Dynamic Busan! It takes about 2 hrs plus on the KTX, the express train to get there from Seoul Station. Home to the Busan International Film Festival and the biggest seaport of Korea, Busan is the second largest city in the country. From when I was there, it looked like it was in upheaval what with the relentless construction going on. It was definitely cooler and the air smelled like salty seaweater. The port itself was also huge. Boats everywhere and shit. I was really looking forward to this sojourn because I wanted to get my Korean style seafood fix. First up, we went to Taejongdae, set against the cliffs, which is like this touristy zone with temples and observatories to look out to the sea and also this pavilion which hosted an APEC meeting sometime back. It’s ok for the scenery, which is nice if you want to look out at endless sea or pine trees like in a painting. There’s also a few temples and stuff but getting around the place is a bit of a hassle if you’re lazy like me. There’s a tram thing, which you can get on and off at any stop, of which there are several. Problem is, it’s not the most efficient. It doesn’t take a full load of people because it might need to pick up more but the problem is, it’s never enough and you might be stuck waiting at 0ne attraction to get to the next if you don’t wanna hike up the hill. It’s not that it’s hard though, the paved road is easy to navigate and there’s a few things to see and do. Whatever, so we queue up with 100 ajummas dressed with hot pink vests to show their tour groupieness and wait for the cute little tram train thing to take us up the hill.

Thankfully for me, the seafood fix I craved for turned up unexpectedly. I thought this was just gonna be a boring slog through scenic countryside time but we thought we’d pop down to this pebble beach, pretty much the first stop. Down this long, steep staircase was a pretty picturesque beach that was littered with pebbles, big and small. It’s easiest to walk if you step on the bigger, stable ones but it’s a mission either way. On the beach was this little shack with low tables laid out on an elevated platform with mats and cushions and stuff. Then there were the vats. Big buckets of water concealing all manner of shellfish and seafood, some completely unrecognisable. A halmoni gestures at us and we opt for some abalone, sea urchin and oysters. For $30, they brought out like 8 oysters roughly half the size of my palm, 3 sea urchins, 2 abalones and some random crunchy seafood slug thingamajig for free. They also provided some hot tea as well as soy, wasabi, chillis and samjjang. When the old woman cracked open the sea urchins, the prickly bits were still moving. She then used a spoon to scoop out the orange goodness and I was on my way to heaven. Look, you can get the world’s best quality seafood in Tsukiji in Tokyo (incidentally coming up in a future post) but you can’t beat having stuff just come out the sea served to you on a pebbled beach with this cute drapey shade curtain over your head at such a low cost. I totally beasted over this meal. It was my highlight of a one month holiday. I’m pretty sure after that I had the runs but so worth it for the crunchy abalone, creamy oysters and sweetass urchins. The unknown seafood slug thingy was interesting, bitey/crunchy/chewy but not something I’d hit again.

We didn’t really see too much of Taejongae as we found the transport dodgy but we managed to sneak in an observatory and the APEC building. It was very beautiful scenery and the trees were awesome. We headed to the nearby Heundae beach, which is apparently crowded in summertime. Right now, nearing the end of spring, it was empty but soon, there won’t be a single inch of sand visible as the umbrellas and shades and mats and sunglasses and bikinis come out. There’s also supposed to be a lot of food and drink stalls right behind the beach that bring the food to you while you ogle/bask. Unfortunately for me, no half naked Korean girls to dismiss for me. It was also hella windy and cold so we thought it best to get back to Busan proper and hit up some street food at Nampodong. But not before sneaking in a Patbingsu at Cafe Benne, one of many coffee chains, not unlike Starbucks, just as crap. The Korean version of ice kacang, though, is really good. Cafe Benne’s one is very generous and chock full of nuts and balanced in terms of sweetness.

But Nampodong is where we’re going. Enter the Ho Tteok. Busan’s speciality is a hotteok stuffed with caramel and all kinds of nuts and shit. For like a dollar or something stupid cheap, it was awesomesauce. Melty drooly sweetness, crunchy nuts plus you watch you mould the things and fry em up right before you. There’s even a queue. That’s long and full of tourists and local tourists and locals. I go inside this store called Art Box for an hour and kop stuff. Incidentally, they’re selling this humidifier shaped like a water droplet that I’d already kopped online. It’s super cute. They also sell these giraffe lamps and retro fans and all manner iPhone accessories, stationery and shit. It’s a bit like Loft in Japan, but smaller . A good chunk of stuff is locally designed and made.

Aside from the delicious caramel nut pancake, we also had some oden, where you stand at the stall and eat and you pick whatever you want, grab a soup bowl, ask the lady to fill it up with dashi and slurp away regardless of how stingy you were. It’s simple and comforting. The tteokbukki is pretty much the same, except you get gochujang smothered rice cakes. Not my fave thing. I opted for some mandu instead, which was ok. What I enjoyed quite a lot was the squid, dried and then pressed flat with a grill press until it’s slightly charred, bitter and chewy but like you upgraded the dried squid snack everyone knows. You even get to pick legs or body.

Dinnertime. Amazingly, my girlfriend is somehow on a roll and despite the raw seafood extravaganza and the streetfood, we stumble into this place for some Chokpal salad. Which is cold, sliced braised pig’s trotters tossed with cucumber and mustard and egg and veg and other stuff I can’t remember exactly. The braised pig’s trotters I’ve had before both cold and hot but not tossed in a salad. I can safely say, I prefer hot, then cold, then salad. Not that the salad is bad. It’s tasty and goes well with my Cass beer but I just prefer the hot version. The banchan at this place is also really good and I like the gonyak.

Day 2 in Busan! Well, half a day anyway. Lunch is up first because we wake late. It’s a holiday. We go to this joint that has a giant crab plastered on the side of the building. Yessir. Today is the day I get some authentic Gaejang. We order a shitload. Every other table stares at me and my tiny ass girlfriend but we smash it. We get the beef/octo hotpot. I forget the exact Korean name and surprisingly, this surf and turf combo is a good one. What’s not so good is that there’s gochujang in there but it’s tasty and HOT. The gaejang though, that’s where it’s at. Raw, slightly fermented swimmer crabs marinated in a soy mixture. You squeeze and suck on the body and the legs and the gooey flesh is delightfully sweet and it’s got a distinct flavor. Then, you dump a load of rice into the shell, which has some marinade in it and you mix it all up together with the crab brains/roe floating around and eat it all up. I actually just whacked all the crab brain first then had the rice with the marinade. I can only imagine how happy my granddad would be if he had the chance to try this shit. It is awesome and probably my favourite culinary moment of 2012. So far.

Post lunch, we go to the Jagalchi seafood market, which is the kinda place I love. This whole trip is about seafood. There’s the wet part of the market with about 2cm worth of water on the floor and fish everywhere. Some of it on the floor as well. There’s a lotta monkfish, belly up, women hacking away at random fish for customers, lotsa weirdass shellfish and bottom of the ocean type shit I’ve never seen before in my life. Some of it I don’t think you can even see at Tsukiji in Japan. It stinks of fish, you gotta be careful and don’t do what my girlfriend did, wear medium height wedges. Wear shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. The wet bit isn’t the only bit though. There’s also the dry bit that sells seafood, both fresh and dried. A lot of the dried stuff is still hung above the roofs or on specially made stands. There’s also a lot of restaurants that try to get you in to tackle some fresh grilled or sashimi stuff and more. I would if I could but I just had the insanely huge beef/octo stew fit for four. I also saw something curiously labelled as dolphin and I’m pretty sure it looked nothing like dolphin fish/mahi mahi. They were like making cold terrines out of it and also selling chunks of flesh. Not the most appetizing. If I had one regret from Busan, it’s that I didn’t buy any jwipo to bring home. I love that stuff, dried and marinated compressed fish slices you just grill over heat. I think of it as the fish version of bakkwa. Just as good.

Before we leave for Seoul again, we also take a side trip to this messy market area in Busan I forget the name of. There’s like all kinds of shops, crammed into a tiny ass space and you can buy anything and everything there. Apparently, one of the best things is fried chicken. My fave Korean food. I missed out. There’s butchers next to general goods shops next to restaurants next to grilled dumpling joints next to places selling clothes and shoes and whatever. There’s also a guy selling you some cracker that you get for free or one extra if you can break it cleanly or something. It’s a gimmick but it’s something. The place has a certain intensity and density of life to it. People are everywhere and the spaces to move are small and congested.

But our train beckons and we leave for Seoul. I get the feeling I’ll be back in Busan next year.

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