Interesting times we live in eh? Less talk of elections here in South Korea and more of obliteration.
Switch on BBC World/CNN et al and you’ll want to start digging a bunker. Except nobody here appears even slightly bothered by all the fuss in the media.
Witness today at the labyrinthine Namdaemun market in central Seoul. I can speak approximately zero Korean, but observing the locals I don’t think the purchase of kiddies shoes, wholesale costume jewellery, honey filled grilled rice cakes or a jaunty hat qualifies as stockpiling. It is only 35km to the DMZ from here, yet life goes on. This place falls into the “if it’s made, you can buy it” category.
That said, if you’d’ve squeezed your way down “Chopped Noodles Street” – no, really – you might be fogiven that the 4 minute warning had sounded such was the clamour for a bowl of nosh. A mere picture doesn’t help us, but you might see the faintest of glimmers of fear in our faces as we avoided the wrath of Korean-Cooking-Mama. All 4’10”. Not a tribe to be trifled with. Noodle Street? More Noodle Alley. Close proximity heat, pungent aromas, noisy chatter and slurping sounds under sweaty plastic sheeting: claustrophobes need not apply.
See also FISH&STEW alley. More redoubtable cooks with oodles of noodles, violently bubbling sauces and whole fishies on open burners. Tiny rooms with formica tables and small chairs. Locals filling their faces with gusto.
The fishmonger stalls had all sorts of produce to move a pescatarian to veganism. Angler fish, wriggling eels, squid, live octopus, tank after tank of flat fish, clams, oysters and even horror movie-esque angler fish. But most of all the silently screaming dried fish (see below).
So what did we eat? We weren’t up for a feast so a stand up street food lunch would be just the ticket. J selects a bun steaming operation that is doing brisk trade. [In Japan the service is all gentle polite, apology, bowing sing-song thanking-you. Here it’s more barked “Oooi! Whaddya-you-wan?” Only in rapid-fire Korean. They have industrially sharp elbows and know a steamed bun, so clear off! It’s enough to make a gentle British soul quietly yelp and run for cover.] So with some difficulty and pointing we succeed in a purchase: 5X unnaturally pale steamed buns. They are the only nuclear event of the day. IE: face-meltingly seconds from the jumbo steamer. We brave the heat. What’s inside? Mmmmmm: filled with seasoned pork mince and green onion (leek?). OMfG. A taste sensation. Eaten stood up at the counter with a slice of bright orange pickled-who-knows-what that looked like it came from an industrial accident. Apologies for the photo quality, just snaps to commemorate the moment.
We emerge unscathed from the market and continue perambulations.
Tomorrow: the DMZ.