The Lay of the Land

A time, not too long ago, a 20something year old joined two friends in going to learn the culinary lay of the land in which he was living.

A time, when two scarves wouldn’t keep the wind off your neck, and wool socks were a necessity, a 20something year old learned that the food he was eating every day were rich with animal protein, and yet didn’t need to be.

A time, when the sun rose at nine am and not six, a 20something year old took a vegan cooking class, and learned a lot.

They all met at 10 in the morning, seeking both refuge from the bitter cold, and knowledge from a vegan chef. Caffeine deprived and overly excited for the lessons ahead, the three vegetarian-vegan-sometimes-meat-eaters exchanged pleasantries with the other students and took their spots at the front of the class where wooden chopping blocks, spices, and sharp knives sat waiting for their wielding. On the menu today, one man called out as if to third graders – as he probably was normally accustomed – we will be making a tofu steak with chili soy sauce, mushroom japchae, and vegan kimchi. He waited for an applause to no avail.

The three students amongst fifteen knew that he had saved the best for last. Despite most Koreans’ ideas, the kimchi that was served to these three comrades endlessly at every meal was not vegan. Nor was is or will it vegetarian for one of the most important components in kimchi is the shrimp paste used to aid the fermentation. No, theses three plus twelve students said. No, indeed. We will make it without shrimp paste – and one student went so far as to suggest not even using sugar. Two 20somethings laughed as if to say Why no sugar? It’s delicious.

The instruction began and most students gawked at the efficiency of the professional chef’s knife gliding through carrots, green onions, garlic, onions, cabbage, mushrooms, and the like with ease. Chop dice glide scoop sautee flip oil plate magic.

The 20something took to the cutting board and began to prepare, essentially mimic to the best of his ability, the dishes at hand. First, the kimchi. Chop, mix, scoop up, massage, wrap, place in a plastic bucket for further fermentation. It’ll be ready in two days, the boss said, or a month. Next was the Japchae – a noodle dish filled with carrots, mushrooms, onions, soy sauce, and simplicity. As long as you chop all of the vegetables to the same size, said the instructor, you’ll be good to go. One of the compadres turned to the 20something and said I never thought of sautéing vegetables by themselves before as the instructor sautéed the onions separately, took them out, and then moved on to the carrots. Not efficient, but planned and precise. Notes were taken.

The last of the four-hour cook-a-thon was the tofu steak. The 20something had thought many a time before on how to fry tofu like he’d found in countless restaurants trying to copy the flavors of the East, when back home in the West. Maybe a high temperature. Maybe a lot of oil. Maybe just the right flick of the wrist. No, to all of these, the instructor said as she coated the tofu in just enough corn starch to give it the golden crisp every customer, eater, diner, person may want. Accompany that, she said, with a thick spicy soy sauce, and you’ve got yourself addiction, as the 20something’s pal leaned over and said during the feasting portion of the class.

As it turned out the 20something had nothing but fond memories and a full stomach from the savory mushroom japchae, fresh and bright vegan kimchi, and the weighty tofu steak.

Vegan Kimchi  (O’ngo’s Recipe Adapted)

Brined Cabbage ( ¼ head)

Radish 100g

Scallion 30g

Gochugaro (chili powder for kimchi) ¼ cup

Soy Sauce

Garlic 1 clove, minced

Ginger ½ amount of garlic

Dash of sugar

Pinch of Salt

First: Julienne the radish and cut spring onins into 3cm slivers

Second: Throw the chili powder all over the radish. Add everything else together for the sauce (Gochugaro and down)

Next: Take that cabbage and put it on a baking sheet, and get ready to stuff it. You basically lift up the layers of leaves and put the sauce in between them. Kind of like putting honey in between the layers of phylo dough for baklava (if you’ve every done that before)

Finally: Make it into a nice little baby bundle, and put it into a container and let the fermentation begin!

Tally Ho Busan!

There are a few places that I’ve been told that I have to see when I’m in Korea. The coast, the mountains, the small villages have been mentioned but they’re on the more vague side of “where should I go this weekend?” It’s a little hard to become super excited about “we’re going to the mountains!” “Where?” “Just, the Mountains!”

More specifically, Busan and Jeju have been repeated time and time again. “You have to see Busan, it’s awesome.” “If you don’t go to Jeju when you’re here, then you missed out on Korea completely.” Now, those statements are a little strong. I think I’ve seen my fair share of Korea, and Seoul has provided me with a lot of fodder to really get a good grasp on Korean Culture. Either way, I will be visiting both of these places – Busan two weekends ago, and Jeju about a month from now.

Busan was one of those towns that I heard a lot about, both in terms of “you must go” and also “it really isn’t worth it.” It seemed strange to have a place so entrenched in dualities – but it turns out the whole experience played well to that major and minor chord. Set at the Southeastern tip of the peninsula, Busan is an international port city built in between the rifts and valleys of pointed mountains and the sea that comes to meet those majestic hills. It’s a beach town and town of commerce. It’s vacation and business. It’s Korea meets China meets Japan meets Russia. This place is teaming with both restaurants and fast food and food stalls and convenience stores and grocery stores. It’s international, but not 2011 international in a lot of ways.  As you can tell, Busan is most certainly worth seeing.

Friday night, after a long day of work, I decided to tag along with two friends hopping on a midnight bus to Busan from Seoul. It was a comfortable ride until the end, where – at 4am – the bus driver yelled at all of us to get off the bus. No gentle rising, but a stern yelling. Busan, ruined – we thought.

After finding some coffee we hopped in a taxi heading to a Buddhist temple in the mountains on the outskirts of town to watch the sunrise. We may have gotten there a little late for sunrise, but it was just in time for a tranquil day awakening.

Walking all over the temple with soft feet, quiet urges from one to another to just come see this or watch out for that monk, we found ourselves trekking up the rest of the mountain upon which this temple was placed. Taking a little under two hours, conversations that meandered from topic to topic, thoughts about coffee and breakfast, and small breaks for nature’s admiration we found the peak and a group of already tipsy Koreans. The views, as you can see, were surreal, tranquil, and filled with a beauty that I’ve missed living in a major city.

 

The rest of the day was dedicated to exploring the beaches, the markets for which Busan is so famous, piers, boardwalks, and relaxing. For all that we cared, we wanted to relax. There is always, when traveling, a duality established: do you see everything that there is to see, or do you enjoy every moment, even if that means just sitting on a beach with some good Korean corn snacks, good conversation and the occasional nap?

Another group of friends showed up around noon to encourage us weary travelers of only four hours of sleep to find food, drink, and conversation. As the day wore on, we grew tired, but more than anything: hungry. Our group of seven broke into two: one to find dinner at a Mexican place overlooking the ocean, and one to find fresh eel in a food tent down the way right outside of the fish market.

Which do you think I went to? But of course.

The Eel and clams that we ordered were amazingly fresh (but cooked!), grilled to perfection, and went ever so well with the spicy red chili paste and kimchi they set at our table. They, being so nice, knew that us foreigners probably had never had such fresh seafood, so they brought out a free dish of clams covered with cheese. I think sometimes, if Koreans aren’t sure if foreigners will like their food, they just cover it in cheese. I wasn’t complaining in the least… and neither were my dinner mates. Sitting under an orange tent, indulging on fresh sea food probably caught that day, laughing loudly, and being a part of the tent-dinner culture kept us enraptured for hours on end – we ended up spending the better part of two hours feasting with our eyes, ears, and satisfying our stomachs.

The next day, we rose early in search of another temple – this one slated as “the best in all of Korea” since it wasn’t set in the typical mountain setting, rather on craggy cliffs overlooking the ocean. It was beautiful, and crowded like no other temple has been crowded thus far. Tiny Buddha statues sat all around the temple as the ocean waves soundtracked our whole time there. It was touristy and tranquil. Yet another duality. Tally Ho Busan!

The rest of my time, I have to say with a little pride and shame, was spent on the beach just… sitting. Sure I made my way on a few runs from beach, but for the most part, it was my weekend away from the hustle and bustle and stress and noise of Seoul. Ah, to just sit. Again I say, Tally Ho Busan!

A Tortilla, A Grill, A Birthday

Potlucks – which I came to find out last night are distinctively American, or at least the word is – are one of my favorite things in the summer. For those who don’t know what a potluck is, or those who have never been to a successful potluck: It’s a gathering of people, food, and drink in one location.

A potluck is sharing. It’s cooking something at home and hoping that it goes well with something that someone else cooked. It’s hoping that your dish is eaten entirely so you don’t have to walk home with just a little bit left of that pie, bread, cheese, fruit, or wine. A potluck is companionship in the literal sense. It’s what I used to look forward to on Sundays back in college – Sunday morning Watson Street Brunch Potlucks that would last from eleven to three. And maybe it’s because I’m nearly obsessed with potlucks, or because it was my dear friend’s birthday, or because I was inspired by the culinary prowess of the fermenters from Saturday, but on Sunday I took to the kitchen with ambition and determination to bring some great food to a birthday potluck.

I had been thinking about what to bring even since I got the invitation a week prior – maybe my token banana bread. I thought about cookies, or my birthday carrot cake. I considered making vegan mac and cheese, since I have so much nutritional yeast sitting stashed away in my refrigerator. But none of those dishes really scream “summer!” “birthday!” “celebration!” Maybe the dish I prepared doesn’t either, but at least it does scream “fiesta!”

Given that one of the last things I had on Saturday was a Korean taco truck taco, Mexican was on my mind. So was the fact that one of the birthday potluckers was vegan. So what would any logical 20something do with those two influences but make vegan tacos. I mean, am I right, or am I right?

It really doesn’t seem like the first thing that would come to mind while living in Korea, seeing as salsa, tortillas, and beans aren’t the biggest of commodities. But then again, you’d be surprised as to what you can fashion from the grocery stores here. On a little piece of paper, I started to write what I would need for vegan tacos. Peppers, Onions, Tomatoes, Chilies, Corn, Green Onions, Lentils, Cabbage, Tortillas, Cucumbers… the list started to look a lot like what I buy on the regular. Since it is summer here, most of the produce is super inexpensive, too – so why not take full advantage of the fact that nature is wanting you to buy cheap produce? Boom done, vegan tacos here we come.

The major obstacle that I ran into when making Mexican, was the tortilla. But what do you know, with a little searching on the internets and browsing through some vegetarian cookbooks, you can find recipes for about anything. Tortillas included. They took just a little while to make, but all in all the kneading and resting was nice for a hot and humid Sunday afternoon.

When all was said and done I had come up with a full taco-bar line up that Chipotle would be jealous of, aside from the guacamole, and cheese. Into one Tupperware container went a salsa fresca composed of cherry tomatoes, onions, green onions (bulbs and stems), chilies, sweet corn, salt, pepper, and some cumin. A much more shallow Tupperware held the chopped raw green onions and steamed broccoli. One bowl wrapped in tinfoil played transportation for spicy lentils, while another deeper bowl had spicy cabbage. Just a ziplock bag held the fifteen fourteen delicious flour tortillas, and finally some cucumbers that I sliced into ribbons to add a hint of freshness to the heavy spicy taco.

When all of the ingredients were put together – the spicy lentils sitting next to the spicy cabbage providing the heat necessary for it to be a good taco; the salsa fresca adding both a brightness and juiciness to the mixture; the green pepper and cucumber ribbon sitting atop it all to give it a light and fresh quality; the flour tortilla holding firm, fluffy, and flakey underneath the flavorful weight – it was a delight.

And, what’s even better, my tacos held up nicely with the other transcontinental dishes brought to the traditional Korean-style building to share. Baguette with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Chive cheese spread. Nachos and dip. Deviled eggs and kimbab. Vegetable kebabs and Korean barbeque. It was an international sensation, and a feast no less. It was a warm day in an amazing location. It was barbeques and cold beer. It was laughs and yoga. It was a great birthday, if I had to judge it myself.

 

Salsa Fresca

500 grams of chopped Cherry Tomatoes

6-7 stalks of Green Onions

½ Diced White Onion

3 (or less if you don’t like heat) Chopped Chili Peppers

1 Cob worth of cooked Sweet Corn

Salt (to taste)

Pepper (to taste)

Cumin (a heavy dash)

30 minutes

Add all of the ingredients together, chopping and dicing to your bite-sized desires. Let sit for at least 15 minutes. This time will allow the salsa to produce its own juice, and you will be that much better for it.

 

Spicy Cabbage

1/3 head of White or Red Cabbage

½ Onion

Olive Oil

Salt

Pepper

Gochugaru (고추가루) or Cayenne Pepper

Siracha Hot Sauce (if you have it)

Slice Onions and throw them into a hot and oiled pan. Listen to them sizzle for about two minutes. Throw in some salt, and pepper. Slice Cabbage just once, like you were making onion rings and toss them in too. Add oil as needed. Once the cabbage gets a softer, start to add the spices. Adding spices (salt, pepper, Cayenne) will make the dish drier, so don’t be scared to toss in a little more oil or water to give it a little broth to sautee in. Sautee it for about five to seven minutes. Enjoy it cool, not scalding hot.

Tortillas

2 cups Flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. oil (I used olive oil)

3/4 cup warm water

Mix Flour, Baking powder and salt in one bowl. The wet ingredients in another. Add the wet to the dry super slow. Like 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix. Mix. Mix. When everything’s good and mixed, knead it for about 5 minutes (or about two songs). Let it rest for 10 minutes. Pinch off golf-ball sized bits and roll into balls. Let rest another 10 minutes. Roll them out into tortilla-like disks and dry-fry in a heat safe pan. It’ll be about 30 seconds – 1 minute on each side. Take them off and let cool (or just eat one right away like I did). They should have that beautiful golden brown bubble every now and then.

A Tired Glow

This weekend, the past weekend, and what will most likely all the days from now until touch-down in the US, was, is, and will be jam-packed. And jam-packed in the best of ways.

Last week I realized that I only have about two months left in Korea, and for some of those days, I actually will be playing host for my Southern Sister, or driving around on mopeds and running up mountains on Korea’s vacation island – Jeju. So what does that leave me, but a limited time to see, do, smell, hear, taste, and write about everything. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired, or sleepy, or groggy, you had better believe that these last two months I have a fire under me pushing me forward to just keep experiencing.

Also, news flash: it is summer. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s sunny. It’s full of watermelon and pineapple and ice cream and potbingsu and naengmyeon and lunch dates and backyard barbeques and sweaty runs by the river. It’s nothing but inviting and enlivening and adventure ridden.

With those two influences surrounding me almost at all times, I’m going to wear my tiredness with pride. As Emily says, they’ll just think you have a tired glow about you.

To get to the specifics, this past weekend may have been one of the best I’ve had in Seoul. Saturday morning, which bled into Saturday afternoon, which blurred into Saturday evening and then full on night, all started with the Fermentation Celebration. A gathering of what seemed to be the entire hippie ex-pat community in Seoul in one location sharing their knowledge and fermented goods with other like-minded, kind and generous people. Lining the streets like a block party, vendors stood behind make-shift tables talking to patrons about Kombucha mothers, whey, hops, and blue cheeses.

There were plenty of homebrew beers to satisfy the taste buds of those who miss a good IPA – see: Korea loves weak lagers. Sauerkraut was a big hit that played the lead role to the sourdough’s supporting flavors. Fermented salsas sat on top of boiled potatoes, or nacho chips, and cheeses – ricotta, cheddar, gouda – all hung around to help you enjoy a Korean taco or four. If you wanted a sweet conclusion, there was always the yogurt-banana smoothie, banana bread, or green energy smoothie to keep you in check. Vegan Kimchi? Check. Russian hard apple cider to cool you down on your trek up a hill? But of course, my dear. Korean Taco Trucks that are actually in Korea? This is the real deal, folks.

The event lasted a solid four hours and spanned about a kilometer of side streets. It was not only filled with amazing and fermented foods, but also with some of the kindest people I’ve met here. One of my fermented trail mates adamantly stated several times throughout the journey “People who ferment things are just nicer. You have to have a community of people to do this, so you have to get along with others.” I agree – completely.

My favorite of the whole thing wasn’t what you might expect. Yes, it was only the second time I’d had Kombucha in the past eleven months – once in Thailand, once this weekend – but I have to say that the Kombucha wasn’t nearly vinegar-y enough, nor carbonated enough for my tiny tastebuds. I need that astringent punch behind every sip. In its stead, I would have to say that one of the many fermented salsas was my favorite. Fresh, bright, juicy, with a kick of vinegar. Spicy, alive, refreshing. Simply delicious poured over a heap of new potatoes freshly boiled. It was early on in the trail, and I wish I had been able to go back for more.

The journey died down around 5pm, but that’s nowhere near where the weekend ended. Four of us retired to a rooftop bar to enjoy a sunset and a refreshing beverage and planned for the next day, when we’d potluck and grill in fashion and celebration of a good friend’s birthday. O! Summer – keep us flying

Trail Banter

About three days into every backpacking trip, the trail banter always changes. For the first three days, you catch up on past events, talk about future plans, gaze around you at the striking scenery, play trail games, guess which of the three is a lie, and figure out on the map how far it is to that next peak. Or trail juncture. Or shelter.

But after three days, the chit-chat always turns into a discussion of what would be the perfect meal once you get off the trail. No matter how well you back for the backcountry, there are always things missing – super fresh produce, or meat that doesn’t come in cans, or sweets that haven’t melted together in your bag because of the heat you’re producing hauling it up a mountain.

Some people start to crave exotic things like lobster and mangos, some just want a good piece of toast. I, well, I always craved simple freshness.

In a lot of ways, being on the trail is very similar to being in Korea. I love it here and find myself really getting along well with anything and everything I find here. But sometimes, all I want is a little pit stop into a small town that carries the things I desire. And that happens every so often – my family sends me care packages from home loaded with good coffee, dried fruits, and other delicious delicacies they think I may miss – but some things just can’t be sent via airmail (see: honey, kombucha!)

So what do I miss here in Korea? What will my first meal be back in the states? I don’t quite know yet seeing as I have a few more months here, but I do know that it will be simple, and look a little something like this (fresh, local goat cheese, hummus, whole wheat crackers, local greens from the farmer’s market, and kombucha… but of course)

But in the mean time, I make due very nicely. In fact, today I’m off to a fermentation festival in search of the mysterious, elusive, and delicious Kombucha! More pictures to come!

Surf And Turf: Rise Up (Part 2)

 

Awoken by the lighthouse blasting unanswered calls into the misty haze that sat above the Eastern Coast, Molly and I were ready to leave our hotel – Hotel Memories – and take to the craggy rock faces that make up iconoclastic peaks of Seoraksan. Equipped with only shorts, a t-shirt, and a backpack, the two of us set out into the 50 degree weather in search of coffee, a quick breakfast, and a bus up into the mountains.

Getting there in the late morning, we were joined by a host of other hikers eagerly packing up on water, corn on a stick, dried octopus, kimbab, and alcohol. We skipped over the drinks, and packed kimbab and corn for our hike.

Reading the map was easy, since we decided to hike up the three-hour course, and not the ultimate peak. One of the specialties of our choice was that it was supposed to play host to over eight hundred steps to the peak.

In Korea, much like China from what I’ve heard from LZ, the hikes are hilly, aggressive, and full of stairs. Not stairs like you’d find in a stadium, but rickety old stairs that may or may not be attached properly to the side of a mountain. This is true for most of the hikes I’ve been on so far, and I can make an educated guess that most of the hikes I will go on will involve some stairs.  Much different from the Appalachian Trail that I am so accustomed to.

Along the way, we wound up beautiful paths by temples, one of the largest Buddha statues I’ve ever seen in Korea, rivers, through magical little mountain huts offering relief from the sun and refreshments for the weary. All throughout the hike, Molly and I were both struck by how green everything was. It was as if Summer had forced every tree to show its true green colors, just for us on that weekend.

The whole trip made me realize how much I missed nature. Hiking, boating, just being outside and away from white noise seemed peaceful and refreshing. It was also nice to be sweating based on my own volition, and not because the AC wasn’t working in my office again. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city, but sometimes nature just calms me from within.

As we neared the final ascent, the stairs turned from gradual and intermittent, to straight up stairs to the top. The stairs were rust-red, and unclear as to where they attached to the rock – which ran straight up the side of the mountain. The whole thing might have been scary if we were the only ones there, but to our benefit, we had a nine-year-old guide with us, counting every one of the eight hundred stairs. “Mom, we’re at number 100!” He would call out. “231!” He squealed. “358” as he took a brief rest.  I believe he stopped around 400 due to the fact that the stairs became unclear in nature, and rather just rocks to step on.

At the top, we were enshrouded in clouds. There was no view to be had, nor a sense of height, but it’s the journey, not the destination – right? The old men who were on their third or fourth bottle of local liquor certainly didn’t care that they couldn’t see for miles.

Either way, we looked forward to stopping at one of the magical mountain huts at the bottom to feast on  local foods like mountain vegetable bibimbap, or acorn jelly.

 

Acorn Jelly is a specialty of this neck of the woods, and it’s delicious. The texture is really what you go for – a simple and rich jello-like substance with almost no real flavor. But to make this dish delicious, restaurants will top it with salty-sweet red-pepper paste, green onions, and green shreds. Served with raddish, kimchi, miso soup, and unfiltered mild and sweet rice liquor, it was a pleasant and well rounded way to celebrate the mysterious mountains, green foliage, and a weekend well spent – from the sea to the peaks. Thanks Sokcho.

Surf And Turf: Is It Dead Yet?

 

When you travel in Korea, you travel for one of three reasons: mountains, beaches, or food. Luckily, two weekends ago, I traveled for all three. This trip had been planned for a little while, but with no date set in stone, so on the Wednesday preceding the weekend, Molly and I met up to discuss plans. We, after little to no deliberation, decided that we both needed a break from Seoul and made plans to meet up early Saturday morning to head out to the east coast. Our original plan was to pack up and have a two day, one night hike in the Seoraksan Mountains, but instead – we headed straight for the beaches of Sokcho.

It wasn’t a total hiking trip wash, though, since Sokcho was actually a hub for Seoraksan hiking. See, Sokcho is a small beach town located on the jagged shores of the East Coast and up into the valleys of the mountains that rise as if out of nowhere. But instead of just mountains, we also experimented in taste-testing lunch, watching women mechanically clean fish, climbing to the top of a lighthouse, eating a full sashimi meal, and in hiking over eight hundred stairs to the top of a mountain. Not too bad for a weekend’s work and play. Surf and Turf.

The first day was all surf. Arriving at the express bus terminal, we noticed that the beach was a mere two blocks away. Although the weather was a good fifteen degrees colder in Sokcho than Seoul, we still braved the sandy beaches to watch small children run in and out of frigid water, parents look on with concerned but not all that interested gazes, and couples taking self-portraits every three steps. You do have to make sure the lighting is just right. Right?

With hunger setting in on us, we started off toward the main part of town. On the way, though, was a giant E-mart. E-mart is, for lack of a better analogy, like a giant Target with food, drinks, clothes, and books. It’s anything and everything you’d ever want in a shopping trip with the exception of a car or house, but I’m sure that could be arranged if you asked the right person. Molly and I ducked in here not for purchasing anything, but just a few samples. See, E-mart is great about that. Around lunch time there’s a feast worth of samples scattered throughout the store. Watermelon, kiwis, bananas, dumplings, kimchi, coffee, cookies, breads, it’s all you’d want out of a Korean deli lunch.

 

Satisfied and hunger at bay, we made our way over the Sokcho bridge and onto a small island famous for it’s Octopus Soon-Dae. Normally, Soondae is sweet potato noodles, garlic, meat, and onions all stuffed into a – hold your breath – pig’s intestine.  But here in Sokcho, it was rice, garlic, salt, onions all in a ring of octopus battered and pan fried. It’s a specialty (and one reason you travel to Sokcho) and it’s amazing. Savory, salty, chewy, satisfying, and simultaneously not very heavy. Dipped in wasabi-soy-sauce, it was perfection at 4pm.

To get off of this island, we pulled ourselves, and a whole barge, across a small inlet onto the main area of Sokcho. Wandering with no true destination, we found ourselves down by the international ferry to Russia. That’s right, Russia. If you want to, for a small fee of about two hundred dollars, you can hop an eighteen hour ferry up to Vladivostok, Russia. I hear it’s beautiful up there. That’s a lie, but I’d like to imagine that it’s icy and cold and stoic and people wear big coats all year round and drink Vodka for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Who knows, though.

At the ferry, we didn’t only find an escape from South Korea, but also a huge fish market. This place was teaming with elderly people indulging in raw or live seafood. Women dressed in rubber aprons, rubber gloves, and rubber waders, would call you over to their stall, in hopes that you would pick out a moving fish for them to clean and serve to you all within five minutes.

In the belly of the market, Molly and I stood in amazement, watching these women mechanically kill fish and plate them. I’d say about four fish a minute. That’s speed. That’s precision.

At one point during our voyeuristic endeavors, a man tapped me on the shoulder and offered me a shrimp or some crustacean – I couldn’t tell you exactly what it looked like. But I can tell you that it wasn’t yet dead. I asked how I’d get around to eating it, and he demonstrated: by the tail dunk it in red pepper sauce, then into your mouth it goes. I nodded which, to him, meant it was go time. He took a crustacean, dunked it, and put it near my face. I opened my mouth and without thinking, ate it. I forgot it was alive at first, since it got a bite or two in on my tongue. I’m all good now, though. Molly squirmed in the background and refused his offer of another go.  He laughed and slipped away into the market again.

After the market, we made our way up to the lighthouse to watch the sun set just behind the craggy mountains. As we climbed we talked about dinner – “What should we get?” “Well, we’re on the water, maybe some seafood” “Sounds like a plan, let’s do it big.”

But as some of you know, finding a restaurant with me isn’t the easiest thing. I look for the perfect one, even if I have no idea where I am. A good forty minutes passed then Molly just took the reigns – “let’s go here. I don’t care how much it is.”

Entering into the restaurant we were by far the only foreigners there. To be honest, I don’t know when the last time the waitress saw a foreigner. She shakily offered me her only English “Sashimi? Yes?” I agreed and said that we’d like a small set for two. She nodded and said that my Korean was very good. Lies, but nice to hear every now and then.

Then the feast started and it was anything but small. First one dish, then another, then a crab, then some cider, then lettuce, then another dish. I’d go through and tell you what these fish were, but I haven’t the slightest clue as to what they are called in English or in Korean.

We dove in, for lack of anything else to do. I watched other tables as they watched us put soy sauce on lettuce leaves resting in our hands and top it with raw fish. We cut into the crab and dined royally on the big plate of raw white fish. We drank small sips of the local alcohol and laughed the night away. The different fish ranged the gamut in terms of flavors. Some were light and delicate, taking to the soy sauce well. Some were robust. Some tough and chewy. And some – it was unclear if they were dead yet. Regardless, the whole meal was about as fresh as you could get, surrounded by friendly Korean companions.

The next morning, we’d turn from the surf and take to the turf. It was going to be an early morning to hike up to the cloudy peaks of Seoraksan.