Taste the Local Flavor - Bibimbap
When I wrote the outline for my Korean Journal, I noticed that 2 words dominate the pages...delicious and yummy ;0) Guess that explains how much I love Korean food.
A friend let me try Bibimbap in one of Insadong's cozy restaurants (unfortunately, I forgot the name of the shop). It is rice with lots of toppings like veggies, pork and noodles. According to him bibim means "mix" and bap means "rice". You need to put some chili paste to complete the mixture. It didn't look appealing at first (imagine kaning baboy!) but it is delicious. I love how the different textures compliment each other. And I love the chili paste though not too much because I couldn't tolerate its spiciness. With it, several complimentary side dishes were served; there is something that looked like "dilis" in spicy chili sauce, monggo sprout, radish, and the traditional cabbage Kimchi. I'm not sure if it's called Mak geol li....a kind local rice wine. It is milky white in color and served warm. It is very light and not as intoxicating as Soju. For a non-drinker, I can say this wine is very nice and has a delicate flavor. Very good partner for those hot chili paste.
Word of advice:
Eat with a friend and share. Koreans serve big servings of everything! Look at how big the bowl of Bibimbap was. My friends got bored waiting for me to finish it all up ;0)
The best comes now: I looked for the right exit to Namdaemun Market (you have to get off at the "City Hall" subway station) but I couldn´t find it. This subway station is huge and has 15 (!) exits and you can imagine that I became more and more worried and nervous.
I went into a little cafe which was situated in the subway station. The owner (a very kind lady) saw that I looked very worried and depressed. So she said that I should sit down, gave me glass of water and explained it to me. After that she invited me to a beer ....
After this wonderful experience I know that the words "You are welcome" are not only a phrase in Korea, no, it´s celebrated hospitality!
Jangseung totem poles
In days gone by, every village in Korea was protected by guardian deities, who watched over the entrance to the village as totem poles, beautifully carved from wood or stone. Even today, big towns and cities retain these protective icons and their presence is a charming reminder of Korean folk customs.
The upper part of the pole or post is a face, either human or spiritual, while the lower part has a statement in Chinese script, or occasionally in the Hangeul Korean script. Originally, the choice of wood or stone as the material would depend upon the availability of local materials suitable for use.
The totem poles have different names in different areas – Buksu, Bubsu, Dolharubang – but all fulfil the same purpose. Similarly, the posts are of different sizes but are genrally bigger than human-size so as to scare off intruders.
Those posts topped by a spirit face can be recognised by the distorted tortured faces, designed to frighten, with round bulging eyes, thick lips and protruding curved teeth. The human-faced posts have simpler, stylised local faces, designed more to welcome, but still with the purpose of reminding wrongdoers that they are being watched.
These roadside village guardians are always found in pairs, so that one could sleep while the other watched the road for strangers and attackers.
Today, the jangseung can be seen in many museums and even in public parks, and the outdoor area of the National Folk Museum in Seoul has a collection of them from different regions and showing different styles through the regions and ages of Korea.
Long ago, as you approached a village in the dark, the rain pouring around you, the wind whistling in the trees, the presence of the janseung as you arrived at your destination would be either a comfort and a sign of arrival, or an eery, scary warning not to enter, depending upon your intent.
Korean style onion ring, a bit spicy but is very tasty. it cost 1000 won a pack aand is available at 7-11's and any other korean convenience stores all around seoul. Can also be a bar cheap bar chow companion to beers in your hotel room for those on a budget.
mountainbiking/hiking: Achasan & Yongmasan
A good hike-a-bike is Achasan, which is not too steep but offers a good view of the Han River and Seoul below. It only takes about an half hour to hour to climb up to the top, but you can lengthen the ride to well over 4 hours by climbing up Achasan over to Yongmasan and back.
You could spend the whole day between the two mountains, following all of their multiple ridgelines around...
Adding nearby Yongmasan (Mt. Yongma) is an excellent ride with a variety of views and some fun things to see along the way, like a man-made waterfall and the remains of a small fort dating back to the Goguryeon period. It's connected to Achasan by a ridge running between the two mountains. Some parts of both Acha and Yongmasan can get a bit chunky and steep, so wear your body armour and full-face! The trails are all mostly exposed granite, and will bite you if you bail.
Take water with you, no 7-11 up top...
Although, you will usually find somebody at the top that hiked up with Ddongddongju for sale. :)
And sometimes ice-cream in the summer, kept really cold with dry-ice.