Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Peanut Butter Sushi in Seoul

One of the things that I was a little disappointed about when arriving to Korea is the lack of cheap, quality sushi. I know, I know, this is Korea, not Japan, two very different countries with very different culinary traditions. An abundance of cheap sushi must have been simply wishful thinking on my part.  It also just occurred to me that this is probably very typical, ignorant, American thinking. Woops.
Anyway, I haven’t eaten much sushi here. While there are sushi restaurants, they’re usually more expensive and less tasty than I’m used to eating in California. Sushi used to be one of my favorite foods to eat out. And, while Korean kimbap initially resembled sushi to me, and I do like it, it’s really very different. So, last night I went with a friend to this “American Sushi” restaurant in Gagnam, Seoul, called Raw. It was advertised on the Korean Tourism website, as well as described on a Seoul food website,
I was curious to see what Korea’s take on American sushi would be like. And, the blog claimed that this sushi restaurant had FORTY different kinds of California rolls. Being from California, I was obviously impressed, and also curios about how one could possible create forty variations on the California roll (imitation crab, cucumber, and avocado).
After some confusion over the directions (typical), my friend and I finally found the restaurant just a little bit off of the main street in Gagnam. I scanned the menu, and while I did see a couple different “California rolls,” I didn’t see forty. Maybe they realized that this was just plain excessive.
Most of the sushi I saw looked familiar; the caterpillar roll, volcano roll, various sashimi, etc. There were also some very strange, very “American” sounding rolls that I have definitely never heard of, and highly doubt that we would ever serve in America. For example, a couple contained nacho-cheese, and the “Charlie Brown” roll was topped with peanut butter and hot-sauce. I mean, what is more American than nacho cheese, peanut butter, and hot sauce?
We ordered the caterpillar roll, because there aren't many opportunities to eat avocado here, and the Charlie Brown roll, just so we could say we tried it. They were both good, even the Charlie Brown roll. The portion sizes were also very large. America, represent! Would I go back? Yes. Although, I’ve had much better in Japan Town, San Francisco. But, I’ll take what I can get. Moral of the story, living in Korea, one must learn to embrace the full spectrum of their country’s stereotypes, even if this involves eating peanut-butter sushi.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Namhae "Treasure" Island

A couple weekends back, I went with some friends to Namhae Island, also known as the “Treasure Island of Korea,” which is located about 5-hours away from Seoul. According to Official Site of Korean Tourism:
“A bridge that was constructed in 1973 now is connected to the mainland, which makes it no longer an island in the truest sense. This small yet beautiful island has picturesque sceneries harmoniously juxtaposing the mountains and the sea. The jagged 302-kilometer coastline reveals strange rock formations that create a fantastic view reminiscent of ancient Asian paintings."
We went with a group called Seoul Hiking Group, which is run by a good-humored Korean man named Warren. There are a few groups that offer trips to various spots in Korea. I’ve also gone with WINK (When IN Korea). I liked going with Seoul Hiking Group because it was a very active trip. At some points it even felt a bit like bootcamp. You’ll see why.
We got on the bus to Namhae late Friday night, after everyone had finished work. Five hours and next to no sleep later, we arrived at Geumsan Mountain, the tallest mountain on the island. The goal was to make it to the top by sunrise, but the busses left a little later than planned, in typical Korean fashion, so the sun was up by the time we reached the temple at the top, which was nonetheless extraordinarily beautiful.

mountain peaks

almost there

Geumsan Temple

view from the top

After the hike, we migrated to the beach for some R & R. We also needed to set up our tents. Most of the foreigners on our trip were staying in a hostel, but my friends and I had opted to stay in a 6-person tent on the beach. The Korean campers all seemed to have these extravagant multi-room tents with raised beds, patios, and grills. Ours was more like a collapsing teepee, but it did the trick.

Sangju Beach

not our tents

our tent

We hung out at the beach for a while, and ate some sausage sandwiches (ew), before taking a bus to another beach to go kayaking. We had a few kayak-options available; 1-person, 2-person, stand-up paddle-boards, and canoes. We rotated in and out of these various flotation devices while exploring Namhae’s beautiful coastline.
After three hours of hiking and two hours of kayaking in the hot sun on next to no sleep, we were all pretty worn out. We went to a restaurant for some much-deserved Korean barbecue and beer. Afterwards, we returned to the beach for a bonfire, where we lit sparklers and drank makkoli (Korean rice-wine).
The next day, after another breakfast of sausage sandwiches (still ew), we went on a bus-tour of Namhae. They took us to a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean, and a garlic festival, where we sampled various garlic concoctions, including “black garlic” (a cooked, sweet, gelatinous version), and got our chi cleansed with incense cones.

the cliff

garlic statue

chi cleansing

must be some sort of incense cone

Then it was back to the beach to pack up our tents, and for some of us to take a much-needed nap on the sand. We left mid-day and I got home late Sunday night. Luckily, the next day was Buddha’s Birthday, so we didn’t have to work and could catch up on sleeping and showering. What a glorious weekend! What a treasure of an island indeed.