From my calculations, it has been too long since I posted. I have a few reasons and a few excuses. Well, when I really think about it, all of them are excuses. Excuse number one: I’m poor right now (duh, most 20 somethings are…) Excuse number two: I’m tired when I get home from work (duh, most people who work are…) Excuse number three: there’s nothing to write about (um, I’m just lying at this point).
I forget sometimes that the everyday foods that I eat are not normal to everyone. Somehow things like the red bean paste pastry I get for a snack in between classes, or the dokboki I get when late night hunger strikes, or the seaweed salad that I chow down on when everyone else is eating barbeque, have all become simply commonplace. So now that I’m equipped with my camera (it finally came in the mail!), no common or not-so-common food is safe.
Unfortunately, that little pep-talk doesn’t come into play this blog post. Rest assured, this week will be filled with the little things in Korean food. This post, though, is all about the meeting place of people and food and adventure: the market.
In America, I think I went to every farmer’s market I possibly could have. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays through Sundays, I would be surrounded by fresh foods that I recognized and knew how to manipulate. Here: I haven’t really seen one market. There are grocery stores all over the place, but no markets.
So after some research, I found that the biggest agricultural market in Korea was in the Southeast corner of Seoul. I’m in the Northwest. What is a food-enthusiast to do? Hop on the subway for 80 minutes to see this monstrosity, but of course.
And that is exactly what I did. I rode the Subway, changing trains twice, starting a new book, staring at people as they stared at me, and ended up at the market. The guidebooks said that it was a fruit, vegetable, and fish market. I never saw – or smelled – the fish. I have yet to decide if it’s a good or bad thing I missed out on the fish aspect of the market.
What I did find were fruits, roots, dried peppers, and vegetables for days. They were being sold individually or by the box or, in some cases, the truck load. Older men and women sat under rainbowed umbrellas looking tired and hopeful that a skinny white boy sporting a camera would spend his last won on their ginger, garlic, onion, pumpkin, pepper, cabbage, or pear. Roaming from the bulk section to the individual for-purchase section, I was one of the only ones even browsing. Why? Because at this market, most of the transactions occur around 2:30-4:30 am when restaurant owners show up to resupply for the day, days, or week ahead.
After an hour, I wanted to see the surrounding area. Once I left the lime-green gates of the market, I was expecting to see nothing but restaurants. Restaurants toting “local food” or “fresh food” or “come eat here you market goers.” Now, I can’t read Korean all that well yet, but I know that there were no signs like that, because there were no restaurants around the market. It was a commercial area for about ten blocks surrounding the market (at least on the Northeastern side of the market). So I trudged on, in search of something that resembled a “Farm-to-fork” restaurant.
But to my dismay, I found no crazy neo-hippy restaurant flouting its local-ness. What I did find, though, were two lakes and an amusement park run by a department store in the middle of a city. I just want to know who came up with that idea. “Okay folks, I have the perfect idea. Now I know we specialize in selling men and women’s clothing, and sometimes food, but let’s branch out. Not into electronics. Not into appliances. But into amusement parks. Right here. In the middle of Seoul. I think it’ll be a hit.” And it is a hit – at 11am on a Monday, it was packed. Oh Korea, you so crazy.
Once my first paycheck rolls in, I will be visiting this market again. Most likely, I’ll try out the 5:00am crowd to see what all the hustle and bustle is about. Maybe I’ll even buy something next time, bring it home, and cook it up for the blog.