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Day 13: Seoul -- A Day of Gluttony

Posted By Sara Yoo on Apr 12, 2010 at 11:40PM

I guess you could say that marketman and I like Korean food.

Just a little.

Ok, fine -- we are obsessed. So after whetting our appetites with a visit at marketman's parents' house down in Gongju (her yukkaejang and miyukguk were awesome!!), and knowing that we had such limited time to eat the rest of the things we craved, we were quite ready for a full day of eating (and perhaps a little sightseeing) in Seoul. And now I bring you the conclusion of our East Asian journeys: Seoul -- City of Gluttony: The Return.

Missing a little taste of the States, we started our day with sausage McMuffins and hash browns -- far less grease than those in the U.S. -- at the Central City McDonald's (meal 1: check). Then we caught the subway to Gyeonbokgung Palace and the adjoining National Folk Museum. Some history ingested, we decided we had worked up an appetite and headed for Insadong to see what we could find.

I was tempted by the place with the headless, dead eels hanging out front (those of you who know me well recognize that this statement is 100% true), but we continued towards the heart of Insadong and found the same traditional bibimbap place marketman's parents had introduced to my family the first time we visited Seoul in 2005. It was a perfect, hearty mix of veggies, rare beef, gotchujang, sesame oil and rice served with some kongnamul soup (meal 2: check). On the way back to the subway, we passed a stand where some men were shouting at passers-by and making something with their hands in corn starch so we stopped to observe. After they established that I was an American tourist and thus easily amused and completely gullible, one of them showed me how he could take a single ball of honey candy and stretch-and-fold it into 128,000 strings (yes, they counted...aloud) which he then wrapped around some sweetened nuts to form a bite-sized candy. He then told me he loved me which was a very dirty ploy, but it worked, I giggled and blushed and bought a box (snack 1: check). Kamsahamnida!

Our next stop was Namdaemun, the original southern gate to Seoul and the home to a marketplace and street bazaar. The place is like an outdoor casino: lots of flashy things, loud noises, no easily discoverable exits, a maze of aisles, and thousands of places to part with your money. Though marketman was temporarily wooed by a Batman sweatshirt, our focus was on one thing: street food. So when we passed a ddukbokki stand, we could not ignore the aroma. We ordered up a dish of the spicy rice cakes and a cup of the broth in which they cook the fish cake, and we dug in (snack 2: check). After polishing off the last rice cake, we took three steps and ran right into a stand selling hoddeok, a pancake filled with goopy, cinnamon-y brown sugar. We ordered two, thanks (snack 3: check). Namdaemun was a wind tunnel, and a sign for Starbucks in the basement of the nearby Shinsaegae department store was too inviting to pass up. A few lattes later, we were ready to brave the cold again (snack 4: check).

Back on the subway, we went one stop to Myeongdong, a trendy shopping area. It was Friday evening, and tons of young people were out shopping and heading to the many restaurants in the area, so we joined in the fray. After a "successful" stop at Uniqlo (depends on to whom you are talking), we decided we were ready for a light dinner and found a tong dak (roast chicken) place that my mother-in-law recommended. Out came one small chicken with its salt-and-pepper dipping sauce and a dish of mou (pickled radish; Meal 3: check). Out on the street, it was starting to get cold and people huddled around the ddukbokki stands. We had had our fill of rice cakes earlier in the day, but some fried squid and a giant chicken skewer fit the bill quite nicely (snack 5: check). It wasn't right to leave without dessert, so as we passed a hoddeok stand that specialized in corn batter, we got one to go (snack 6: check).

One 15 minute subway ride and a few Tums later, we tucked in for a good night's sleep!

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Days 8 & 9: Tokyo -- Let's Talk About Food

Posted By Sara Yoo on Apr 12, 2010 at 10:57PM

Let's get down to it: I mean, food is roughly 50% of the reason why I was so excited about this trip, right? Taisho12 knew that if I did nothing else, my #1 mission in Tokyo was to eat a genuine, slurp-loud-as-you-can bowl of tonkotsu ramen. So he and Aki took us up to Ikebukuro, an area known for its numerous ramen shops. I am putting this on record here on Yoo Rang?: this has officially made the list of mieko14's Life-Altering Meals. Not only was the food itself transcendent, but it was as much about the experience as it was the actual taste and texture. Let me attempt to set the scene:

 

We arrive and wait in line outside in the cold for 30 minutes. Inside we can see the patrons happily slurping away at a u-shaped bar. Much commotion is coming from behind the bar as 5 ramen artists drain and serve noodles, ladle broth, toss toppings and rhythmically call out orders. We realize that the line extends into the restaurants, and the fortunate few allowed to wait inside have it worse because they stand behind seated patrons and are forced to patiently absorb the delicious sights, smells, and sounds. Some space opens up, and we scurry inside, only to be confronted by the Ramen Ticket Vending Machine (an incredible convenience IF you read Japanese...for the rest of us, it's incredibly intimidating). One of the guys behind the counter is kind enough to hand us an English menu -- perhaps it was the gaping mouths, blank stares and frantic pointing that gave us away? -- we make our selections, hand him our tickets, and within another few minutes are seated at the counter awaiting our bowls. And the result? Rich, milky broth with enough pork bone marrow for a silky texture; perfectly cooked, chewy noodles (obviously handmade because of their slightly uneven shape); menma with just enough crunch, slightly spicy because its simmering broth undoubtedly had a few dashes of togarashi; moist, delicate chashu, rolled so the fat is encased within the meat to hold in the juices. Absolutely perfect - thanks, Lil Bro.

 

Per another recommendation from Taisho12, we tracked down a CoCo Curry Ichibanya in Shibuya, one of a chain of restaurants known for its insanely hot curry. While we Myers/Nakamuras by birth are not known for our spice tolerance, the Yoos are fire-eaters and marketman was ready for the challenge. In addition to selecting your main course (tonkatsu, chicken katsu, fried shrimp), you can pick your spice level from 1-10, though you are not allowed to eat 6 and above without first finishing an entire plate of 5. Mom, Dad and I went for 2 (living on the edge), and after much consideration, marketman asked for a 3. Halfway through the meal, he was mopping his head with a napkin. By the end he had a mild case of the hiccups. Who knew those Japanese could make spicy??

Our last memorable eating experience -- also thanks to Aki and T -- came the next night at a sushi boat bar in who-knows-where. Like the places here in the States, you pay by the plate. Unlike the places in the States, the fish was as fresh as fresh can be, the helpings were immense, and it was super cheap!! Our grand total by the end of the meal was 50 plates for 6 people, to the tune of $80 total. Who says you can't eat cheaply in Tokyo? Leave it to two students to figure that one out!

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Day 7: Tokyo -- Shinjuku, Asakusa, Akihabara

Posted By Sara Yoo on Apr 6, 2010 at 8:38PM

Our first full day in Tokyo we ended up being so busy, that I forgot to take photos for most of the time. As a result, what follows is a pretty weak gallery. We spent the day traipsing through Askusa, stopped for a late lunch at this place specializing in a dish...can't remember what it's called but it involved rice cooked in broth with a topping of your choice, served in a bamboo steamer.  Of course it was presented beautifully (my steamed salmon was sprinkled with salmon roe and shiitake mushrooms), but I shoveled it in my face before I remembered the camera sitting next to me. You could spend the whole day poking around the shops at Asakusa...Mom and I bought obis at one shop, and I got some special shichimi-togarashi (seven-ingredient spice) to use in my ramen.

On the way back to our hotel in Shinjuku, we stopped off in Akihabara, the Electronics City. It is like a little city, if you could imagine every store carrying only electronics, video games, and manga. If I were 15 and a boy, it would be like dying and going to heaven. But it was wall-to-wall people -- not just 15 year-old boys! marketman decided to let his inner geek run wild and went in search of radio-controlled cars (a favorite pasttime when he was younger...ok, maybe it was 4 years ago), but after entering one 7-story building containing nothing but figurines (think: Ultraman, Sailor Moon, cute little animals with huge eyes, and a whole bunch of R-rated naked lady dolls), I panicked and made everyone leave. <Sigh>

Dinner was a quick meal down in the Shinjuku train station, and then we met Taisho12 and his friends for a night of drinking, bowling and karaoke. Aki found us an izakaya where they would let us drink all that we could over the course of 2 hours, and we rose to that challenge. I hit my max of 3 beers! marketman hazed the kiddos, and one of them returned the favor by ordering him a very tall gin and tonic. Let's just say that was the turning point of the evening.

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Miyajima: Day 5

Posted By Sara Yoo on Apr 3, 2010 at 10:10PM

Running a little behind due to some connectivity issues during the latter part of the trip. So to continue with Day 5...we hopped on the JR Line to Miyajima Island, about a 20 minute train ride and 10 minute ferry. Some of the oldest shrines and stone carvings have been found here on top of Mt. Misen, its highest peak. But what I was most excited about was, of course, THE FOOD. Miyajima is situated on the Seto Inland Sea and prides itself of anago (freshwater eel) and kaki (oysters). So after traipsing through the souvenir shops, we settled on a restaurant that did both. I went for some kaki furai (fried oysters) served with tartar sauce and ketchup while marketman picked ana-ju or anago donburi (strips of eel served over rice and brushed with a teriyaki-like sauce). YUM.

Miyajima claims to be the originator of the wooden shamoji (rice paddle) and is home to the largest one on record. The island is also the home to -- you guessed it -- more deer! Though these were far less aggressive and refrained from biting me on the rear. Might have something to do with the fact that, unlike Nara, Miyajima doesn't sell deer cookies on every corner.

Towards the end of the day, we took the tram ride up to a mountain-top observation deck to get a better view of the Seto Sea, and it was magnificent. A trail led away from the observation deck toward Mt. Misen, a scattering of temples and shrines, and the home of some mountain-dwelling monkeys. Monkeys who apparently do not like eye contact and will attack if they see the whites of your eyes (the New Yorkers of monkeys, in effect). Mom decided to stay back and rest her ankles, but marketman, Taisho12, my dad and I set out to find them with only one hour left until the last tram headed back down the mountain. No problem, considering it was only a mile's hike.

One mile through slippery, treacherous terrain and entirely uphill, it turned out. By the time we reached the final temple on the way up to Mt. Misen's lookout perch, we were gasping for air, still had a 7 minute uphill climb ahead of us and 30 minutes for our return voyage. We made it to the top, high-fived a group of Japanese teenagers who were in considerably better shape than the rest of us, took some photos of our surroundings and headed back down the hill. Not a single monkey was seen. Along the way we joked about how nervous Mom would be at this moment, picturing her gesticulating wildly at the tram conductor to get him to wait for us. As we approached the tram station and emerged from the trees, we could see a little figure standing at the edge of the trail, shouting and waving her arms. Boy, were we about to get an earful.

Filed in: Family, Travel | Tagged with: Miyajima Island, Family Vacation, japan
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Hiroshima: Day 4

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 29, 2010 at 6:29AM

Catching up on several days' worth of photos, and I realized that I have been quite trigger-happy with the ol' digital camera, so the next two days will get their own posts. :-) Wednesday morning we caught the Shinkansen down to Hiroshima - yet another cold, rainy day. After settling in at our hotel (conveniently located right next to the station), we put on our walking shoes and set out for Peace Plaza across town.

I have to say that I am still torn regarding the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While I understand the rationale behind decisively ending the war and saving potentially thousands of lives that may have been lost, visiting the Peace Plaza was a sobering and powerful experience. 300,000 deaths have been attributed to the bombing of Hiroshima - 200,000 from the initial blast and another 100,000 from the radiation. An untold thousands of people survived but suffered from radiation-related illness and deformities, and the effects can still be seen in subsequent generations. Peace Plaza serves as a monument to the innocents who lost their lives and a plea for continued peace.

Of course, with the emotional day behind us, we dug into a hearty dinner of okonomiyaki (how does one describe...like throwing your leftovers on top of a pancake and topping with an egg?) at Okonomimura - literally, "Pancake Town" where dozens of okonomiyaki vendors whip up these delights from their stalls in the building. Hiroshima claims to be the originators of okonomiyaki, so we couldn't think of a more fitting meal to cap off the day.

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Bowling in Japanese

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 27, 2010 at 9:00AM

Marketman testing whether the magic can happen on the other side of
the Pacific...


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The view from Mt. Misen on Miyajima Island

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 25, 2010 at 1:55AM

Looking out across the Seto Inland Sea.


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On the Shinkansen to Hiroshima

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 23, 2010 at 10:25PM


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Kyoto: Days 2 and 3 - Oh, Hai Rain

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 23, 2010 at 8:23AM

When we arrived in Osaka on Saturday, it was a brilliant 70 degrees outside and I started to question my decision to bring my puffy jacket and new rainboots. Fast forward two days, and all I can say is, thank goodness for down and vulcanized rubber! Monday was cold and wet, and Tuesday was even wetter. The puffy down also provided protection against deer attacks -- for more on that, check out the gallery.

Monday found us at Nijo Palace, home of the Tokunaga shogunate -- and perhaps the most paranoid ruler in history. So fearful was he of assassination attempts that he surrounded the palace with steeply sloped moats, allowed only female attendants in his personal chambers (questionable whether that was truly for protection, I know), and built his hallways with lightly squeaking struts (a "nightengale floor") so that nighttime intruders could be heard. Later we took a taxi up to Kinkaku, the Golden Pavilion, which is one of the main buildings of Rokuon-ji Temple and as the name implies, is spectacularly covered in gold leaf.

Today we decided to fully assume the helm as tourists by taking a bus tour of Nara. Nara was the capital of Japan for only 70 years during the 6th century (the capital was soon after moved to Kyoto), but during that time two of the most spectacular temples were constructed: Todai-ji, A Buddhist temple and Kasuga-taisha, a Shinto shrine. Todai-ji Temple is home to a 50-foot-tall cast bronze Buddha, and the structure around him (the Daibutsuden) is the largest wooden building in the world. At the foot of one pillar in the hall is a hole that it said to be the same size as the Buddha statue's nostril, and if you can pass through it you will be blessed with enlightenment in your next life. Guess who fit through that hole?!

P.S. If you are curious, mobile service has been restored! Thanks, Sugar IT!

Filed in: Family, Travel | Tagged with: nara, Kyoto, Family Vacation, japan
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Kyoto: Day One - Technical Difficulties

Posted By Sara Yoo on Mar 21, 2010 at 11:32PM

Usually, in a circumstance like this -- in a new country, seeing new sights, with my favorite people -- I would be avidly mobile blogging. The trip got off to a great start: the flight was uneventful and went by faster than its 11.5 hours; no missing luggage; Taisho12 made his train and checked in within an hour after we touched down in Osaka. But my iPhone? No such luck. It has been hanging out with a "No Service" status ever since we arrived despite some serious troubleshooting from marketman. The upside? Looks like I really will be taking a 2 week vacation!

We arrived in Kyoto on Saturday night and managed to stagger down the street to a chain restaurant to inhale some katsu-don, somehow making it back to the hotel for the night. Taisho12 stayed up to study his kanji (he wants to learn 2500 characters by the time he returns to school on April 12th). By morning, we were refreshed and headed out the door for some sightseeing. The first stop was Teramachi-dori, a covered arcade of shops and restaurants where we wandered and browsed before finding a restaurant specializing in soba noodles that Mom's friend had recommended. We made short work of our tenzaru soba (cold soba with tempura) and proceeded east across the river towards Gion, the geisha district. Beyond the antique shops and inns in Gion, we found Maruyama Park which is home to several temples, the most famous of which is Kiyamizu-dera, a Buddhist temple originally founded in 798. It is massive, built on the side of the cliffs overlooking Maruyama and was constructed without the use of a single nail.

Filed in: Family, Travel | Tagged with: Kyoto, Family Vacation, japan

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