My first weeks in Busan, I’d often take walks in the evenings to scout my new neighborhood, and to familiarize myself with it. Every block or so, I’d notice huge fish tanks, and would think to myself nonchalantly, “There are a lot of pet stores here.” Then one day, I looked past the fish tanks that were outside, into the building, noticed tables and chairs, and then it dawned on me that Koreans in Busan didn’t have a strange obsession with pet stores, rather they were seafood restaurants.
Busan is a large coastal city, so seafood, (in particular raw fish) is of course popular here. The largest seafood market in South Korea can be found here, and just about every neighborhood has at least one seafood restaurant. Seafood doesn’t agree well with my stomach, so I tend to stay away from it, however I couldn’t always escape eating it. There were staff dinners, group meetings, or being invited to dinner, where I didn’t have an option . I will say that I learned to love seafood in Busan, (well, my taste buds at least!) I appreciated how fresh the food was. I’d say there’s a very high probability of eating seafood that was caught that morning when you’re eating in Busan. As I’ve said before, I can’t eat seafood often, I’ve actually gotten a bit bougee about it since returning from Korea. The freshness level that I’ve seen at places I’ve gone to in America doesn’t compare to what I had in Korea. Hey, call me spoiled.
Hotteok, (호떡) is a sweet treat that is popular throughout Korea, but Busan is known to have some of the best! Hotteok is made from dough, (think pancake consistency), and can be filled with a variety of things. The ones I’ve had were mostly filled with brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, and different types of seeds. Hotteok is sold for about $1, and some of the most popular spots are street vendors in the Nampo area. When I went several years ago, there was a long line, but the vendors had a great system and the line moved quite quickly.
Milmyeon, (밀면) is a cold wheat noodle dish, that includes fine slices of meat, cold broth, boiled egg, vegetables, and red pepper sauce. As with hotteok, there are variations to this dish, but is probably most popular in Busan. Legend has it that milmyeon first appeared sometime during the Korean war, as North Korean refugees fled to the port city, and made a new creation from a similar North Korean dish. This dish can be sold for around $4.
I would be remiss to talk about food in Busan without dwaeji gukbap, (돼지국밥). Dwaeji gukbap is the staple food of Busan. It’s made with pork, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, miso, green onions, and bone broth. The soup is served with rice, and other side dishes. I prefer dumping the rice into the soup, (as is my preference while eating most Korean soups). Customers can usually add in other ingredients as they see fit.
Korea is known for its food, and each region has its own specialties. These are just a small snapshot of what you can expect from Korean cuisine.