My pork/chicken dominated food blog is now being taken over by seafood. Korea really does change people.
I’m starting to understand now. I’m starting to understand the obsession that drives my people to swarm Sydney’s fish markets every weekend, illegally harvest pippies at the beach, and risk their lives rock-fishing before the sun rises. Noryangjin Market is great, but there’s something different about eating seafood with a view of the ocean, listening to the sounds of the water. Even though I’m told (by cynical party-poopers) that coastal seafood markets are tourist traps where prices are higher and most of the products are imported from other countries anyway, the sheer novelty and fun of pigging out on seafood on a seaside holiday is not to be underestimated!
Sokcho is a city on the eastern coast of Korea, most well-known for its proximity to Seorak Mountain, and is mainly used as base for travelers who want to hike during the day and sleep in affordable “pension” style accommodation at night. I went with my bestie to admire the autmnal colors of Seorak in October, and taste the all-year-round delights of the Sokcho seafood markets.
We arrived in the late afternoon, and just wandered around exploring the area, looking for something to snack on before dinner. We found a decent looking restaurant and just ordered some stuffed squid (ojingeo sundae). Regular sundae is a Korean street food staple, and is a simple blood sausage filled with noodles. Ojingeo sundae is a little fancier and is stuffed with a mix of squid tentacles, vegetables, meat, and sticky rice. This one was served “jeon” style, meaning it was covered in egg and pan-fried. We all know that jeon-style is my favorite style.
We were staying near Daepo-hang, which is a port on the southern end of Sokcho city. It has its own markets, and since they were walking distance from our pension, we decided to go there for dinner instead of the central fish markets in Sokcho.
The market is just one, long enclosed lane that wraps around the inlet, both sides lined by seafood vendors and restaurants with no discernible differences between them.
This place operates a little differently to Noryangjin. Each shop is also a restaurant: fish tanks in the front, tables and seating in the back. The shopkeepers have also conveniently put together little baskets that include a variety of fish and other sea creatures, and sell them at a package price.
This is very handy when you’re a tourist who has no idea what tastes good or what anything is called. We went for the little green basket in the corner, minus the squid, for around 40,000 Won.
We also considered taking the mung gae (or sea pineapple) out too, one of the many strange, alien-like sea critters that Koreans like to eat for reasons that are still a mystery to me. But we thought we may as well try it since it is such a well-loved Korean delicacy.
It came out sliced up and looking even nastier than it does whole. I mean, look at that. It looks like something that was blown out of a whale’s bloody nose. And it tastes like it too – like a chewy, saltwater-soaked, whale booger. Ugh. Never again. (EatYourKimchi share my distaste and quite accurately named it “Satan’s booger”)
Here is the sliced, raw flesh of the two fishies we bought. Delicious, but a gets a bit tedious after the first ten slices.
A meal of raw fish must end with maeuntang, which is my favorite part. Never disappoints.
Tummies full and looking for something to eat for dessert, we came across the Wonjo Twi-Gim Gol-Mok, which roughly translates to the Wonjo Alley of Deep Fried Delights!
It’s a mini-market that sells a variety of deep-fried Korean favorites – but the main attraction are the jumbo prawns.
Like all Korean markets, the stores sell basically the same thing so we chose one at random and ordered a couple of things.
Yes we had just had a really big dinner… but you don’t find an alley full of deep-fried prawns and just walk away empty handed!! That would go against everything I believe in.
We got two of the largest-sized prawns (deep-fried whole, with shells still on). Korean twigim is a bit heavier than tempura – the batter is quite thick and very crispy. The thing in the background is a deep-fried perilla leaf… which totally counts as salad, right?
The next day we went hiking in Seorak Mountain. Hiking in Korea is really special, not just because of our many beautiful mountains and the dream-like autumn foliage, but also because of our very unique “hiking culture.” Korean hiking culture involves men and women, middle aged and upwards, who spend hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars on professional hiking attire and gear (hiking boots, pants, shirts, jackets, gloves, sticks, hats, everything – head to toe, the more brightly coloured, the better), and join clubs where they hike different mountains with a group of very similar people every single weekend. These guys are no joke. They’re the first ones to arrive at the mountain and the last ones to leave. As we were huffing and puffing up the easy, half-day track we had chosen, this technicolor army stormed past us in the opposite direction, on the final stretch of a trek that started at 4am and had reached the peak at noon.
I’m not really sure what fuels their passion – it could really be a love for the mountains and a desire to stay fit… but I also suspect that they just like to show off their expensive hiking gear and get drunk on makgoli (Korean rice wine) in the open air.
There are many makgoli pit-stops along every hike… which I don’t quite understand because national park + mountain + drunk hikers does not seem like a good mix to me… but you know, give the people what they want.
They also sell pajeon (seafood pancake) as an drinking snack and it smelled so good we couldn’t resist it on the way back down from our hike.
Demolishing a pajeon in the mountains after a good hike is just glorious. Didn’t get any makgoli because I really, really hate it. I think it tastes worse than soju, which says A LOT.
On our last day, we walked to the port near the bus terminal to find something to eat for lunch. We really wanted to have king crab, which is THE THING to eat when you’re in Sokcho, but it’s so expensive in not justifiable between only two people. We found a row of abalone restaurants that looked pretty legit, so we decided to try one out. We ordered grilled fish and seafood ttukbaegi (clay pot).
I used to hate Korean grilled fish. It just seemed so small, bony, and inferior in flavour compared to the salmon, trout, snapper and barrumandi that’s readily available in Sydney. I never ate it. I didn’t even count it as meat. But now, thanks to the Koreanisation of my taste buds, I freaking love it. I don’t even know the names of these three fish, but I’ve fallen in love with the dry yet oily, salty and slightly smoky flavor that all Korean grilled fish has.
Perfect with rice, gim (seaweed) and a little bit of ssamjang.
The ttukbaegi came out overflowing with all sorts of shellfish – prawns, clams, muscles, and a seashell that was so pretty I couldn’t bear to eat the rubbery little mollusc inside it.
The main event, however, was the abalone. Believe it or not, this was my first time eating one. I guess with my general lack of enthusiasm for seafood and high price tag attached to abalone, I never got around to trying it. And while it looks really ugly, like a giant cooked slug, I kind of understand what the fuss is about. It has this perfect texture which is neither rubbery (like squid), mushy (like oysters), or grainy (like muscles), and has a really pleasant, mild taste.
So that was Sokcho, and also the final Korean eating adventure I would go on with my bestie, who’s back in Sydney now. This one’s for you, babe 😉