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Patbingsu – Korea’s Summertime Treat

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It’s Easy To Make Your Own Patbingsu At Home

Throw a pile of shaved ice on top of milk, cover it in red beans, and sprinkle a bit of green tea powder on the top. Doesn’t that sound like a delicious treat? No?! Well, somehow… it is. Patbingsu (팥빙수) is one of South Korea’s favorite desserts, and way more delectable than it sounds.


Although it’s in our neighborhood, we would have never found this incredible patbingsu shop if our friends hadn’t taken us there after hiking at Hoedong Lake. A definite “hidden gem” in Namcheon. There was a line out the door, and all the people at tables in the shaded, cool interior were eating one thing — patbingsu. There were no variations, no other menu items.

When ours arrived, I was skeptical. The big red pile didn’t look at all appetizing, and was way too large a portion. But not wanting to be rude, I dug in, mixing a bit of the red bean sauce into the ice and eating it. And was it good? Umm… another bite! Oh, it was quite good. Another, bigger bite! There’s milk at the bottom. More bites!! Now it’s begun to melt a bit, and my bites have become slurpy! No matter, bite and slurp and bite and … it’s gone. I had devoured the entire bowl without a thought.

There are an unlimited number of places to try out this treat throughout Busan — even fast food chains like McDonald’s and Lotteria offer it. But, I doubt there’s a cooler patbingsu shop than the one we visited in Namcheon. Check it out. There’s nothing better on a hot summer day.

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July 30, 2012 at 10:14 pm Comments (4)

The Traditional Korean Tea Ceremony

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Korean Tea

As we were saying goodbye, the instructor continued to praise our skills. “You did so very good! Very talented at pouring tea, the traditional Korean way!” We sheepishly accepted her acclaim, but I knew what she was really thinking. “Get these clumsy oafs out of my sight, so that I can finally start laughing my ass off!”


The Tea Ceremony Experience is offered for free, three times a day (except Fridays and Mondays), in the Busan Museum’s Cultural Center. Our instructor, who was geared up in a hanbok (a traditional Korean dress), motioned for us to take seats in front of trays on the ground. Sitting Indian-style doesn’t present a problem for me, but Jürgen’s 6’6″ frame and lanky legs always require a couple minutes of painful twisting. The instructor looked on patiently while he arranged his body into the correct position. “Clearly”, she must have been thinking, “this lesson will present more of a challenge than usual”.

For the next twenty minutes we learned the procedure of a traditional Korean tea ceremony. Every movement is completed very particularly, from raising the napkin off the tea set and folding it, to pouring the water into the teapot. We were expected to be very calm, very exact; our instructor told us that the whole process is a form of meditation. While pouring and drinking the tea, you remain silent and still, concentrating on nothing but the simple tasks at hand, trying to complete them as perfectly as possible.

After three rounds, we were almost able to complete the ceremony without a mistake: grabbing the cup with the wrong hand, pouring out too much water, or laying the napkin on the floor upside-down. Our instructor was pleased enough, and after the torturous spectacle of watching Jürgen disentangle his legs and stand up, we said our goodbyes. I doubt I’ll be working a tea ritual into my daily schedule, but I can certainly appreciate the moment of collected quiet that it provides. And the tea wasn’t bad, either.

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Drinking Tea in Korea
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July 27, 2012 at 1:56 am Comments (4)

The Brilliance of the Yogi-Yo Button

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Of all the technological marvels we’ve seen in ultra-modern South Korea, only one has completely wedged its way into our hearts: the Yogi-Yo button. Found on tables in many of Busan’s restaurants, it is utter, blissful genius. Press it, and your waiter appears like magic. Leave it unpressed, and you’re left alone.


There are plenty of advancements in Korea which the USA could sorely use. Bullet trains. Affordable, first-class health care. Efficient public transportation. A low crime rate. These are all important, to be sure, but if I could bring just one thing with me back home, it would be the Yogi-Yo button. My lord, do we need this.

“Yogi-Yo” approximately means “Hey, over here”! It’s what you would shout in a Korean restaurant to get your waiter’s attention. But with the Yogi-Yo button, you don’t even have to shout. If you want another bottle of soju, you don’t wait patiently for your server to come by. You just press this magical button and she’ll come running.

Our first few times eating out, we were too shy to actually use the Yogi-Yo button. It felt too pushy, and I’ve been conditioned by my American upbringing to treat waiters with meek politeness, rather than as the servants they are (heh, that little quip ought to win me some spite!) But now, in our third month in Korea, we press the Yogi-Yo button without hesitation. Sometimes, I’ll gobble up all the kimchi, not because I’m extra-hungry, but because I want to hit the button again and watch the waitress come scurrying.

Yes, the Yogi-Yo button must enter the American dining scene as soon as possible. And while we’re at it, we should also import Korea’s tipping policy. That is: no tips ever, not even pocket change. America’s waiters have gotten a little too entitled in the past decade. 20% now standard?! Yeah, I don’t think so. “Yogi-Yo, buddy. Get me another beer and, no, I’m not going to pay you extra for doing it”. That’s the way it should be.

All joking aside… after over ten years living outside the US, I find our tipping culture to be horrifying. Twenty percent is absolutely ridiculous, and found nowhere else in the world. It’s out of all proportion — the staff is simply performing the service they’re being paid to perform. Customers should expect to receive good service regardless of the “tip”. Am I right? And sure, waiters earn a pittance, depending on tips for their real wage — but how is that my fault? Restaurants ought to pay their employees correctly. After so much time living in other countries, the idea of paying somebody extra just because they carried food to my table seems completely insane.

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July 22, 2012 at 5:51 am Comments (9)

Learning How to Make Makgeolli

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Along with soju, makgeolli (막걸리) is one of the most popular beverages in Busan. The milky-white drink is made of rice and wheat, and only slightly more alcoholic than beer. We visited a factory in the mountain village of Geumseong-dong to learn first-hand how it’s made.


It was still monsoon season, and we had to battle through torrential rains to find the makgeolli hall. Once safely inside, we were put right to work. The guy in charge of the experience didn’t speak much English, but was fluent in slave-driving, and you don’t need to converse with your slaves. Within the first minute of our arrival, he sat me down in front of a big bowl of wheat, poured a little water onto it, and motioned that I should get to kneading.

So while Jürgen walked around taking pictures, I kneaded. Ten minutes later, my hands and forearms were burning, but the wheat was still not to Master’s liking. With a frown on his face and a shake of his head, he bade me continue for another five minutes. Next, I was taught how to form the wheat into heart-sized balls and pressed them into discs. These wheat cakes would now have to dry for fifteen days.

Master had an already-dried cake ready to go, and led me to a giant pestle where he put an oar-sized mortar into my hands. I spent the next few minutes crushing the wheat into a fine powder, which we then mixed with steamed rice. Now, I packed this mixture into plastic bottles, filled each with tap water and finished them with a heaping dollop of honey. And that was it. The concoction would ferment for four days, and the result (after straining) would be makgeolli.


We were allowed to bring both the cakes and bottles home with us. He drove us back into town, where we saw the hall in which the larger wheat cakes were drying, and the clay jars of makgeolli fermenting. The shed was surprisingly rustic, considering that this is a modern industry — Geumseong-dong’s makgeolli is widely drunk throughout Busan.

Back home, we stored our makgeolli jars in the cupboard without a lid on, as per Master’s final instructions. It had begun fermenting immediately, and we watched with delight as the bubbles rose up out of the water, already busy at work producing alcohol. On Day Two, though, it was less delightful. Our apartment stunk like cheesy socks, and the mixture had attracted a host of fruit flies. After discovering a baby cockroach floating in one of the jars, we flushed the whole mess down the toilet.

Anyway, bottles of makgeolli only cost 81¢ in the supermarket, so we don’t exactly need to make it ourselves. The experience of doing so, though, was a blast. If you’d like to learn how to make makgeolli yourself, visit this website or schedule an appointment by calling 010-6532-6682. If you call, it might help if you speak Korean or have a Korean-speaker do it for you. The experience costs ₩10,000 ($9) per person.

Approx. location on our Busan Map

Korean Honey
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July 22, 2012 at 1:41 am Comment (1)

Busan Food Journal – Part Six

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Korean Cookbooks

Every region in Korea has different dishes, and we didn’t realize how much we were missing out on until visiting Gyeongju, which was our first time outside of Busan. There, we tried out two famous specialties and loved them both. Taking a culinary tour of South Korea would be a blast.

Food Journal: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Gyeongju Ssambap

We had spent the evening at Anapji Pond, and it was past nine by the time we sat down at Gyodong (a recommendation from our barista earlier in the day – location). The restaurant was closing at 9:30, which gave us about twenty minutes to plow through the 28-dish feast known as Ssambap. This is the main specialty of Gyeongju; you take a cabbage or lettuce leaf, pad it with rice, add pork and whatever other condiments you choose, wrap it up in a little ball, and throw it into your mouth. And, yes, we finished everything. [More Pics]


These little round pastries, filled with sweet red-bean paste, are found everywhere in Gyeongju. I have no idea how many the average person must eat to justify the sheer number of bakeries entirely dedicated to hwangnam-ppangs, but it must be an unhealthy number. They’re alright, but way too sweet for my palate — I couldn’t eat more than one at a time.

Shaved Ice

One of the most popular treats in Busan seems to be flavored, shaved ice. I know: weird. But people here love it, so we decided to try a bowl at A Twosome Place (a coffee chain which we mistakenly refer to as “An Awesome Place”, every time). I had been expecting something like the colorful snow-cones of my youth, where you get through the syrup in ten seconds, and are left with a bunch of flavorless ice. But here, the shavings themselves are flavored (we chose “tea”), and topped with any number of extras, from whipped cream, ice cream, chocolate and fruits to waffles and cookies. Delicious, and our bowl was more than enough for two.

Todai – Sushi Buffet

Located on the fifth floor of the Emperor Building (location), the same place I had my eyes LASIK-ed, is Todai which serves up an amazing lunchtime sushi buffet. The price of ₩20,000 ($18) per head is expensive at first blush, but considering the spread and everything that’s included, well worth it. Freshly-prepared sushi, grilled steaks, noodles, salads, desserts… the choice was never-ending. Soft drinks and coffee were included in the bill. [More Pics]

Cave Restaurant Yong Ggum

This recommendation after we had asked for something different in Busan. Yong Ggum (용꿈) translates as “Dragon Dream”, and is housed in a musty old WWII bunker (location). It’s probably better to visit when it hasn’t been raining. This is strictly a seafood restaurant and, when we went, water was dripping from the ceiling and the damp smell of fish was nauseating. The food was good, but we were happy to get back outside into the fresh air. [More Pics]

Shabu Shabu

We make at least one waeguk faux pas per meal, but were hitting well above average while eating Shabu Shabu at Chaeseondang (채선당 – location). This is Japanese Hot Pot, and looked easy enough; just swish the meat around the hot broth (the word “shabu” means “swish” in Japanese) and pop it in your mouth. But the waitress ran over to our table at least three times to scold us. Turns out that the raw egg is supposed to go into the pot at the end of the meal, and we weren’t supposed to be eating the rice out of its bowl. We forgot to cut the mushrooms, and generally made a mess of the whole meal. I had even slobbered all over myself.

While she was shaking her head and tut-tutting, I wanted to defend myself. “We don’t exactly take shabu-shabu courses in Ohio, lady!” But I don’t know how to say that in Korean, so I just sat there dolefully and took my admonishment. It was still a fun meal, and one we’ve vowed to try again. [More Pics]

Makgeolli Place in KSU

We first walked through the Culture Alley of the KSU neighborhood during the day, when it was completely quiet. At night, though, the alley comes alive with people and a surprising number of bars and restaurants. We sat down in a makgeolli bar (location) with a couple friends and enjoyed a meal of paejeon (pancake-like dishes of veggies, egg and seafood) and a bucket of the sweet-tasting drink. The rice and wheat based makgeolli looks milky, and is served by the ladle. [More Pics]

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More Pics from the Gyeongju Ssambap
Munch Fest
We’ll never eat it all!
Belly Stuffer
Or… yes we will.
More Pics from the Todai Sushi Buffet
Korean Treats
More Pics from the Cave Restaurant
Soju Cave
Drip Cave
Cave Bar Busan
Dragon Dream
More Pics of Shabu Shabu
Shabu Meat
Shabu Mushrooms
Shabu Rice
Another Picture from the Makgeolli House
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July 15, 2012 at 9:33 am Comment (1)

Busan Food Journal, Part Five

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Korean Cookbooks

We’re more than halfway through out time in Busan, and still haven’t gotten sick of the food. There’s a lot more variety to the cuisine than we had expected, especially once you add in the Japanese and Chinese (and Thai and American and Vietnamese and so on) influences. This week, we tried a couple of non-Korean places out, gave in to our pizza addiction, and went against better judgment to sample ginseng wine.

Food Journal: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Six

Sundubu Baekban (순두부백반)

We were tipped off to Nampo’s extremely popular restaurant Dolgorae (돌고래) by one of our readers, who provided exact instructions as to the location. Thank god, because we’d have never found it ourselves! The specialty in this second-floor eatery, tucked away on one of Nampo’s million alleys, is Sundubu Baekban, which is a hearty and delicious tofu soup. I had the Doenjang Jjigae, which was similar but with seafood mixed in. Dolgorae is a real find… anyone else who has great tips like this: let us know! [More Pics]

Mr. Pizza

Mr. Pizza (미스터피자 in Korean, which transliterates as Mi-seu-teo Pi-ja) is probably the most popular pizza franchise in Busan, with branches found all over the place. We treated ourselves to a trip here on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and enjoyed every bite of our greasy “New York Style” pizza. But we regretted it immediately afterward, just like we always do after eating this kind of food. [More Pics]

Insamju (인삼주)

In Korea, ginseng is big business. Entire stores dedicate themselves to the ugly root, selling giant glass jars holding monstrous specimens. There are a lot of ginseng health drinks, but I was surprised to find this ginseng wine at the grocery store, and decided to give it a shot. It’s awful. It tastes like… well, like wine made from ginseng. It’s supposedly good against sexual dysfunction. Too bad you’ll be too busy vomiting to have much fun in the sack.

Sweet & Sour Cocktail Shop (짬뽕 탕수육 전문점)

After Japanese, Chinese is probably the second-most popular type of foreign food in Busan. You can usually identify a Chinese restaurant by red lanterns hanging outside the doorway, or pictures of the black-bean noodles which they all seem to offer. We went to the Sweet & Sour Cocktail Shop — I have no idea if that’s the actual English name, but this is how Google Translate handles it: “짬뽕 탕수육 전문점”. At any rate, it’s an excellent restaurant near Gwangalli Beach (location), where we tried out the delicious black-bean noodles for the first time, with a side of fried dumplings.


A friend took us to “Galbi Aid” (rough translation of 원조 갈비찜), a great restaurant near the Yeonsanyeok Metro station (location). This neighborhood is home to a lot of big companies, and filled with the kind of places exhausted businessmen like to frequent after a long day of work, like karaoke bars, hostess clubs and no-nonsense restaurants. We had Galbitang, a spicy stew of short-ribs and veggies. After we’d scooped away most of the soup into our bellies, the waitress brought rice, which she mixed into the bowl for a second round, which was just as delicious as the first. [More Pics]

Ikeman Bento (이케맨벤또)
Busan Bento

During our exploration of the Kyungsung University neighborhood, I spotted a sign advertising anime. I’m a comics fan, so eagerly ascended the to the third floor, where I expected to find geeks thumbing through Detective Conan. Instead, I had discovered a Japanese Bento restaurant (location). My initial disappointment quickly disappeared, and we sat down for a meal. You get one main dish surrounded by nine side items in a tic-tac-toe-shaped box. I had smoked salmon, and Juergen went with teriyaki chicken. The food was great, the prices incredible, and the restaurant was kitschy, cute and popular. Highly recommended. [More Pics]

Okkudak Chicken
Perfect Chicken Meal

Our visit to Mr. Pizza might not have been worth writing home about, but soon enough, we found ourselves craving The Unhealth, yet again, and let our noses guide us to Okkudak in Kyungsung (location), where the specialty is fried chicken. Now this was an artery-clogging meal that we could get behind! Garlic-fried chunks of chicken with a heaping side order of cheesy baked sweat potato puree. And beer. And joy.

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More Pics from Dolgorae
Sneaky Cook
More Pics from Mr. Pizza
All You Can Eat Mr. Pizza
More Pics of Galbitang
Galbi Rice
More Pics from Ikeman Bento
White Water
Japanese Wooden Spoon
Stone Travel Blog
Yummy Salmon
Bento Busan
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June 29, 2012 at 2:28 pm Comments (0)

The Charlie Brown Cafe

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During our initial exploration of the Pusan National University neighborhood in the north of Busan, we happened upon a strange cultural landmark: the Charlie Brown Cafe. Dedicated to all things Peanuts, this coffee house provides stressed-out college kids the chance to escape into a simpler world.

Charlie-Brown-Snoopy-Coffee-Shop Busan Korea

Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of Peanuts. The comic strips are uniformly unfunny and poorly drawn. Yes, I said it! Charles Schulz must be the among the most overrated cartoonists of all time. Charlie Brown looks just like Linus, who looks just like Sally, but with different hair. If you’ve read four or five of the comics, you understand everything there is to know about all the characters.

Also, I always found Franklin really awkward. I mean, each character has a single trait: Peppermint Patty is a tomboy, Linus is insecure, Lucy is a bully and Franklin… well, Franklin is black. And I don’t consider Charlie Brown a “lovable loser” at all. Watch him fall for Lucy’s football trick enough times, and you start to realize that there’s nothing lovable about him. He’s just a loser. Grow some balls, Charlie Brown. That should be the title of the next animated special.

But even I, a virulent Peanuts-hater, couldn’t help but be charmed by the Charlie Brown Cafe. My cappuccino was served with Snoopy-shaped cinnamon (don’t even get me started on the claim that Snoopy is a “beagle”!), matching the powdered sugar on the brownie. Everything… from the cups, plates and chairs are Peanuts-based; we sat at the Linus table, and fetched our coffee when our Peppermint Patty buzzer rang.

If you’re in the area of PNU and could benefit from a world of pure innocence, then definitely check out the Charlie Brown Cafe.

Location on our Busan Map
Our Visit To The Puppy Café in Busan

The Peanuts in Korea
The Peanuts Coffee Shop
Snoopy Art
Lonely Snoopy
Charlie Brown Coffee Shop
Charlie Brown Coffee Mug
Lines Charlie Brown
Snoopy and Charlie Brown
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June 25, 2012 at 3:22 am Comments (16)

Jagalchi Fish Market

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The largest fish market in South Korea is found in downtown Busan, next to the busy shopping area of Nampo-dong and adjacent to the Lotte Aqua Mall. That it occupies such a valuable, central location speaks to how important the fish trade has always been to the city.

Cheap Fish

The market is massive and seems to go on forever. Thousands of stands with what must be billions of fish compete with each other for customers, and there’s no doubt who’s in charge: the hardened, crafty women known as the Jagalchi Ajumas. “Ajuma” means “married woman”, and these ladies conduct almost all the business at the market, whether that’s the business of beheading a fish, prying open a clam, or haggling with a customer. Most likely, they could do all of these things simultaneously.

We were amazed during our visit; the Jagalchi Market is like an aquarium, with every sort of fish imaginable and some species I’d never seen before. Among countless others, I saw colorful shrimp the size of trout, blowfish, shark, sea urchins, monkfish, mollusks, and the slightly off-putting penis fish.

Of course, the big difference between this and an aquarium is that these fish are waiting to die. To be ripped apart in the most horrific ways imaginable and then consumed. I saw a group of eels who had been skinned alive, still squiggling around in their pail. There’s enough material here to fuel a thousand gore flicks… just substitute “human” for “octopus”. That’s what was running through my head, as I watched a group of plucky octopuses working together to climb out of their bucket, only to be whacked in the head by their insidious Ajuma keeper. Soon, she would choose one to hack to pieces and then serve as a still-twitching meal. Hollywood, take note.

There are a few different sections of the Jagalchi market. We started in the outdoor zone, with a nice view over the port, and then moved into the Dry Fish area, where dried sardines, kelp and cod are sold in unbelievable volume. The centerpiece of the market, though, is the new Shindonga building, built in 2006. The exterior design features white winged shapes, creating the impression of giant seagulls descending onto the building. Inside are yet more stands and restaurants where you can eat sashimi; similar to the Millak sashimi hall we visited, but on a different scale.

We had a great time in Jagalchi — it’s one of the absolute highlights of Busan.

Location on our Busan Map
Cheap Places To Stay in Busan

Photographer Busan
Shopping in Korea
Snail Cleaning
Korean Snail
Dry Fish Market Busan
Dry Me Some Fish
Waiting For Costumers
Good Posture
Fried Eel
Baked Fish
Korean Manta
Korean Squid
Life Fish
Oh Crab
Silver Fish
Skinned Fish
Lunch Time
Rusty Boats
Ship Blog
Korean Fisherboat
Night Fishing Korea
Korean LOL
Harbor Dudes
Korean Bridge
Korean Fish Market
Fishy Hangout
Fish DAy
Humor Fish
Hook Up Korea
Huge Fishmarket
Very Cool Fish
Super Fresh Seafood Korea
Pretty Shell
Working Hard in Korea
Snoozing Korea
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June 24, 2012 at 2:32 am Comments (3)

Soju Haiku

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Order Soju Online

Are more than one haiku called haiki? I don’t think so, but I’m too drunk on soju to really care. Imo, another bottle, please! And you might want a few, too, before reading my haiku. (Is more than one bottle of soju called soji?)

Evening of soju,
Puked on your boss and passed out.
It’s seven p.m.
If I drank as much
As that little old woman,
Hospital visit.
One hundred ten won?
But that’s less than a dollar…
You people are nuts!
Soju Busan

Soju is the most-sold liquor in the world, and it’s basically only consumed in Korea. Now, wrap your head around those two facts. Koreans drink more soju than everyone in the world drinks Johnnie Walker. That is insane. In 2004, more than three billion bottles were sold. Three billion.

Made from rice, soju tastes like vodka but sweeter. At about 20%, soju has a significantly lower alcohol content than the harder liquors, but the sheer amount that people drink makes up for that. Koreans drink soju everywhere; with dinner, chilling with friends, at the baseball game. We’ve seen hikers pull bottles out of their backpacks during breaks. And the price! You can get a small bottle for $0.99 at the supermarket. And though one is more than enough to intoxicate, it’s customary for a couple having dinner at a restaurant to put down three or more.

Drinking soju is a huge part of the culture here, and comes with its own set of rules. It’s nearly always consumed neat, in shot glasses which are sipped from. But should your drinking buddy issue the rallying cry “One-Shot”, you should pound it all at once. Empty glasses should be immediately refilled, and the younger, or lower-status person should always refill the glass of his superior, using two hands. If someone hands you an empty glass, it means he intends on pouring for you, and you hold your glass with two hands to receive.

We’ve been met with incredulity from some Koreans when we order soju — they find it hard to believe that we actually like the stuff. The truth is, we don’t. Not really. If I have the choice between a shot of whiskey and soju, I would always choose the former. But we’re cheap drunks, and 99 cents a bottle isn’t something we’re going to pass up.

Busan Travel Book Coming Soon

Soju Drunk
Soju Glasses
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June 23, 2012 at 1:50 am Comments (5)

Pictures from Oncheon’s Busy Market

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We hadn’t expected to have such a great day out in the northern neighborhood of Oncheon-dong. After discovering a popular open-air foot spa, we walked back toward the subway through a boisterous food and goods market. Maybe it’s the collegial atmosphere generated by the closeness of the stands, but people working in these markets always seem to be happier than their counterparts behind the cash register of a grocery store.

Busan Market

Has the lady behind the machine at Mega Mart ever offered you a taste of black pig intestine, just to get a laugh? Or tried and drag you into a conversation about her niece who lives in Vancouver? These things are common-place in the markets of Busan, which are fun places to spend some time in, and rife with great photo opportunities.

Location on our Busan Map
Learn Korean

Korean Portrait
Korean Soap Opera
Tofu Stand
Pickled Stuff
Korean Fried Food
Koreanische Schweinshaxe
Fresh Fish Korea
Can I be your Valentine
Korean Sashimi
Korean Bulgogi
Korean Cinnamon
Korean Herbs
Plastic Pig
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June 12, 2012 at 7:21 am Comments (2)

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Patbingsu - Korea's Summertime Treat Throw a pile of shaved ice on top of milk, cover it in red beans, and sprinkle a bit of green tea powder on the top. Doesn't that sound like a delicious treat? No?! Well, somehow... it is. Patbingsu (???) is one of South Korea's favorite desserts, and way more delectable than it sounds.
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