I’m back from a long and exhausting trip. The 2 weeks of our time in Korea were divided into two; a road trip and a family affair, which I’ll write about in the next post. But first, I’ll share stories from our trip out of Seoul.
For those who are not familiar with Asian culture and who visit Korea for the first time, there are two challenges; first, chopsticks, and second, sleeping on the floor. The first wasn’t a big issue since most restaurants had forks available, and as time went by, the Turkish guests got better and better with chopsticks and even got to love them and bought some to use in Turkey, with some thinking that they will probably lose weight by eating chopsticks, hahah.
But everyone refusing to sleep on the floor often complicated things when booking an accommodation. Most Koreans sleep on beds nowadays but there are people who still prefer to sleep on a warm floor like my mum, and many hotels have options for a room with a bed or under-floor heating. The fact is that you won’t find a house or AirBnB with enough beds for 8 people and someone has to sacrifice taking turns. The funny thing is, though, we actually missed walking on bare feet on the warm floor in the house when we came back to Istanbul.
The first thing we did in Korea was going to the Korean hamam(bath house), Jjimjilbang, of course! Hubby’s friends even visited it twice and it’s said to be one of the best experiences during the trip. If you don’t know what it is or you’re planning to visit Korea, check this page for recommendations and this page for a video guide.
Now the food! Let’s see what picky Turkish guests liked and didn’t like.
We ate a lot…I mean A LOT. Everyday we ate different foods and there are still food that we didn’t try. The special food(top left) welcoming the arrival of Turkish guests was the chicken cooked in a pressure cooker with medicinal herbs such as ginseng, dates and chestnuts. It was a big hit and easy to like since it resembled Turkish chicken porridge called Keskek but more flavoursome and healthy in their opinion.
Because Seoul was getting cold, I suggested travelling south to Busan and Gyeongju, the capital of ancient Silla dynasty and the most important UNESCO site. So we rented a van and off we went.
We ate lunch and grabbed some snacks to eat in the car at every service station we stopped at and they enjoyed munching on these crackers.
Another popular go-to dish was the soft tofu stew, Sundubu Jjigae, and at one point, my family was impressed when FIL managed to order it by himself at one of the service stations.
They liked Busan very much as I’d expected. They loved the fish market, the swanky high-rise buildings, the sea, the massive cargo port and the impressive two-storey highway bridge and all. However, we didn’t have much luck with food as we stayed at the heart of the touristic beach but for them, everything was new and impressive.
The most memorable meal was a Korean BBQ, which was an eye-opening experience and they liked it a lot and we did a few more times afterwards. Turks love ‘mangal(BBQ in Turkish) in general but Korean BBQ is similar and different at the same time.
Korean BBQ is unique and is a culture on its own that no other countries deliver. Be it the process keeping everyone involved in cooking, different types of meat, the high-tech table setup, the unlimited side dishes, the wrapping, the drinking and laughter, it’s so great and addictive. Don’t you agree?
Oh, the duck BBQ Sambap(wrapping rice in various healthy green leaves)…. Turks were about to eat duck for the first time in their life and the response was ‘OMG, the best thing ever’. To me, duck BBQ is a die-for and I brought load of it in my suitcase. What a feast after feast!
Now it’s time to pay respect to the Turkish soldiers who fought, fell and now rest in Korean soil.
Only on the day we visited the UN Memorial Cemetery it was drizzling. Normally you need to book for a guided tour but since we were Turkish, we were given a privileged private tour and watched a short documentary about the Korean War and Turkish soldiers’ action in Turkish. The wall inside the Memorabilia Hall had names of 2300 soldiers buried at the site and, out of the blue, one of hubby’s friend said his wife’s two uncles fought in the war and one is buried there, right there! Why was he telling this now?!
“What are their names? You can find their names here perhaps!”
“Hmm, I don’t know.”
“Oh, well, ask your wife right now!”
“Well, it’s 4am there and she’s sleeping.”
We proceeded to the grave yard where 462 out of 1005 Turkish soldiers deceased are in peace. I had no idea about that part of the history but only one generation and over are aware of it and feel a special tie with Turkey as they call ‘blood brothers’.
He’d been asked by his MIL to take a handful of soil back to Turkey to put on the grave of the other uncle in Turkey and he did. If you want to know more about the Turkey-Korea relationship, please read this article.
The next place was Gyeongju, the city of giant royal tombs, the majority of which have yet to be excavated, meaning that these mound tombs hold dead bodies and relics! You can read about this ancient city on Ancient History Encyclopedia.
Everyone had fun taking photos of colourful trees. Now it’s time to meet a healthy local table.
When about 40 side dishes were laid out and filled two tables full, everyone went WOW. Dishes ranged from mountain plants to seafood as Gyeongu has lots of temples.
For the mains, we ordered Korean noodle soups and this typical mountain food, stuffed buckwheat pancake. The Turks picked the meal in Gyeongju as one of the most memorable foods during their stay. They also said that they were so surprised by the total contrast to what they’d expected to see and eat.
“What did you expect?” I asked. “To be honest, we were quite afraid that we would be eating lots of bugs and spicy food.” Well, I think that sums up how misrepresented Asian food is to Turks.
They were also delighted by the sight of persimmons hanging on trees and the abundance of ripe and dried persimmons, which we brought back lots of, as I did lots of peaceful and calming memories….