Saturday, 28 November 2015

Fall Hiking in Wochulsan National Park

This fall season in Korea has been a cold and rainy one. So when you finally get a clear day and not-so freezing temperatures, on the weekend ESPECIALLY, you go out and seize the day! And that is exactly what we did. Late morning on Saturday, my friend Claire and I set off to hike one of Korea's National Parks- Wochulsan mountain! About a 40 minute bus ride from my town, Mokpo.

 View from the base of the mountain

Gorgeous scenery on the way up!

Some fall colours still hangin in there- but slowly disappeared the higher we trekked 

SNOW! Lots the higher we climbed.

 Fresh mountain water

Cloud bridge! 

We first hiked to Cheonhwangbong Peak, then hiked back down (and sometimes up) to the cloud bridge. Definitely some challenging parts on this trail! Especially towards the top with the snow, making it slippery. 

The best part was being able to see this view almost all the way up. A very "open" mountain range and trail.

We made it to the top! We reached it within 3 hours. 

One of the MANY times we were stopped and asked to take photos. Becomes very normal here. Foreigner celebrity status! Although flattering, sometimes you just wanna keep on trekking (literally).

Cloud Bridge! 

We could have hiked back down right after we reached the peak, but we both really wanted to see the cloud bridge. A little detour on the way back down, definitely worth it! The way down was probably the hardest part. You always think it will be easier than the way up, but it's definitely more challenging in a different way. This hike was pretty steep and slippery, requiring major concentration on your footing. I'm definitely feeling it in my legs and knees today!

Post hike reward!

The whole hike took about 5 hours, at a pretty leisurely pace. We started around 12:00, and were back down before 5:00PM. We then treated ourselves to a DELICIOUS Korean meal at the base of the mountain. I wish I had taken pictures of the restaurant. It was a gorgeous; a circular, log cabin style restaurant. Wooden sculptures, and local art covering the walls. 
To eat, we had: ramen (noodles/broth), kimchi stir fried rice, and the best pajeon (Korean savoury pancake) I've ever had. And also the best green tea I've ever had! The perfect way to end a Saturday well spent. 

And in the spirit of American Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my health, and my two legs for getting me up that mountain. It really is amazing what the human body can do. Dear body: I promise to take good care of you, just like you take good care of me! Thank you. 

Sending lots of love to friends and family back home with the holidays approaching. I love you all and cannot wait to come home for a visit in less than 2 months!


Saturday, 14 November 2015

9 Things I Never Thought I Would Eat Until Coming To Korea

As you may have noticed in my last post, I have officially been in Korea for over a year!

A lot can happen in a year, including what food I have allowed to enter my digestive system. Almost all of these foods were surprisingly tasty, and I would eat again. Others......not so much. And this girl isn't a picky eater!

*Note*: Not all pictures are mine! I have done a poor job at documenting these foodie adventures.

Let's dive right in, shall we?

1. Eel

I was scared to try eel. I guess seeing it killed, skinned, and still being able to slither afterwards may do that. I envisioned it to taste exactly how it looked- slimy and fishy. But it was quite the opposite! We had it grilled BBQ style, and it was surprisingly moist and chewy. Almost comparable to chicken! 

Fresh Eel being butchered in Busan

BBQ Eel! The eel we had looked similar to this.

Star Rating: 5/5

2. Marinated Fermented Crab

I've had this three times. Three times too many! Let's just say I did not enjoy it. Especially when the teachers insisted I had the most special part of the crab, the body, which is typically given to the oldest, and most respected person at the table. So with that added pressure, of course I said yes. The body of the crab is filled with this yellow fluid, which I can honestly only compare to the taste of bile. Heck, that might even be what it is. You are supposed to take a spoonful of rice and mix it into the body, in order to get all the juicy "goodness"....

Not my cup of tea!

Star Rating: 1/5

3. Fermented Stingray

Another dish I have also had three times, and have yet to enjoy. "Have yet to enjoy" may not capture how I feel about this dish. To put in simply and in the nicest way tastes like you are poisoning yourself. The ammonia from the fermentation process is so strong and fills all your senses, numbing your tongue and burning your sinuses. Almost tastes like if you were to mix ammonia and wasabi together. It is typically eaten together with pork and kimchi, making it a little more bearable. Apparently this dish is native to the province I currently reside in, and the Koreans born here love it. Other Koreans, not so much. I have been in the presence of other Koreans who actually refuse to eat it, which says a lot about the dish, since it is generally considered somewhat rude to refuse food here. So it's nice to know I am not alone on this one!

Star Rating: Can it be a negative number?

4. Silkworm Pupae 

Mmmm....bugs! Surprisingly, not so bad. If I were to compare it to anything, it would be an almond (or other nut) that has been soaked in water. With maybe a little flavour of "old" to it. It's most often served as street food or as banchan (side dish) at a restaurant! 

Star Rating: 2/5

5. Live Octopus 

One of the most interesting things you will ever eat! Honestly, similar to the bugs mentioned above, not so bad! Unlike the fermented crab and fish that had a very unappealing flavour (to say the least); there is nothing unappealing about the flavor of live octopus. It's all a mental and texture game. Getting your mind around the fact that you are eating a recently killed, moving animal. And the super-chewy-never-feels-like-it's-ready-to-swallow texture. You chew, and chew, and chew, and no matter what, it will never fully get to the texture where you think, "OK, it's ready to go down now!". You kinda just have to force it.

I definitely recommend trying this dish. It's such an experience in itself!

Usually served drizzled with sesame oil & sesame seeds.

Star Rating: 2.5/5

6. Pig Feet 

Another pleasant surprise! Lots of seasoning & marinade, giving it a really nice flavour. As you can see in the picture, there are the hooves on the right, and the other part of the foot on the left. The meat on the hooves was super tough to eat, since there isn't much actual meat on it. But the rest, delicious!

Star Rating: 4.5/5

7. Chicken Feet 

Ok, this was ordered totally by accident, as you might have read in my trip to Seoul entry. One of the many times where things get lost in translation when abroad. But hey, another thing to add to the list! Similar to the pig hooves, not much meat on these babies. You're actually supposed to eat the whole foot (bone included). Needless to say, we did not finish this dish!

Star Rating: 1/5

8. Raw Beef

The amount of raw meat (especially seafood) I have consumed since coming to Korea is....a lot. So it was only a matter of time since beef was added to the list! This was served to us at a Korean BBQ restaurant, almost an "appetizer" before it was time to grill the meat. (But 2 totally different cuts of meat; the raw beef to eat, and the raw beef to cook) You can eat it alone, or Korean BBQ style, by wrapping the meat in a leafy green and adding other goodies to it (onions, kimchi, beansprouts, other side dishes). Surprisingly, OK! Would even go as far as calling it "good". I think this was mostly a mental game, getting around the fact that I'm eating raw beef. 

Star Rating: 3/5

9. Pork Lung 

This was served to us with a dish called sundae, which is basically pig intestines stuffed with various ingredients (noodles, pork blood, etc.....). Far from the type of "sundae" we know from back home! If I wasn't told that I was eating pork lung, I would have had no idea! It tasted very similar to a cut of pork tenderloin, but definitely looked a little different.

Blood sausage on the top right, pork lung on the bottom.

Star Rating: 3.5/5 

To say Korea has opened up my mind when it comes to food may be an understatement. Not simply consuming different food than back home, but it has challenged my view (and the society I grew up with's view) on what we consider "normal" to eat. Why do we consider some parts of the pig normal to eat, and others are considered "strange" or "gross"? The animal has already been killed. Why waste any part of it? I'm not saying we should all start eating pork lung, simply that Korea truly knows how to make use of every part of the animal. Not just when it comes to meat, but also vegetables. Stems on vegetables that we would throw away back home? They turn it into kimchi. What we would consider to be "weeds" growing on the school football field? Actually a healthy herb and the school cooks are out there picking them.

Thankful to Korea for opening up my mind, and allowing me to try these foods. Well, some more than others....

Have any of you tried these dishes? Which ones would you want to try? Which one seems most unappealing?

Until next post,