Food is something that cannot be missed out in Korea. Whichever season you happen to be in the country, there is bound to be something that you can enjoy. No, we are not talking about kimchi, nor the bibimbap. And how can we miss out on the street food, the pastries and cakes? Those are definitely gems to be written about, but then those articles would be a dime a dozen!
See what we mean?
We are talking about meals that you can really write about. The ones which are either hard to find, or does not rank high on the palette of most folks. And it will be updated in the future as we brave yet more intriguing meals. First up,
Braising sea eels
So what? Eels are not something exotic right? So how can this be a meal to really write about?
For one thing, you would probably have tried eels as sushi, you know those little delectable bites of eel on rice. But one thing is for sure, these are eels from the rivers, usually farmed for the most parts. Wild fresh water eels are indeed hard to find…
But what if we tell you the eels we had was not from the rivers?
Does an image come up when you think about sea eels?
The large jaws potentially snapping at you, threatening to take a piece of you away! Noooooo! While walking the alleys of Bupyeong market one night, we came across this little corner restaurant. It was an unassuming little place, with barely enough room for 10 tables. If you noticed, the tables all had a hole in the center. This was for the gas cylinder powered hot pot cooker.
Coming in S/M/L servings, there was only one dish on offer: sea eels. And they could be prepared in any of two ways: braised or barbequed. We chose the former and requested for medium spicy preparation.
Now you don’t get to cook it yourself. It was served to us only after the eels had been thoroughly cooked. Keep it warm with the gas cooker, since it was November and food gets cold fast! How did it taste? If you ask us, it was a little crunchy unlike the Japanese styled prepared unagi. Perhaps this is because its larger and hence the flesh is much firmer. And since it was not marinated in sweet sauce, the spicy braise sauce was pretty intense!
This is definitely an experience that we’d recommend. We do not have the name of the restaurant and can only pinpoint it here on Google map as a waypoint.
Look out for it!
You can die eating this…
Waaaah, so drama right?
Made “famous” by the Japanese, Fugu (河豚) is actually puffer fish. Or blowfish. The primary mechanism of defense of this fish is to inflate itself when confronted by potential predators, hence the name. Aside from this exterior defense, the puffer fish has one more up its sleeve – it has tetrodotoxins in its organs (liver and ovaries and eyes?).
Thus if one were to consume any of these parts, the puffer fish will bring you along to the underworld…read wiki for how effective this toxin that is said to be 1200 times more potent than cyanide!
But if you try to find a diner for Fugu in Japan, it might well cost you a fair sum.
But in Busan, we found this restaurant in the Haeundae area (famous for the beach) where locals and tourists come for this delicacy. You can tell it is a popular restaurant when the car park in front of it is full and valets have to move your car to another location. And indeed it was busy. We took a queue number and had to wait for more than 15 minutes. That’s considered quick, for at peak hours you could wait for almost an hour!
So what did they have?
Fugu can be prepared in a myriad of ways, as in any fish – so long as the toxic parts are carefully removed and does not contaminate the other parts. Actually some puffer fish has been bred in captivity where it does not have the toxin anymore…
if that assures you a little.
We chose to have one restaurant standard set, which comprises of the fish served in a soup. It is not particularly large, but surprisingly quite meaty. This is definitely a recommended way to start you way with Fugu. For the other serving we ordered a spicy braised style of the Fugu.
It came with lot of squid, but once again the large slices are the sides of the fish. Actually it was a little on the intense side for the spice, so this would be less of a recommend if you want to actually taste how the fish.
All around us were mostly locals the day we were at the restaurant. For larger groups they do serve a hot pot version of the soup and as usual the compliment of side dishes flow incessantly.Making the trip here and checking off the bucket list of eating Fugu (without having to kick the bucket) was the definitive thing to do and highly recommended. Come here at:
What else would there be?
Ok this last one we did not eat, but certainly was very curious about. You know the ban on whaling right? Well, when we saw this restaurant sign, we were drawn to it like moths to light. The meat was sealed in a plastic bag and displayed. You can clearly see the layer of blubber (you know that white part). Really wondering how people actually dine on whale meat…aargh!
Finally. While we are not fans of snacks, our research for the journey to Busan had led us to blogs that recommended great Korean made confectionery products.
Well we have to tell you, these snacks does seem to pass the mark when it came to our taste buds. Neither too sweet nor too salty.
This culinary essay was updated as of November 2016