Visiting The Republic Of Korea

by Matt on August 8, 2011

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!


 

Next up: Tea In Seoul

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Yoo August 8, 2011 at 9:42 am

Look forward to reading more about your adventures in Korea! As a Korean American, I feel ya on the food! There’s just nothing else that hits the spot.

Kiki August 8, 2011 at 10:45 am

I absolutely love the photos you kicked this post off with. Delicious chaos on the upper right! And your storytelling always kicks me in the pants. But, I can’t help pointing out the obvious: Africa is not a country!

Matt August 8, 2011 at 10:52 am

Kiki, thank you! AND oh my you are correct! I always do that!

crotchetymama August 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm

That airplane food actually looks edible! Wish the next place I was flying to was Seoul. :)

Sarah August 8, 2011 at 1:16 pm

I can’t wait for the rest! I went to Korea for the first time about a year ago and I was blown away. Kimchi refrigerators! Oh, and that makkoli…

Your beautiful photos are bringing it all back. Thanks for sharing!

wandering educators August 8, 2011 at 2:35 pm

YUM!!!!

Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga August 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Wow, Matt, what an amazing experience! Can’t wait to hear more about it.

And what a nice hookup from Korean Air…USB power at every seat and great food. Sure beats the middle seat, no wifi or USB and a pack of stale pretzels <—which is how I usually travel…lol

And you have some special guests at your studio today…wow, must be so much fun over there today!!!

Shir August 8, 2011 at 5:23 pm

TRAVEL SIZE GOCHUJANG!!!

OMG I need to take Korean Air now!!=

Kiran @ KiranTarun.com August 8, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Korea is a beautiful country! I’ve traveled in Korean Airlines before, and the staff are generally super friendly :) Unfortunately, we are yet to visit Korea.

sally August 9, 2011 at 1:13 am

You should TOTALLY come to Australia! Remember all that – life is the journey not the destination. Don’t be put off by the distance. The west coast is cool too, the south is really simialr to San Diego with flies and way less people. The north is like Arizona with even more flies and even less people. Stop by – I’ll show you around.

Tori (@eat-tori) August 9, 2011 at 6:46 am

What Sally said about Australia. You’d absolutely love it (written from a very homesick Australian currently in London). Korea hadn’t been on my list- but I think this post has started to change my mind….

Murissa Maurice August 9, 2011 at 10:24 am

I have had very few opportunities to try Korean food. I live in British Columbia, Canada and a lot of the food in my area is derived from Napa (because we are the Canadian equivalent of wine country), France and local organic fare. Just recently we have had more Dim Sum, Mexican and Jamaican establishments have a go. But what reign as kings are the chains such as Cactus Club or Earls.
Next time I go to Vancouver (October 29th to see Anthony Bourdain’s tour) I will have to seek it out and give it a try.

The Wanderfull Traveler

Jinnie August 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm

So excited to see that you went to Korea. Your description of my favorite city & it’s food is right on. I can’t wait for the rest of your korea post. :)

memurlar August 10, 2011 at 3:11 am

have a good travel Matt. i will be good to see you in Turkey, too

food librarian August 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm

You had me at USB port at each seat. Looks like a great trip!

Julie November 24, 2011 at 7:04 pm

I like your photos!

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