nice place in the perfect location (Seomyeon). I met a surplus of interesting travelers here from around the world, with some rare finds like Azerbaijan and Poland.
♦Where to get down in Busan♦
I’ll make this quick and painless. Nonmoroe Lounge is past Seomyeon’s giant heart sculpture (can’t miss it), on the 8th floor of the main drag. You wouldn’t ever know it was there, but this place is lit. It was the spark to begin our nights out, but I’d’ve no gripes staying. They have craft IPAs, stripper poles, darts, 2K somec bombs and rotating DJ’s mixing all things from 70’s funk rock to moombahton. It was the only time in the country I’ve seen Korean women wear bright colors, a thought I only fully realized the moment I got off that 8F smoke-stained elevator. Some k-chick dressed in Christmas colors with snakebites tattooed inside her lip challenged my mate Simon to a game of darts, loser had to twerk on the stripper pole. She reminded me of accidentally walking into a game of Connect 4 with a Thai bar girl. Connect 4, easy enough right? Well, Simon’s performance was so pitiful I decided to challenge her myself. Like the Thai bar girl, she knew exactly what she was doing. Turns out twerking is harder than it looks folks, my ass is only slightly fleshier than the average Korean woman.
∇ΔYangpyeong∇Δ = where some of my friends live, scenic mountainous county to ride bikes around the lakes and through the mountains and for a split second nostagia’d me back to B.C. It’s photogenic af and a nice place to partyrelax.
Public transport is your best bet for hood hopping. English signage allows easy access anywhere. Most train stops have bakeries on at least one basement floor, imbuing the underground with a smell of ‘freshly baked bread’, a marked upgrade from the ‘homeless urine muskeg’ of most city undergrounds. Other than decrepit old people elbowing their way to the front of the line, racist and homophobic discrimination from old people and sexual harassment from old men, public transport is a largely ‘chill’ experience with well lit trains that tend to show up. Download the subway map app where you can report ajeossi rapists in real time and you’re set.
City Taxis like to rip you off threefold if they can. If you’re out at night in a semi-popular neighborhood you can correctly assume the laws of supply and demand come into play, and if a cab driver doesn’t think he can gouge you they have no qualms about leaving you in the middle of the street like an abandoned child. Are you black? Good luck. It helps to speak a bit of Korean or at least have the address written in Hangul to show the cabbie. Never assume they can read the alphabet or speak English, they’re more likely to know Mandarin and take the long way.
When the liquor wears off and cabs are a no go/if you find yourself stranded you can always crash in a jimjilbang (10K) or a love motel (40-80K). Jimjilbangs (sauna + yoga mat cuddle puddle) are the best bang for your buck, while love motels are the best place to bang. Korean adults live with their parents right up until they get married, so an assortment of private room rentals are offered in ubiquity. They have all kinds of “bangs” here (bang = room in Korean) – Noreabang (singing room), PC bang (computer room), DVD bang (DVD room). These are places to sing karaoke, use a computer, or have an orgy. For the price of admission in a Noraebang you often get some free stuff like cans of beer or patbingsu, which is an ice cream sundae with refried beans. Try it you pussy!
A Goguma Latte (sweet potato) is made without espresso, I’ll pretend it’s a latte though. It was good. Its authentic root vegetable flavor transports you back to a simpler time, a time when you were eating a sweet potato. I know, I know, I’ve already applied for an editorial position with the Food Network.
Recommended for: people who like sweet potatoes, people who like milk.
Not recommended for: diabetics.
Makgeolli tickles the tongue. Google will tell you it’s fermented rice wine, but I taste the bastard child of expired dairy and soda water. Like if they did what they do to kombucha but with skim milk instead of fruit. A Slovenian guy told me it tastes like Sprite, which is true if you leave dirty socks in your Sprite, put it in the sun and come back to later suck the hot feet Sprite out of the socks. Most convenience marts carry the uninspired original, but restaurants will have it in flavors like chestnut, honey and banana that are cloying in sweet and sour notes and pack a stiff jab to the mouth.
Recommended for: “I’m here for 11 more months, I feel like I should try something new”.
Soju is a 9 million bottle a day habit, a starchy 25% highly drinkable vodka with an aroma of formaldehyde; its hangovers are among the worst I’ve had. It’s a common sentiment that soju creeps up on you – you don’t feel it ’til you’ve woken up in a different city without your shirt and someone elses ARC card. There’s a kick to it that’s more than just drinking, it buzzes you in parallel to the inexplicable fuckery of tequila – maybe it’s psychological but you’ll feel things beyond “I just did a shot”. Perhaps its endless list of chemicals fucking with your digestion and metabolism and hormones is the culprit.
Flavored soju = jungle juice. Comes in robust tropical flavors like mango, grapefruit, pomegranate and blueberry. Tastes like cough syrup if you wanna hit the lean, except for grapefruit, which is effervescent like citrus San Pellegrino and a couple added tablespoons of sugar. There’s also North Korean soju, which according to Slate, “is hands down, the grossest thing that’s ever been in my mouth, a category that includes Vegemite, gelfite fish and beer-soaked cigarette butts. Its aroma is industrial, its bouquet post-industrial, its finish post-apocalyptic. Two sips killed my palette for 36 hours.” I wanna try it.
Somec – If you were to throw some vodka in your beer, you wouldn’t call it voh-beer, or beerka, would you? It wouldn’t warrant a title, in lieu of it being a ‘shit mix’, the same way mixing the whole palette of oil paints isn’t creating a new color, it’s just an unsightly, irreparable brown. Somec is for mixed beer and soju and there’s a hundred names of other execrable combinations they do. ‘Gojingamrae’ is for coke, beer and soju, might as well throw in some triple sec and a frilly lime peel and call it a cocktail amirite?
Recommended for: your EPIK contract was renewed, your girlfriend/boyfriend broke up with you, and other miscellaneous states of despair.
Maekju – For some reason this country has a pathological reluctance to brewing any sort of good beer, blame it on the ROK’s same oligopolies that control the government and the media and your limited consumerist choices. There’s pissy pilsner, malt liquor or bathtub brew. There’s even an industry of pricey liquid-shot hangover salves to combat the gutrot. Hite, Kloud, Max… what went wrong? Cass? More like Ass. These beers are roughly the same quality as Angkor or Klang (Kmher beers), but Cambodia is impoverished, like African-tier dirt runways in the airport impoverishment. Considering the GDP and insane economic growth of Korea, the state of beer here blows my mind in the worst way.
Bibimbap is one of my faves. There’s some subtlety to its flavor of vegetables, sriracha and egg done over rice, served in a smelting hot stone bowl like you’re the owner’s pet dragon. Its the rare dish served without the LD50 of sodium, kind of the opposite of pajeon, which is an egg-y pancake with surprises like spinach and boiled octopus non-consensually thrown in. A committee actually got together and discussed how much salt they were allowed to put in pajeon and the verdict was unanimous: all of it. I’ve eaten tasty deokbokki a number of times here, you just gotta know where to look. Sometimes the sauce is too ketchupy, but served milk-thick and firey hot to where I sweat when I eat makes me happy to be in Korea. Another go-to is makguksu, a fat bowl of cold buckwheat noodles topped with a boiled egg, vegetables and that same blood red brine that might as well be on the national flag. However for makguksu it’s often mixed with sesame oil, giving it a smoky kick that transforms the flavor profile.
Kimbap (gkeem-bahp) is just inferior sushi. Whereas sushi has a center of fresh fish or vegetables, kimbap forgoes user-friendly ingredients in lieu of spam, fermented radishes the color of nuclear waste, stir-fried kimchi, cheese whiz and that slurry of canned tuna/mayonnaise your mom made. I was eating one of these from the airport convenience mart when I arrived in the country. I was talking to my recruiter and I made the mistake of being like “WTF are you talking about, this isn’t gimbadeedoobap, it’s sushi“, pointing at the odd looking sushi in my hands. These types of situations are funny in retrospect, Koreans loathe the Japanese on a level you need to see to believe.
Dotorimuk (acorn jelly) is a weird one. It’s a staple of my school cafeteria lunches. It’s a flavorless gelatinous substance, from an acorn.
Recommended for: you like it slimy.
Another is beondegi a.k.a. silkworm lava. It’s a popular street food and smells like rotting corpses, perhaps because that’s what it is. These slightly seasoned pupae are like fruit gushers but it’s a bug. Enjoy its liquid gushing bug-in-mouth feeling.
I hope you liked the photos. I’ve had a camera for 5+ years and I’m still figuring it out.
Next episode will include Daejeon, Daegu, Jeju, Boryeong, Mokpo, Boseon, clubbing in Gangnam, summer festivals and more!