As an avid traveler I keep a very short list of places I’d jump at the chance to visit. This short list includes Sydney, Melbourne and The Yarra Valley (at the top, mind you!) as well as Africa, particularly a few spots on the continent’s southern tip. But just last spring I was able to make some space for new locations by removing a country that I’ve wanted to see for years: South Korea. And it was a dream come true.
Those around me know my preoccupation with Korean food, a fixation that began later in life when I was a teenager in Texas. The first bites of Korean food sang so directly to me that I haven’t stopped eating and enjoying it since. Years later I’m fortunate enough to live near large Korean neighborhoods, filled with restaurants and shops, and you better believe it’s something I take advantage of quite often. If Korean food is not on the menu at home at least once or twice a week then I begin to feel a bit antsy. It’s truly soul food.
What is it about Korean food that rocks my world? First, there’s an affinity in the flavors of Korean food with those that I grew up eating. Red chilies are ubiquitous in Korean food and it feels familiar and homey to me. Second, there’s a balance of flavors and textures that really get me going: spicy, sour, tangy, mellow, crunchy, soupy, cool and hot… they’re all there within Korean food. And I love them all.
And then there’s Makkoli. More on that later.
As a guest of the Korean Tourism Organization I was ready to absorb as much Hansik as humanly possible in the week we were there, and this meant covering many miles within South Korea. There’d be no meal I’d miss, no ingredient I pass up, as this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity surely wouldn’t come around again. So I packed an empty stomach, 3 cameras, memory cards galore and headed to Seoul directly from Los Angeles via Korean Air.
Did I mention it was the trip of a lifetime?
Seoul, The Special City
For those of you who have never been, let’s just say this: Seoul is big. Huge. GIANT. With a population of over 10 million people, this megacity is all that and then some. It’s modern, ancient, beautiful, comfortable, bustling, and just about every single thing in between. There’s a serenity found in this metropolis that I’ve yet to discover in any other city of comparable size. It’s safe and orderly, giving you just a glimpse of what lies just outside the city center. We were fortunate enough to spend time driving throughout South Korea and also experienced Jeonju and Busan– more on those amazing places coming up.
So what did I learn traveling throughout South Korea? I learned that there’s no Korean mother or grandmother on the planet that will ever let you go hungry, kimchi is more than a side dish (thank god!), street food reigns supreme and that Koreans are some of the most food-focused people I’ve ever met.
And the best thing I learned?
“You’ve got a Korean tongue,” said our guide Young Sun.
I put that tongue into overdrive during our visit. Check out my upcoming posts about South Korea over the next week. It was too grand and too large to fit into one single blog post!
A special thanks to Korean Air for their generosity and for providing a wonderful travel experience from Los Angeles to Seoul and back with good food. And trust me, I know about this. In fact, give me a bowl of bibimbap any day on a flight and I’ll be a happy man. The best parts? TRAVEL SIZE GOCHUJANG and USB POWER AT EVERY SEAT!