During the autumn festival break my friend Max and I decided to use our time wisely and take a short trip to South Korea; we flew into Daegu as it was the only reasonably priced flight we could get during this busy period. From Daegu we took the KTX (high speed rail) straight to Seoul. On our first day in Seoul we decided to check out the source of Seoul’s seafood by heading over to Noryangjin fish market which was super impressive, perhaps not quite on the same scale as Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, but nothing will ever match Tsukiji.
This is one of those markets that will make you not want to go in the sea ever again, with octopus tentacles longer than a human I can only imagine the size of the kraken like creature they came off. After exploring the market we decided to head out and get some seafood that would have came from the same market we visited, but this wasn’t any normal seafood, this was the hottest seafood soup Korea has to offer – with a plaque outside with providing patrons with updates on how many people had passed out from the heat that month, this wasn’t a dish to be messed with, but we went ahead and messed with it anyway.
From left to right is my friend Max, the owner of the restaurant behind this satanic dish and myself. The owner has appeared on Korean television, with celebrities taking on the hot soup challenge. This place isn’t just about soup that will kill you, they have dishes which range in spice, but we came for the killer and that’s what we got, albeit with a warning. With the first mouthful I thought ‘this is going to be easy’, but the heat was a creeper, it built up and built up to the point we were sweating profusely, it took about 40 minutes for us to complete it but we eventually did it with the help of around 2 litres of peach juice each – take my advice, if you accept this challenge get the peach juice from the place next door, it will save your tongue from at least a little bit of the torture. After completing the challenge the owner of the place came out to pose with us for a photo, I guess they don’t get many westerners or Koreans for that matter completing the full bowl. After cooling down with a beer we decided to hit the road, we could both feel a fire burning in the pits of our stomachs and then Max folded over in pain, which is a testament to how potent the spice was, the pain subsided and we made it back to the jjimjilbang (I’ll talk about the jjimjilbang in the next chapter).
Now, you can’t go to Korea without eating Korean Barbecue, that would be like going to Japan and not having any sushi. At a Korean barbecue restaurant you will find a charcoal grill in the centre of the table, this is where the food will be cooked, the spread usually includes bulgogi (thinly sliced sirloin beef), kalbi (sliced short rib) and various other meats such as pork belly and rib eye. Along with the meat you will also find things like straw mushrooms (also known as ‘see you tomorrow mushrooms’ in China which is because they supposedly come out looking the same…although I’ve never checked), other types of mushrooms, grilled vegetables and salad. One thing you will notice is a big plate full of large leaves, these are perilla leaves and belong to the mint family, they don’t taste too minty but there is definitely a fresh taste there – I would liken it to a cross between mint, basil and rocket; the idea is that you use these leaves as a wrap – so take a leaf in your hand, put in some beef, mushrooms, veg, roast garlic, kimchi and some sauce, wrap it up and stuff it in your gob. Delicious 🙂
Oh, here’s a bonus photo of my mate Max drinking a Max beer outside a Max beer sign. I call this one the Max holy trinity.