My first visit to South Korea was in February 2014. Probably not the best time to visit there – it was winter. So, cold, windy, chilly, etc. Fortunately, it was not snowing.
I was there for 2 weeks. I stayed the whole time in Seoul, the capital.
I loved it there. :=)))
Firstly, Koreans really know how to cook (and, as I mentioned on an earlier blog : when I travel, the first thing that piques my interest is the local cuisine). And, let me put it this way: 2 weeks was not enough time to sample it all (LOL)
There was simply toooooo much of it; too many varieties of all kinds of delicacies.
Hmmmm…………let me start at the beginning :=)
During my 2 weeks there, I was hosted by an acquaintance and his wife at their apartment. They both worked full-time, so I was left on my own during the day. I took the opportunity to go walking, exploring, and photographing. And, there was much to see – but, of course, I stuck to what I loved best : temples :=)
I don’t even remember the names of most of them. There seemed to be literally dozens scattered all over Seoul – each with its own story to tell.
I only visited a few (most of them looked the same, anyway, with a few notable exceptions). Still, I was visited by that familiar feeling I got whenever I found myself inside a Buddhist temple – peace, tranquillity, a sense of harmony, being one with the temple itself. I sometimes sat inside a temple for an hour, or even two, simply enjoying the silence.
I took several pictures, of course. Not that the pics themselves could even begin to convey the actual feel of the place.
My hosts had graciously arranged for me to take a day-tour of the city. I was picked up from the apartment, and driven to where the tour began. There were other tourists there, and, together, we toured Seoul for the better part of the day. Our tour guide was a local lady, who spoke near-perfect English (something not many Koreans can boast of). We visited temples, parks, monuments, etc.
This tour was my first in many years (if I recall correctly, the last time I’d been on a tour like this was way back in my University days). The reason, of course, is : I hate tours. When I travel, I’d much rather do my own exploring.
Still, it was not a bad way to spend the day in Seoul.
On my first evening in Seoul, my hosts took me out for dinner. That was when I first noticed the large number of restaurants in the city. Literally every second or third building held a restaurant. When I asked my hosts why this was so, they explained that: Koreans simply do not have the time to cook. They work very long hours (sometimes, 12 hours a day, or even more). When they get off work, they are exhausted and hungry. Nobody wants to go home and cook, especially as, once at home, they barely have time to hop in the shower, and into bed, seeing as they have to get up the next morning at 6 or 7 a.m.
Hence, their only option is to grab dinner before going home.
Which explained the presence of so many such establishments. And, most of them were already crowded. Still, we were able to find a cozy-looking place about 200 meters from our apartment.
Inside, I was awed by the setting. The tables are actually built around stoves. Meaning, the food is cooked right in front of you, in the center of your table.
Naturally, this creates a LOT of smoke – (haha) – which is why customers are given plastic bags, in which to place their jackets, and any other outer clothing, and the bag is then placed in a cubicle under the chair.
By this time, my mouth was already watering; but, etiquette demanded that I keep my gob shut, and smile (LOL). The waiters brought the “starters” – vegetables and spices of every description, which are placed on the table. Then, there is the rice (which Koreans can’t do without), and finally the meat, or fish, of which practically all kinds are available on the menu.
I ordered PORK, of course (hahaha). And not only because barbeque pork is one of Korea’s most popular dishes.
And, let’s not forget KIMCHI :=))))))
What is Kimchi? Well, Kimchi is to Koreans, what oxygen is to humans. Seriously :=))) If I tried to explain what Kimchi is, it would take a year and a day. So, I’ll cheat a little, and simply give you this link, so you can read all about it yourself :
My hosts told me that, most foreigners cannot stand the taste of Kimchi. I, however, fell in love with it!
And, to this day, my mouth waters whenever I remember Kimchi. :=)
Learning to cook
Ok, so, I was not going to leave Korea without taking something back with me, was I? No way, Jose! I asked my hosts to teach me how to make Kimchi. Which they did :=)
Making real kimchi is a ritual which lasts several hours. My hosts didn’t have that amount of time (and I certainly wasn’t going to ask them to do THAT, even if they did have the time!). So, they used a short-cut method, which lasted only a couple of hours. But the result was still exquisite.
Learning to……….er………….shoot a gun? Oops!
Nope, wasn’t a real gun; just the “other” variety, for target practice (hehe)