Sorry about the lack of posts… Is it a legitimate excuse if I say that being a tourist is hard work? I couldn’t update for the past few days because every night I’ve been so exhausted from all the touring my family and I’ve been doing. As you can imagine, I am EXTREMELY behind in my blogging right now; the enormity of the stuff I have to post actually scares me. I’ve just about finished my whirlwind tour of Beijing (I’m actually in a 2008 Olympic Village hotel as I type this up), but that post will have to wait ’til later because I haven’t blogged about what I did in Korea the day before I left for China. I’m actually amazed that WordPress works here, because Facebook and Twitter don’t, thanks to the Great Firewall of China. So I don’t know how many people are going to read this super long post, but I’ll write it up anyways for the sake of those who do check my blog regularly.
So right now I’m writing about the things that happened Thursday, July 8. Let’s start with breakfast, which was another standard grandma affair, just this time with more options.
After finishing up our breakfasts, my family and I were picked over by my aunt who drove us to the Sorae fish market. It didn’t seem like much at first, but as soon as we stepped out of our car we were hit by the briny sea air. Not only is Sorae right by the sea, but there’s a river that leads through the market and salt flats that fill up with fish when the tide comes in.
We got there pretty early in the morning (around 10ish?), so the market wasn’t as busy as it usually is. Taking advantage of all the extra space, we started exploring among the rows and rows of stalls selling all kinds of fishy goods.
Most of the outdoor stalls sold dried seafood, many of which were being dried right then and there under the blazing sun.
After browsing for a while, we decided to stop by one of the snack kiosks for a bite to eat. It’s hard work trying to fend off all the ahjoomahs that scream at you to get your attention, insisting that their fish are the freshest and the cheapest.
My sister got a cup of the sweet potato fries to share with everybody. These weren’t like your normal fries that are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Instead, these were julienned so finely that when they’re fried, they become totally crispy.
The snack stall also sold steamed periwinkles:
And what would a snack stand be without bbungteegee? That is, crunchy bug larvae?
And of course, my dad had to get his cupful of bug larvae. Look at him noshing away at the little buggers.
After snacking, we headed inside (i.e. under long canopies) where all the fresh seafood was being sold. Everything was locally caught, super cheap, and fresh as could be.
Note the colossal shrimp in the middle of the picture.
There was also a whole section that sold pickled and spiced seafood, mostly roe and baby shrimp.
Even after having walked through the entire market, it was still too early for lunch so my family decided to do some walking. Sorae is somewhat of a tourist attraction, so there are parks and green zones along the way to the salt flats.
Not only are the salt flats a tourist attraction, it seems that they’re also a popular destination for field trips.
The geography of Sorae allows for regular flooding of the inlet that leads into the mainland; this flooding creates huge tidal pools that fill up and drain out regularly, making it perfect for harvesting salt. What you see below are the giant vats of sea water that when evaporated, leave behind huge mounds of glittering, white salt.
There’s an entire museum/display which we went through, dedicated to explaining the salt flats. From the top of the building, you can see all the flats and plains below you.
You can see the construction cranes in the background; Korea keeps on building those apartments. Do we even need that many?
Once we had toured the salt flats and returned to the market, my family and I were finally hungry enough to eat lunch. We found a stall that sold fresh fish for a cheap price, but it took some haggling to get there.
I admire my dad for being so tenacious as to keep asking for a lower price, but more fish. The ahjoomahs can be amazingly stubborn…
Once we bought our fish, the ladies who worked the stall cut it up for us on the spot. We actually got to see the fish that we were going to eat get butchered before our very eyes.
Once our fish was all fillet-ed up, the women directed us to a restaurant that they recommended. As we take our seats, the women themselves bring the freshly cut fish directly to the chefs so they can serve it to us as soon as possible. The restaurant was nothing more than a couple plastic chairs and tables under a canopy, but it sufficed for our lunch.
The restaurant also had a bunch of cats that waited for you to drop them scraps of fish.
Because our fish had already been filleted and cut into sashimi-sized pieces, are order came as soon as we sat down.
Like all Korean sashimi, our fish came with a side of green-leaf lettuce, dwengjang, pepper and garlic for wrapping or gochujang for dipping.
The fish was the freshest I’ve eaten; after all it had been alive and swimming only 5 minutes ago. It was springy and chewy, but it didn’t have that off-putting “fishy” taste at all. The smaller fish took a little getting used to because the bones needed biting through, but it made for an interesting texture.
The fish lady was also kind enough to throw in a few nakjee, or little mollusks that look like baby octopus, with our order. The nakjee is also served raw, and it’s supposed to eaten as soon as it’s killed so it’s still wriggling around when you eat it.
The tentacles are actually served drizzled with sesame oil so the suckers won’t stick to your throat when you swallow them. The peppers added a nice heat to an otherwise bland dish, but it was really weird to eat wriggling octopus tentacles. Some of the more energetic ones stuck to the insides of my teeth and my mouth as I was chewing them; definitely an interesting experience.
And like any good Korean sashimi restaurant, we got a serving of mehoontang (i.e. spicy fish stew) after we finished our sashimi. It’s wasteful to throw away the bones, head, and tail of the fish after you’ve taken the flesh off so what Koreans do is throw it in a pot of spicy broth and serve it boiling to the table.
The fish that we got in our mehoon tang was somewhat on the oily side, almost like salmon. So not only did it make for an intensely flavorful broth, it also had tons of omega-3 fatty acids.
We were full to the point of bursting at this point, so we slowly headed back towards the parking lot so we could go home. Other people were eating lunch around this time too.
We passed by more snack stalls on the way back, most of them selling all sorts of fried goods.
When my dad saw these cakes, he just had to get them. They were given to us in a bag piping hot right off the griddle, but in my opinion they weren’t very flavorful; there should’ve been a higher bean-to-dough ratio. But even though the cakes weren’t particularly delicious, my dad loved them because they tasted exactly the same as the ones he ate as a kid.
We had to go through the fish market again in order to go to the parking lot, and it was considerably more crowded this time around. Everyone from restaurant owners to grandmas to housewives were browsing the market for the choicest seafood. The haggling flew thick and fast; I’m telling you, there is some cutthroat competition in the fish market. They will pounce on you like WOLVES if you just glance at their seafood.
When we go out on the other side, my aunt drove us back to my grandparent’s house. By the time we got there, all of us were in the mood for something sweet, so we decided to go on a cafe hunt. But since this post is already getting ridiculously long, I’ll blog about the rest of Thursday in a separate post. I’ll have it done soon so we can move on to my adventure in China!