|Busan city lights by Haeundae Beach|
Just about an hour and half south of Pohang is one of Korea's most interesting cities, Busan. It's a port city with a very international atmosphere, where you can find plenty of foreign food and culture existing side by side with Korean life. It's considered Korea's second largest city and you can really feel that as you travel around it by taxi or metro- it's an expansive place, with a lot of unique neighborhoods to explore and plenty of interesting sights just outside the city as well.
We recently started using Airbnb and we've been really happy with our experiences so far. Our first time staying in Busan was for my birthday and we got a little private apartment near Haeundae Beach that was easily half the price of a private room in a hostel and significantly quieter. This past weekend we went back again and stayed at "Gina's House". It's basically a home-stay in a Korean family's apartment, also near Haeundae (just a few minutes away from the Busan Art Museum). I cannot say enough nice things about it- our host, Gina, was kind, helpful and generous from the moment we arrived till the time we left yesterday evening.
|Our room at Gina's House (photo from Airbnb.com)|
|Our amazing breakfast, prepared by Gina - deokguk soup and side dishes (pickled lotus root, seaweed, kimchi and eggplant)|
The room in the apartment was really comfortable, and she offered us tea and Korean snacks when we first got there. The next morning she prepared an incredible breakfast of homemade deokguk (rice cake soup, traditional around New Years) and amazing side dishes. There was a young couple from Singapore staying there as well, so the next day Gina offered to take all of us sight-seeing around Busan.
Our first stop was a cooking class at a famous oden/eomuk restaurant in Haeundae. Oden (おでん), as it's called in Japan, or odeng/eomuk (오뎅 / 어묵) in Korean, is a fish cake that can be prepared in a lot of different ways and is a common street food snack here in Korea. You can find it in most convenience stores in Japan, too, although I'd recommend buying it in a casual restaurant if you want to try the Japanese version.
|All of our materials for the class. The little scoops that look like ice cream are the fish cake paste, which is made from pollock. Check out the Wikipedia page for more info about it.|
Our class was entirely in Korean, but our host Gina translated the important parts for us. We started off by making a Korean version of "okonomiyaki", which is a Japanese dish. It was very different from Japanese okonomiyaki, which does not include oden, but delicious nonetheless. To make it, we spread the oden paste in the bottom of a small dish, then put chopped cabbage and onions on top and poured batter over the whole thing, and added green peppers. Next we topped it with some bacon and put in the oven to cook (about 20 or 30 minutes I think).
|The half-finished okonomiyaki, ready to go in the oven now|
|The okonomiyaki, now topped with bacon, headed to the oven|
|Practicing our Korean listening skills!|
While that was baking we made the oden. You start with the paste, which you place on a wide knife and then slap down against the cutting board. You spread it out, then scoop it up on the knife and slap it down again, and repeat this process 5 times. The idea is to whip some air into the oden paste to make it lighter and fluffier. When that's finished, you spread the paste into a square frame as evenly as possible, then lift the frame away. Using your knife and a wooden stick, you then roll the paste into a cylinder. This was the hardest part, because the paste is sticky and will try to attach itself to the knife and come out really lumpy if you don't do it quickly enough.
|The fish paste is spread in the square frame, which we'll lift away to roll it into a cylinder|
|Anna skillfully rolling her oden perfectly, on her first try... how does she do it??|
Anna was some kind of oden prodigy and caught on to the technique immediately. The rest of us ended up with vaguely cylindrical, misshapen oden, but in the end it still tasted delicious!
|It may not look pretty, but it tasted great!|
The okonomiyaki came out of the oven and we topped it off with tonkatsu sauce, mayo and bonito flakes (katsuobushi - かつおぶし). The oden was boiled for about 10-15 minutes and when it was all finished we had an amazing lunch at the restaurant, including a soup with udon style noodles that were also made from oden. Everything was really good and a mild flavor that I think most people would enjoy. I'd really recommend trying the class, it only cost 12,000 won and even if you don't understand Korean I think you could figure it all out from watching the teacher.
|Adding the mayo and tonkatsu sauce to the okonomiyaki, after baking it|
|We topped it with some bonito flakes, and it's all finished!|
|Anna proudly showing off the fruits of her labor|
I've got one more post on Busan coming, about the rest of our day sight-seeing with Gina and some of the cool spots that we discovered on our own, like local breweries in Gwangali Beach and dinner in Busan's Russian China Town/Red Light District (yes, that's a real thing.)
If you're interested in staying with Gina, and I can't recommend it enough, look her up on Airbnb.com by searching for Busan and "Gina's House", or simply click here.
Go to Busan: Part II
Go to Busan: Part II
(An important note: Gina was not paid for taking us sight-seeing and this was not part of the service that she provides via Airbnb. She did it out of the kindness of her heart and because she happened to have free time that weekend. Please keep that in mind if you decide to stay with her.)