Gates & Markets

Seoul has done a fine job of preserving its history and heritage, even while building up to be a metropolitan destination.

Sungnyemun is one of the eight ancient gates surrounding the old city of Seoul, first built some 600 years ago.  We were lucky enough to see it on the one day a week that it is closed to visitors, so I was able to get a clean shot of it.  Honestly I prefer it that way.

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On the other side of the gate is Nomdaemun market, “the most famous market in all of Korea” according to a local we talked to for a few minutes. 
When pressed for what makes it the most famous market, we learned that it is the most famous market in Korea.

I could not complain about the description, as his English was vastly superior to my Korean.

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The market is extremely busy, but because it is such a tourist destination, we found the prices to not be the bargain we expected.

But of course we ate.  And the food was superb.

A couple of days later, after a good soaking rain that cleared all of the smog (but none of the pollen) out of the air, we traveled to Yeongdeungpo market.

We’ll off the beaten tourist path, it was a locals market.  Nowhere to be found were translations for anything, unlike the other markets in Seoul.  Ordering food consisted of pointing to the raw ingredients on the table. The broth for the cooking was reused from the conch to the hog tail to the chicken feet to the mackerel to the sow ear.

We were in heaven.

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Bowls of noodles, samples of meat, plates of kimchi and glasses of soju made for an enjoyable lunch surrounded by plenty of folks who were pleasantly surprised to find us foreigners eating amongst them.

More, please.

Street Shopping

More views of street vendors in Seoul.

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The kimchi pots in the bottom pic had me drooling. They are too heavy to carry back on the plane, but I have put my order in.  I may just have to wait a year (or more) until I get them.  Well worth the wait!

Street Skating

Goddess and I seem to be in the right places at the right times.  We started off the year in Köln (Cologne), Germany, staying in a hotel overlooking the square while riot police struggled to deal with an “unruly crowd“.

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Here in Korea, we emerged from the subway station to find the road lined with police buses and police putting on their riot gear.  It was May Day.  Fortunately we didn’t see anything like we did in Köln, although it looks like if we had traipsed a block or two over it would have been quite interesting.

Instead, we saw a bunch of fun street scenes.

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Art viewers being viewed while viewing art.

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Pick a stamp…

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Or a brush and paper.

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Perhaps a bowl…

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Or a well-worn tract.

During our meandering through the markets, we found a restaurant to try.  I was especially intrigued by one menu item – skate.  It was something I have never run across.

We sat down, ordered and the food quickly arrived.

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That’s the skate sashimi, known as Hongeohoe, upper right.

It is a unique dish.  As expected, it was a bit chewy as it is a cartilaginous fish.  But after a minute of chewing the piece, a very strong flavor of ammonia filled my mouth. I was not expecting that.

Once I explained my experience, our friends started laughing. The joke was on me, although they truly thought I knew what I was getting myself into.

I didn’t, but cotinued to give it a try, especially since it was a $20 USD entree.  But after a half-dozen pieces, I couldn’t do it anymore.

I learned that the ammonia flavor comes from the skin, through which the skate “urinates”, excreting uric acid.  It seems that the Koreans accentuate that flavor by fermenting the skates, sometimes for many months.

So now I have two foods on my list of “no thanks” – the skate and Japanese natto.  Both fermented dishes, which is odd since I love fermented foods.

Just not those.

But now, a day later, I realized that I would try it again.  Most suggestions are that a foreigner has to give it at least four tries before the appeal sets in.  I get that.  It would just have to be a very small serving of a few pieces, not an entire entree.

Heck, with that in mind, I might even give natto another chance.

What is on your food “no way” list (besides the two I have already mentioned)?