As a little detour from my adventures in Seoul, I headed on the fast train down to Busan. The fast train was great, free Wi-Fi, allocated seat, plenty of legroom and pretty decent views of the Korean countryside.
I’d been in two minds when it came to booking a place to stay, as there were generally two options – city centre or beachside. In the end, the reviews on the hostel made me plump for the beach. The first challenge was to get there and it was recommended I go by bus. The stares and glares as I entered an already pretty crowded bus were piercing, but as the route progressed, some room eventually became free.
MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME
After a little around-the-houses, I found the hostel and opened the door to the entrance. A lovely lady was waiting and asked if I was Ross. She showed me around and took me to a small dorm room with 4 beds. I was pretty sure I’d booked a bigger dorm at a cheaper price and I asked if the hostel was quiet. She told me that I was in fact the only guest. Should I be concerned? In the end, as it turns out, not at all.
Just down the road, I came across the Haeundae Street Market. A long narrow sort of alleyway flanked by mostly food stalls and an occasional carpet shop. (Don’t ask me why, I don’t know) Whichever way I looked, there were stalls selling fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, little front-room-style restaurants and the pièce de résistance, steamed dumpling stalls.
There’s something so satisfying about the pillowy-soft casing and hot and spicy filling, so much so that I can’t help but get another straight after I’ve inhaled the first at record speed.
After a very peaceful night’s sleep, I’m treated to a rather special breakfast by the hostel owner. I comprises of fresh juice and coffee and her signature breakfast: a round of sweet white bread toast, topped with lemon marmalade, freshly sliced tomatoes, a sprinkle of sea salt, a runny fried egg and a sprinkle of rosemary. It’s not a combination I would have put together myself but it did have a certain something about it, although one helping was more than enough. What I couldn’t fault, however, was my host’s enthusiasm, kindness and hospitality. With a little help from google translate we spoke about typical food from the area and what I should try and where I should spend the rest of my day.
So, suggestions in hand, my next stop after the obligatory observation tower to overlook the city and its rather impressive bridges and port was the Jagalchi fish market.
Whatever I was expecting, it was not this. Imagine an airport terminal split into two floors, each floor with four rows. Now imagine that every conceivable spot on these rows is taken up by stalls selling fish and seafood. On the ground floor is where it’s fresh and I mean fresh, most of the seafood here is still alive in huge great buckets of water or tanks. Some more courageous swimmers jump out and onto the floor in front of you, only to be scooped back up by a pair of rubber-gloved hands and thrown back into the water. The majority of these hands belong to older women with perfectly coiffured hair and full faces of make up but protected by giant aprons, long gloves and wellies.
As I stare open-mouthed looking, not unlike a codfish, at the stalls and their attendants, it’s almost too much for the senses, the sound of a cleaver on a well-worn chopping board mixed with the raucous shouts and laughter of the stall holders and their customers. Surprisingly the air is not a pungent fishy smell although you could have no doubt that you were wandering through a seafood market. There are wafts of eels broiling and my eyes are stolen by the mastery of the filleting skills of a young man on a rather popular stand.
I venture upstairs where there is a deep musk of the sea. On this level you find everything you’ll find downstairs, just dried. From baby eels to full tuna, to octopus and squid and all manner of floatation sacs (an Asian delicacy).
ENOUGH EXCITEMENT FOR ONE DAY
A small helping of broiled eel later (trust me, it’s delicious) and I find myself back on the street, but this time on the aptly name, pig feet alley. Now as my experiences with trotters go, they haven’t really been all that much of a success and I’m afraid to admit that I chickened out on this occasion and hot footed it back to the train station ready for the journey back to Seoul.
Where I stayed:
Guesthouse COOOOL, Busan