We are not foodies. We don’t seek out the ‘of the moment’ restaurants or cooking trends. But we do love to eat, and to find small mom and pop places to spend our money. When we’re in travel mode, or bicycle touring, we eat out just about every night. And afternoon. Mornings too, if the hotel doesn’t have breakfast available. So that’s a lot of searching for and sitting down to meals.
Tteokbokki is chewy rice cakes cooked in a red, spicy broth. This version at a place called Hang Out in the charming Ikeseon-dong area, a maze of little streets with so many different shops and restaurants, was more of a beer snack meal than the smaller street vendor versions we saw later on. This version had Sundae sausage and cheese as well as the rice cakes.
After a visit to Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the amazing museum complex designed by architect Zaha Hadid, which is well worth a visit, we went over to the Gwangjang Market to walk around and ogle the food on offer.
You know how people like to talk about getting out of your comfort zone? Food is a fast and easy way to do that. I don’t consider myself an adventurous eater, Rich is willing to try anything but I’m a lot more picky, or cautious. And, I don’t like seafood all that much. I’ll happily have sushi or sashimi, but most cooked seafood gets a pass when I’m choosing my meal. However, once we got bicycling on our trip from Seoul to Busan, I really did have to eat what we could get. Whether it be from the ubiquitous convenience stores, or at a restaurant.
Bike touring lets us see a country in detail, and forces us to figure out how to feed ourselves. Korean convenience stores are easy to find, and although I prefer Japanese convenience stores, we did well finding things that appealed to us.
So, how about when the food finding is not so easy. Or not so successful? Or you get to town kind of late and not much is open? Then it’s chicken and beer places. We had to resort to chicken and beer places twice, on long days. They are known as Chimaek. From chikin ‘fried chicken’, and maekju ‘beer’.
There was an evening when we pulled into town on our bikes, in Gumi, and planned on eating at the food court of a large grocery store chain, E-Mart. Food courts in Korea are good. We were looking forward to it. We checked in to our nice hotel, unpacked, showered, and strolled over with plenty of time for dinner. It was closed. There was a mysterious local holiday that no one but the management of the E-Mart seemed to know about, or care about. So, grumbling and hangry, we headed back to our hotel, and then spotted the sports team from the hotel lobby at a small place down the block and went in.
Once we reached Busan and were off the bikes and in a city it was easier to search out restaurants and plan ahead. While cycle touring you are often at the mercy of how far you were able to ride, and what time you get to town, and how much energy you have to find and walk to a restaurant. But with a few days to explore you can find what you actually want. Rich was happy to find that Korea has had a renaissance of craft beer brewing in the past decade or so.
Korean food is quite varied. Most people know Korean BBQ and bibimbap, but there is a lot more to discover.
We took the train from Busan to Seoul and stayed for a week in an apartment which meant we could cook our own meals. As much as we enjoy eating new foods, it gets stressful and tiring to find restaurants, translate menus, and constantly try to figure out what goes with what – does this go in here or do you dump this into there? Our first lunch in our apartment after a visit to the big E-Mart grocery store was grilled cheese sandwiches.
Our apartment in Seoul for our last week in Korea was out in a neighborhood. While at first glance during the walk from the Jungnang metro station it appeared to be a lot of tire shops, new apartment buildings, and little clothing stores, the small back streets proved to be full of restaurants and places to buy groceries. It was easy to wander around and pick a place a for dinner.
Seoul was fantastic for hiking, as we covered in the previous post, and it was also fantastic for simply walking into a restaurant and getting a delicious meal with very low stress or awkwardness. The owners were always nice and welcoming. They would help us out when we were obviously confused about how to proceed with our meal, and payment was always easy – just get up and walk to the cash register and tap your credit card. No tipping, and taxes already included. Another nice thing about walking up to pay is that you don’t feel guilty having left some of the little plates of pickled things. Our clean your plate mentality is hard to break.
Korea is famous for its barbecue. That’s the one thing most travelers might know about Korean food – barbecue. And the many barbecue restaurants are super popular with locals. It’s a fun thing to do with a group of family or friends. The ubiquitous restaurants are easy to spot with the ventilation hoods over the table grill. We decided on our last night eating out in Seoul to finally try a barbecue place. We’re not really big meat eaters, but thankfully as with any meal in Korea there’s no worry about getting plenty of veggies.
We had a great time in Korea. The people, the food, the biking, all of it exceeded our expectations. We are in San Francisco now, after a lovely family visit in Colorado, and we head back to France soon to pick up new touring bikes in Germany and then out for cycle touring!
We weren’t expecting Turkish food to be so varied, and so good. Neither of us have much experience with Turkish food, it’s not something we have a lot of in San Francisco- or at least not that we know of or frequent. We knew it would be good, healthy, and fresh – or so we’d heard, but our expectations were absolutely exceeded. Some of you will love this post loaded with photos of food. Others may roll your eyes and imagine us doing the thing where no one can touch the food until someone properly snaps a cell phone photo. Yes. We did that. A lot.
We don’t have photos of every meal, or every restaurant cat (or dog). And I can’t tell you what each dish was, but overall the food was fantastic. Were there awkward moments when we stumbled through a menu with no English translation with the help of Google translate – yes, many! Did we have waiters bring us English language menus that seemed to have no relation to the Turkish menu? Yes. There was some pointing at other table’s food. We muddled through and enjoyed a lot of good meals.
Most of the restaurant dining we did was outside, or by large open windows, but always, always, in the shade. It wasn’t too hot anywhere yet, but I am notoriously sun adverse.
Our one complaint about Turkish dining is the cigarette smokers. Before we pick a table we carefully judge the prevailing wind direction and eyeball the other diners – who’s got cigarette packs on the table, who’s almost done eating and therefore likely to light up? We come from San Francisco which has some of the strictest rules in the world – no smoking at outside tables, no smoking near doors or windows – and it’s lovely to be able to live your life rarely inhaling secondhand smoke. In Turkey you are closer to a smoker than a cat at all times and you will usually be inhaling someone’s smoke. If no one is smoking near you right now, just wait a few minutes. Someone will light up.
We rented an apartment in Bodrum and cooked for ourselves for five nights, so no food photos from that town. We also had an apartment in Datça, with minimal cooking facilities though, so we had breakfast and lunch in, and dinner out.
One thing we fantasized about during the long months of stay at home pandemic were hotel breakfasts. Remember that one, we’d say, in Kuala Lumpur? Or that one in Sweden with the fish? We like our breakfasts. A hotel breakfast buffet done well is a travel memory created.
Turkish breakfasts are huge. Loads of greens and veggies and olives, breads and cheeses, fruit, eggs in spicy tomato sauce. Dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, and as many cups of çay (black tea) as you can handle. And coffee of course, Turkish coffee.
I hope this trip down food memory lane was as fun for you to browse as it was for us to eat. Any restaurant choosing squabbles we may have had are forgotten. Any long treks up and down streets considering and rejecting places to eat only helped sharpen our appetites. To all the restaurant cats I didn’t manage to share meals with, I’m sorry. I did my best.
I had heard that the street trees in Seville are orange trees, Seville orange trees, the bitter oranges used to make marmalade, but I hadn’t expected quite so many orange trees.
How many oranges trees? Reports vary, 14,000? 25,000? They do well in the climate and provide shade year round. Important in the hot summer months.
The city employs people to gather the dropped oranges, and recently has started using the fruit to create electricity through fermentation. Most Seville oranges grown in the region are exported to Britain to make marmalade. But there are plenty on the streets here for youngsters to use as impromptu footballs. The scent of blossoms must be lovely in the spring.
We also did our best on the tapas front. Vegetarians look away. Wandering the narrow streets we looked for small places where we could sit outside or in a window and watch the street life. One spot took us 3 evenings to get into, it was very small. The first evening we went at 8pm – ha! Good luck. The second evening we tried at 6:30, nope – already full. Finally we got there at 5:50 and scored a table in a window.
Mission accomplished and appetites calmed we headed out to a flamenco performance on International Flamenco Day. It was just an hour long and stunning.
We walked. And walked. And walked the narrow streets. Some so small I could touch both walls, some wider with cars just squeezing through, tires squealing as they slowly hit the curbs.
Week four of nearly daily cycling means quite a bit of eating and being sure we have plenty of water during the day. Breakfasts are mostly included at the hotels we stay at, so that’s one meal sorted each day.
Our lunches are usually picnic style, with sandwiches purchased at a bakery in the morning. We feel qualified to critic sandwiches by county so far: Switzerland – too much mayo or salad cream or sauce! We resorted to scraping and squeezing excess goop off the sandwiches which were mostly purchased at supermarkets.
Switzerland doesn’t seem to have the quantity of bakeries we are enjoying in Germany. And, German ready made sandwiches are mostly mayo free. Butter on the bread holds up much better, and cucumber, lettuce, tomato and even a slice of hard boiled egg makes for a very nice lunch. Oh yes, and lovely seeded rolls! German sandwiches get the nod so far.
Why so many apple trees along the roads? I’m not certain. We only pick from those that are obviously not part of an orchard which is someones living, and I’ve read a few different reasons for why so many apple trees dotting the landscape. Perhaps from 17th century laws requiring grooms to plant oak and apple trees before marrying, maybe the more common sense and practical notion that tree lined roads are lovely and apple trees do well. We also had a week of plums gleaned from trees in villages which were so overloaded they were dropping on the street.
We have also learned the difficult and squabbling way that we have enough energy after a long day cycling to check in to a hotel, unpack (ie dump panniers upside on the floor), shower, and get drinks and dinner at ONE place. Not drinks at one place and move on to dinner at another – that doesn’t end well for hangry cyclists. Pick a place that meets both needs. Thankfully, Biergartens abound!
Stay well fed and carry plenty of water, refill water when the opportunity presents itself, and happy pedaling!