Thursday, July 28, 2011

Shopping In Korea

Korean Adventure (June 21, 2002 Chautauqua)

Shopping in Korea can be an interesting experience. There are many modern western-style supermarkets, including Wal-Mart, Costco, and Homeplus. It is a great temptation to stick to these convenient mega-stores. They carry most of the goods we are used to, and the prices are fairly reasonable. There are subtle differences, though.

The newly constructed (ca. 2008) Busan Fish Market

There is an entire aisle devoted to seaweed. It is dried and compressed into sheets of various sizes, from postage stamp to full human length. Koreans mainly use it to make "kimbap", which is like sushi. You lay out some seaweed, cover it with rice, and then various fillings like meat, fish, or vegetables. You then roll it up into a cylinder, approximately 12"long and 1" in diameter. Slice into pieces, and that is a meal. I enjoy having kimbap for lunch every once in a while. The price is more reasonable than the usual hamburger and fries, and it is filling, too.
There are also differences in the kinds of vegetables that are available. Koreans' favorite accompaniment to any (and every) meal is kimchi. It's a spicy cabbage. I’ve seen it made from a variety of vegetables, but the cabbage is my favorite. There is usually an island in the produce section where they make and display the various kimchis.

There is a lot of fresh fish available; any kind you could imagine, and some you could not. Squid and octopus are big sellers, and they are usually displayed live (in tanks) so you can be sure it's fresh.

Yes, the department stores are convenient, and have just about everything you could want, but the real "Korean Experience" demands that you go out and shop at the open air markets that are in every corner of the city. Some of them specialize in dry goods, furniture, food, what have you. There are some very good deals to be had, if you know where to look. A person can spend a whole day just wandering around, seeing the many sights and sounds. Buying something becomes a secondary consideration.

There are some interesting corners that some people might want to avoid. Really fresh meat and poultry in the form of caged ducks, chickens, and rabbits should not be confused with pet stores. I remember walking around the Chil-sung market (in Daegu) with my friends last summer. We rounded a corner deep inside the market, far from the main thoroughfare. There, laid out for display was a freshly slaughtered dog. How fresh do you ask? The muscles were still twitching.

Yes, the Koreans do eat dog. Some of the people I have talked to do not see anything wrong with it, and are nonplussed by some western reactions. There was even some talk of setting up dog-meat booths at the World Cup venues in order to introduce foreigners to this local delicacy. One foreigner, a teacher I believe, wrote a letter to the Korea Herald, denouncing this intention in a near-hysterical rage. I have not heard if the booths were set up. Maybe more PR-conscious heads intervened.

These open-air markets have been a staple of the Korean life-style for hundreds of years. Many of the structures look as if they have been there that long. People continue to flock to them, just as many go to the more modern establishments. This combination of the old and the new, makes for a fascinating experience for the traveller willing to explore beyond the beaten path.

No comments:

Post a Comment