Friday, January 28, 2011

Hello Kimchi

"Hello Kimchi" opened recently, boasting Busan’s best Mexican food.  Naturally we decided to check it out.

Ryan and I wandered around for a few minutes trying to find the place.  Finally we spotted the restaurant's bright yellow banner on the second floor of a large building.  In Korea, the number of businesses occupying higher floors matches the number found at street level.  When in doubt, we've learned to look up.

After entering the small and dimly lit room, we were seated at a cozy table next to the “game area.”  It was complete with a dart board , poker chips and various versions of Jenga.

I took the booth seat, and Ryan sat down in the 60’s style leather chair across from me.  Not a minute later he jumped up in alarm, as the chair lost a screw and was sent crashing to the ground.  Our menus arrived.  So did a new chair. 

Hello Kimchi proudly serves Korean and Mexican fusion, with everything from steak fajitas to kimchi burritos on their extensive menu.  Many traditional Korean staples are also available alongside the standard Mexican options.  It’s a unique concept that seems to have served them well since their opening a few months ago.  The place was packed.

We started out with cocktails: Strawberry Maekgeolli and of course a Margarita.

Next came tortilla chips and salsa, something that vaguely resembled guacamole, and our main courses.  I had a veggie burrito served with rice and a small salad.  Despite the unexpected mushrooms, I thought it was very good.  And cheap!  Ryan started with a burrito as well, followed by two “soft tacos.”

Another round of margaritas for dessert and we were happy campers.  Goodbye Kimchi! 
¡Hasta Luego!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

3 Days in Seoul and Suwon

With an extra day tacked onto a recent weekend, we decided to take a trip to Seoul.

After missing our original train (7:10 am on a day off!), we were on a second one by eight o’clock.  It arrived complete with a game room and private norae-bong (karaoke room).  

Our first stop was Suwon, a city full of royal history and beauty.  

Hwaesong Fortress is located directly in the middle of the Seoul suburb.  It contains Haenggung palace, once home to a king during the Joseon Dynasty.  
{The large red-orange buildings make up the palace}
The fortress is made up of seemingly never ending steps.  Hidden gates and portholes dot its interior to allow surprise attacks on enemies.

Light and powdery snow made for a scenic winter walk within the fortress.

Nearly everyone we passed on our stroll took the time to greet us, smiling and asking, 
“Where are you from?”

The fortress was refreshing, and unlike anything we’ve seen here before.  The snow was also new to us, as Busan has only received a light dusting since we’ve been here.

We reached Seoul in the early evening, dropped our luggage off at our modest but convenient hotel, and set off for dinner.

Thrilled by the lime margaritas we discovered on our first trip to the city, we headed to Dos Tacos.  We had to laugh when we passed a new Taco Bell on our way there. 

The burritos, guacamole and margaritas we enjoyed were delicious.

The signage was amusing as well.

But we were freezing.  The temperature dropped drastically as the sun went down.  Although we’d come prepared with extra layers, hats and gloves, the strong wind whipped around our ice cold faces and pushed us inside for a semi-early night.

In the morning we ventured to Namsan Park and Seoul Tower.  Not accessible by car or taxi, a visit to the Tower requires a long uphill walk or cable car ride.  We opted for the cable car.  The weather had other plans. 

After sandwiching into the small car and lifting from the station for a minute or two, we came to a haltingly dramatic stop.  I involuntarily gave the poor British man standing in front of me a bear hug, and didn’t let go.  We hung suspended in the air for at least a minute, seriously wondering if we were going to die.  

Instead, we quickly zipped backwards the way we’d come, landing back at the platform with little explanation.  When an explanation did come, we learned that unexpected strong winds prevented the car from operating safely. 

Plan B was to trek our way up the hill that housed the Tower.  After a looong walk of familiar never-ending steps, including a good half-mile walk on a path in the wrong direction, we made it.  A friendly woman walked with us half the way, fawning over us and triple checking to make sure we didn’t need coffee or lunch.  Once at the top of the seemingly elusive tower, we found the views of the expansive city to be amazing.

Distances to many major worldwide cities were displayed on the large windows.  The glowing sun cast its light on the urban buildings and rolling hillsides in every direction.

Around the park on every fence were these locks.  Couples can purchase and decorate the locks, then hang them to symbolize eternal love between them.

Our walk back was a piece of cake.  As we had on the way up, we made a new friend on the hike down also.  Hailing from Seoul, the middle-aged man with nearly perfect English lives half of the year in California.  We wondered why he chose to spend winter in Seoul rather than the warm US state. 

Finally down the hill and with rumbling tummies, we spotted our favorite Korean chain and enjoyed a spicy stir-fried lunch.  We ordered beer and Soju to complement the delicious cheesy rice and veggies in an attempt to achieve warmth in the frigid temperatures.

Shopping was next on the agenda.  I had looked forward to the day like a child anticipating Christmas.

Boots anyone?

After Ryan had been sufficiently dragged around, we made time for some relaxation at the hotel before our next meal.  Did I mention that half the reason for this trip was to eat?

Since it was nearly ten by the time we were ready for dinner, our options in Itaewon were surprisingly limited.  Known as “the foreign district,” an overly popular place for tourists and ex-pat residents, it appeared we’d just missed the cut-off for the day’s last meal.  Happily, we found My Thai still serving spicy Pad Thai and Green Curry.

Although curious, we didn't try this menu item:

Sunday morning we ventured back to Itaewon for yet another meal.  The European-esque Flying Pan was less crowded than it had been in the summer.  We were quickly seated at the same table we’d dined at in June, a small corner bench stacked with pillows and surrounded by fringe. The lattes and breakfast dishes were just as delicious as the first time we visited.  It was the perfect cozy and romantic Sunday brunch.
Poached Eggs with pesto and avocado
Ham and Brie French Toast

We spent a few more hours back in Myeongdong, scoring free hand warmers and a few last minute items.  Though the street food piqued our curiosity... 

....We saved our appetites for a Greek restaurant recommended by some friends.  It was back to Itaewon yet again, where we found Santorino.  

Real Greek Salad with Kalamata olives and capers, Gyros, pita bread, crispy fries, eggplant dip, tzatziki….heaven.

Too soon we were back on the bullet train headed home from a whirlwind weekend.  Not that it’s at all warm here in Busan, but I’ll take thirty-four degrees over Seoul’s four anytime!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Celebrating 27

Last week I gave our mutual students time to make Ryan birthday cards.  The kids got a big kick out of keeping the secret and surprising the "handsome" and "silly" (their words) Ryan Teacher on the big day.

Our supervisor also surprised him with a delicious blueberry cheesecake.

That night we had an amazing dinner at beachside Indian restaurant, Namaste.  

The food was delicious, and since we ordered course meals, it just seemed to keep coming.
Mango Lassi
Seafood Salad
Tandoori Sampler
Palak Paneer
Coconut Lamb Curry
Garlic Naan
Saffron Rice
Dessert was a cookies and cream cheesecake and strawberry tarts.

The restaurant's sweet owner gave Ryan a hand towel as a birthday gift.  It came inside this box, and I felt the quote printed on it was especially fitting for the occasion.

After dinner we headed to a nearby Irish pub, where the dessert continued with beer and hard cider.  Cheers!

Saturday night we celebrated again by bowling with friends.  

Ryan did well as usual. 

I did terribly as usual.  But I did get a strike at one point!

Dinner was Ryan’s favorite, do it yourself barbecued meat, wrapped in lettuce leaves and topped with garlic and soybean paste.

What fun. :)