I was recently in Korea (not North) and Japan for three weeks visiting family and friends and eating my way through the entire trip. I was blissfully ignorant of the goings-on in New York and embraced learning new streets, subway routes, currency rates and how to text in Korean (haha)! I kept a visual record of many a memorable meals I had out there in the far-flung corners of the Far East. For the record, Seoul is so on the up-and-up. Last time I went to Asia, which was five years ago, I did my travels in reverse -- Tokyo then Seoul -- and it felt anticlimactic to me. My ancestors would be so upset to hear me say this but it was kinda like going from First Class to Premium Economy. But this time around, I found Seoul and all its eclectic neighborhoods just so enchanting, fresh and fun! I still think Tokyo is magical but after Seoul, it felt like an old and majestic megapolis.
Eating My Way Through Korea and Japan
My first big (literally) meal in Korea. This is considered country-style eating. If you look closer, you'll see there's a symmetry going on... all the dishes are doubled up.
The next day, we took another day trip to Busan, the largest port city in Korea. This is our sashimi dinner at the famed Jagalchi Market.
My uncle took me to an artist colony called Heyri Art Valley. I kind of fell in love with this place. This is traditional Korean shaved ice from So-So Gallery.
Seafood chajangmyun at some random boozy place I was taken to near Hong-dae (Hong-Ik University where all the arty kids hang out). One of my rare late night outings I had in Seoul... and this is the first stop in our party train that included another sooljip (pub), norae bang (karaoke) and night club.
The second sooljip of the night called Night and Music where I drank tons of my fave Korean booze called makgulli (unfiltered rice wine).
Lunch (curry with pilaf) with my friend Kazumi at La Foret in Harajuku. We also went to H M and TopShop which are right next to LF. K became a mom so she got super excited about shopping clothes for herself even at H M. Forever 21 had just opened there so there was a long line snaking down the streets of Harajuku. All for Forever 21! I must tell you Harajuku is not what it once used to be.
Katsu (breaded and fried) lunch at the shopping mall near where Kazumi lives in Setegaya-ku. I had pork and K had shrimp. It was the best and the most proper katsu I ever had by far!
Family-style sushi spread that Kazumi prepared for a dinner party she hosted. It was so good!
We took a day trip to Kamakura, aka Lil Kyoto, a town famous for Buddhist temples and hydrangea. The flowers were in bloom and they were everywhere and gorgeous. We went to this special soba joint up in the mountains with a breathtaking view that K's mom recommended.
After soba, we took a stroll down the hill to a tea house where we had macha (powered green tea) and mochi with sweet red bean paste.
Mom and I took a day trip to Ichon, the ceramics capital, and had this omg-so-good pork kalbi bbq with our tour guides.
Mom and I went shopping at the Lotte Department Store in Ilsan (suburb of Seoul) where we stayed with my aunt's family. Mid-shopping frenzy we stopped to slurp on some Nangmyun, a cold noodle soup that's a Korean summertime staple, at the food court. The red stuff is ddukbbokki (spicy rice cake).
The next day, Mom and I went to Jongno 3-ga neighborhood and had curry for lunch at this Japanese curry joint Coco Ichibanya that had newly opened.
Took a 3-day vacay with aunt and cousin to Daecheon, a seaside resort town famous for Mud Festival on the western coast. Also, this place is, not surprisingly, known for all kinds of clams. The greyish, slimy looking plate in the middle is octopus -- just killed and still moving!
The main dish from the same meal -- a giant clam and mushroom stir-fry. This is a table top cooking situation.
Once you're done with the stir-fry they add rice and make kind of instant paella for you. This was my favorite part of the dish!
Still clamming it up with regional clams! This is was our dinner later on in the same day!
The next day we drove to a nearby town of Buyeo and had noodle soups, fried kimichi rice and seafood pancake (not pictured) for lunch at this very old-timey rustic joint.
Back in Seoul, I met up with my old intern Jinah and had dinner at a 'European' restaurant called 8 Steps in Chungdam-dong. This is the Spanish tapas plate.
Jinah had mushroom risotto and I had something like seafood paella. I love paella. This was more like risolla.
OK. There are so many coffee shops in Seoul and such varieties too! Starbucks, The Coffe Bean, Tous Les Jours, Paris Baguette and curiously named Angel-in-Us Coffee, just to name a few. While I was waiting for Jinah at PB, I had this milk pudding (on the left) that was SO delicious! It was like eating pana cotta out of a bottle! I saved the bottle and now I use it to store leftover salad dressing. I would go back to Korea just for this reason alone.
This is my second to last meal I had in Japan. I was craving unagi (eel) so K's husband Charlie took us to this place that only serves unagi in Shimokitazawa, a little college town in Tokyo. My last meal was, fittingly, a sushi breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market before my flight back to New York.