A Travellerspoint blog

Seoul, South Korea

At the start of the trip we were only planning on staying four days in Korea. A few in Seoul and a night in Busan before the ferry. However, plans changed in Japan and we extended our time here. This has been a great turn of events; it has been the best city, friendliest people and tied with China for best food.

As the capitol of Korea for several centuries, there is an ecletic mix of old and new. There are the five Imperial palaces and the Blue House, which is the equivalent of our White House.

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There also the old gates, monasteries and traditional houses all mixed in with the new skyscrapers, department stores, theme parks and neon signs.

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They also have installed water cannons and lights on the side of a bridge to put on a show for everyone enjoying the evening alongside the river.

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A lot of their museums have been free and all have been to an exceptional standard for displays, information and interactive areas. We went to the Military, Rice Cake, Baekje Dynasty and Folk Culture museums and they were all fantastic albeit limited on English signage.

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The people have been exceptionally welcoming and friendly. We tried Bewelcome again, and while we did not find a place to sleep, we did find a great couple that welcomed us into their new home. They made a tradional Korean dinner of bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and a fried egg) and a green onion pancake that was delicious. I didn't want to impose to much, so I neglected the picture of the food but managed to get a picture of them on the way out. We talked so long we almost missed the last trains.

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As for the rest of our meals we had fried chicken on several occasions. The Korean method involves a batter of rice flour and water that creates a crispy outside while keeping the meat moist. The most interesting one mixed almond flour into the crust and had almonds sprinkled on top.

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We also had the ubiquitous Korean BBQ. Thin sliced pieces of meat that you cook yourself at the table. You then place it in a lettuce leaf, add roasted garlic and spicy bean sauce, and eat it. There are a myriad ways to have the meat prepared and we had a plain brisket and a sweet chili sauce covered pork rib which was simply amazing in its balance. Not to sweet and the heat builds as you eat more.

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One of the best things of Korean food is the inclusion of several side dishes. Various types of fermented vegetables (kimchi), tofu, mung bean, bean sprouts and more will swiftly cover your table for free. Even the little stalls will give you one or two.

Of course, there is a wide range of street food available; hot dogs on a stick, waffles with scoops of icecream, bubbletea, weird rice cones filled with a hard frozen yogurt, dumplings, hand cut noodles, etc.

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Now the last dish will have some contention. We tracked down a restaurant that serves dog. Despite an attempt to get us kicked out by the owner we persevered and soon had two bowls of dog stew in front of us. The stew itself was a soy bean paste (miso) with chili bean sauce added, along with some onions and greens. There was also some more onions, peppers and soy bean paste to add if you wanted. This actually seems to be a common Korean approach to soups is you season it yourself at the table. The dog meat itself was tender and fatty with an overall taste of perfectly cooked mutton but with a thick layer of fat like a pig. This fat layer was a little much but it is the way they cut the meat as opposed to the cuts in the US which emphasises the meat portion.

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Posted by CulinarySojourn 03:24 Comments (0)

Incheon, South Korea

Arriving late at night from Beijing, we made the decision to save some money and sleep in the airport. I did a little research before making this decision and Incheon international airport has been awarded several years as being the best airport in the world. After sleeping there overnight, I would definitely do it again.

There were convenience stores and fast food open 24 hours. There were several charging stations located next to large Samsung TVs so you could watch some Korean shows. I believe there is a sauna there as well but despite wandering around for an hour all I found was a ice skating rink, a mock-up of a traditional Korean village, a stage where they put on cultural performances and more convenience stores. It was also well patrolled and extremely safe.

The downside was the constant cleaning crews which would wake you up but at least the place was spotless.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 20:24 Comments (0)

Beijing, China

To get a visa to China costs around $140 and, unless you live near a Chinese embassy, another $60 to use a courier to hand deliver it. This all needs to be done before you leave the country. However, they have now added in an interesting option. There is a special transit stamp which does not cost anything. If you fly from one country thru China to a third country you can get a 72 hour one if you go through certain hubs like Beijing and Chengdu. However, we flew into Urumqi first and had to settle for the 24 hour one that really gave us until the next day to get on a flight. If you time it well you could actually get two days out of it.

So what do you do with only 24 hours in Beijing? It helps if you have a friend (thanks Amy) and little to no sleep. First we got ourselves a enormous dinner. Peking Duck was the main dish, cut up infront of you and served with tiny pancakes and a variety of sauces and toppings. The skin is dipped in sugar to give a sweet and savory flavor. The rest of the carcass was made into a light soup thickened with starch. This helps to cut the greasiness of the duck.

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For sides we had steamed broccoli with soy sauce, house made soft tofu with black vinegar and scallion dipping sauce and dumplings with a chili sauce. To wash it all down we ordered a pitcher of juice made of dried fruit and spices. It had a nice full flavor that paired well with the meatiness of the duck.

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Dumplings not pictured as they were eaten to fast.

For desert we went to get a specialty snack Ben wanted. Not even the Chinese were ordering the five poisonous animals. We bought the scorpion and dusted it with cumin. The body was the best part, actually having meat inside, while the claws were just crunchy. Other options were snake, centipede, gecko, starfish and seahorses.

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In the morning we got up early to rush to the train station to find a long line and trains cancelled. So we waited and after several hours if sitting around and a mad dash to get seats on the train we finally got to the Great Wall of China. With the transit stamp you are not allowed to leave the city limits but portions of the Great Wall are in Beijing. Being short on time we opted for the cable car to the top.

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After this was a good meal of Sichuan food and security not liking my bag of souvenir coins. Despite the hold up we finished our layover and boarded the plane to South Korea.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 08:32 Comments (0)

Istanbul, Turkey

The ancient city of Constantinople, I mean Istanbul, is our last stop in this part of the world. The skyline is dotted with minerats and skyscrapers, the mood festive, and all of the kebabs Ben can eat. After a good nights rest we start early to escape the heat and head into the historic area of town to see the main sights. The Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, Cisterns and the Million Stone are all clustered together. The Million Stone is the center point of the Byzantine Empire, all distances to other cities are measured from here. They have included modern cities now and we have about 11,000km to go on our journey.

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For lunch we find a street vender selling a horizontal lamb kebab that is minced then stirfried with roasted peppers. Placed in half a baguette and topped with oregano, course paprika and salt. The kebab itself is meat wrapped around a core of fat. The bread absorbs all of the flavor. We washed it down with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Unfortunately, we are not in season for pomegranates and will have to return again for those. We also tried Ottoman ice cream. This is made with goats milk and they place it into chilled containers and use a long spoon to stir and mix it until it gets the texture of taffy.

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Once night rolls around the parks and squares in town fill up with locals enjoying the cooler air. Venders spring up selling roasted or boiled corn on the cob, popcorn, fruit, toys, etc.

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As for us, we found a restaurant's terrace and watched people pass by on the street. We did witness a group of local men beat up a teenager in what we assume was vigilante justice. The kid ran off after they kicked and ripped his shirt off. As for that meal, we started with a cumin spiced lentil soup and grape leaves stuffed with rice and onions. The soup had a good consistency, not to thick but enough to sop it up with the stacks of bread they served us. The kebabs were a simple cubed lamb separated with eggplant and the Adana kebab that is a minced kebab with a bit more heat than usual but the other spices seem the same.

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The traditional Turkish breakfast is tomatoes, cucumbers and cheese but after two days of this I was already tired of it. Instead I found this dish which is scrambled eggs in a tomato sauce with spicy sausage. It is served with plenty of bread to soak up what is on the plate and you wash it all down with salty Aryan.

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After a few days of kebabs, we decided to try Turkish baked potatoes. The potatoes are among the largest I've seen, knobby and thin skinned. They bake them in the oven but do not oil or salt the outside leaving the skin plain. They cut them in half and scoop out the inside. They then mix with copius amounts of butter and cheese until creamy. As for toppings, there were anywhere from twelve to twenty. These include more cheese, couscous, pickles, roasted peppers, green and black olives, roasted eggplants, chickpeas, etc. For desert we had a creamy rice pudding that is then baked, almost like a creme brulee. More cream than rice.

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Since it was a holiday the bazaars were closed for several days. When they reopened it was packed but after the ones in Morocco, these were quite easy to navigate. There are two that we visited, the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar. Both have pretty much the same stuff, the main difference is the Grand Bazaar had more shops indoors. Nearly everything you could want are somewhere in these shops. The spice shops were piled high and had more of a selection than those in Morocco. They did have a scam going of Indian Saffron, which is just ground turmeric.
Other food finds were Turkish Delight and a wide variety of dried fruits. These include lime peel, melon, figs, cherries, pineapple, banana, apple, etc.

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Our final dish was difficult to find. It is a Central Asian ravioli. This one had a lamb filling and the size was quite small. It looked like they took the dough, rolled it out, sprinkled the meat on top then placed another layer of dough on top. They then cut them onto squares about 1/4 of an inch and cooked them in a tomato sauce. Yogurt is then added table side and dried mint, course paprika and ground sumac (a lemony berry) is liberally sprinkled on top. The waiter mixed it all before I got a shot though.

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Posted by CulinarySojourn 17:04 Comments (0)

Sofia, Bulgaria

Our final destination in the Balkans is the country of Bulgaria. A former soviet state, it has now turned to embrace the west and has become a member of NATO and the European Union. Luckily it does not use the euro but does have a fixed rate of exchange and has much cheaper prices than the western countries of Europe.

The architecture is split between religious (Ottoman and Orthodox) and communist era buildings with a few Roman ruins thrown in. The old soviet shopping center was described as representing the solidarity of the U.S.S.R, with the simple stone on stone design with a dash of red on the ceilings. Not the most impressive of designs.

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There was an issue with the hostel's breakfast, namely the hostel site said there was one and the hostel said no. Not an issue as we could find an assortment of stuffed breads for under $2 for the both of us. I also tried Aryan; a salty, watered down yogurt drink popular in former Ottoman territories. Not really refreshing since it has a high salt content.

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Yogurt is a large part of the Bulgarian diet and we had it several times a day, either in drink form or with food. A traditional soup is a cucumber, yogurt, dill and sunflower seed mixture served cold. The flavors meld well and is tangy and refreshing during the hot season.

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One dinner had stuffed peppers with yogurt sauce. The filling was much the same as the cabbage roll. Both had minced beef, onions and rice. Very filling and heavy. Of course you would wash it down with a glass of salty Aryan.

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I tried several times to find a shopke salad here but I kept getting different salads. This is odd since it is designed to look like the Bulgarian flag and is one of the national dishes. The one pictured below is the one I got instead.

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We saw oversized slices of Bulgarian pizza with an odd assortment of toppings. Corn, pickles and sweet ketchup. Despite liking pickles it was not really enjoyable.

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While a lot of the dishes are similar to other Balkan foods, including Greece, Bulgaria doesn't really use olive oil in their dishes as it doesn't grow in the region. Instead they use sunflower seed oil which gives the Bulgarian dishes a distinct flavor.

On our final day we went into the Rila mountians to check out one of the most treasured landmarks of the Bulgarian Orthodox church. Here, nestled in the forests of central Bulgaria, lays Riga Monastery. Near the back door they sold these Bulgarian donuts topped with powder sugar which were freshly fried.

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Posted by CulinarySojourn 07:11 Comments (0)

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