Korea Part 3: Block Rockin’ Busan
As I rode the train from Seoul back to Busan, I got word that my flight that day had been cancelled because a big bad Typhoon decided to make its way through Japan. I had to act fast, so I bought the cheapest espresso I could find and shamelessly used a cafe’s WiFi for hours (seriously, the best part about Korea is the availability of WiFi) to make calls to my airline. After an extraordinary amount of waiting, I finally got through, only to be told all the flights the next day were full.
So I told them to give me my money back and bought a ticket on the airline that got me to Busan in the first place. After all that, I never did fly Peach.
With a whole day to spend in Busan, I found a really cheap hostel close to the station, and asked the owner if he had any recommendations in the city. Without any hesitation, he said I should go check out the beach, despite the crappy weather.
My Suncheon friends recommended I visit a place near the beach called Sharky’s, which, according to them, had “the best Western food in Korea.” Those last two words are always so important when it comes to Western food in Asia. Sure, you can get certain items, but there’s just something missing from it. Of course, most Western foods that are brought over are the cooked for an audience in that country, but that’s to the disappointment of those who know the original taste and want a little something from home. It may look, smell and maybe taste like a taco, burger or whatever, but it never seems to quite hit that mark.
I decided on the “Wet Burrito,” which was the first item listed on their “Mexican Specialties.” The menu boasted their “secret homemade enchilada sauce,” so I figured I should at least try the house special.
Yeah, it took a little while.
I wasn’t really sure where to start with the thing, but the fork and knife provided seemed necessary. I cut a piece and wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I say this with every meaning of the truth: It was the best burrito I have ever had in my life. Ever. EVER.
I left the restaurant extremely fat and happy, and walked around the beach to try to burn some of it off. However I began to notice as I passed the multiple golfing stores, Starbucks, American fast food chains and multi-floored supermarkets that I felt some odd feeling of familiarity.
Even before I came to Japan for the second time, there was a general sentiment held some that I was moving to another planet. In many ways it’s true, but, perhaps even more so now than when I first came three years ago, those landscapes are not as alien, and those bridges are more connected.
And it’s not just because I’ve become more familiar with how the scenery looks. Rather, things that would be commonplace in the states are making more of a presence here. While I mentioned earlier that those things may not be the exact same as they are back home, I think the simple fact that they’re actually available is relevant. Yes, there is decent Mexican food in Osaka! One of the best burgers I’ve ever had is sold outside of Kobe! And there’s even a coffee house on my island that imports beans from different parts of Central America! (I was even able to buy ingredients for Tacos today!)
While I neglected to mention it in my previous post, the amount of familiar American chains I found in the Itaewon area in Seoul was uncanny. I can’t think of anyone who would be craving On The Border if they ever went to Seoul, but it was certainly there if they wanted it.
None of this is to say these luxuries are everywhere or that there’s no local flavor to Busan. Right down the street from the patch of golfing stores lies an alley with nothing but local stores and markets, with the main specialty being fresh fish. It was in that same street I found a small corner restaurant and ordered a plate of Tteokbokki, while the three ladies who ran it laughed at how much water I was downing to subdue the spice. Near the beach area also lies a small camp of tents, each of which contain identically placed stools around a large collection of tanks. The ordering process is simple: pick your fresh ocean treat and eat it right there. While I was intrigued, I was still quite full from that burrito.
But what stuck with me was the juxtaposition between seeing these local amenities, and then seeing Outback Steakhouses and McDonalds right across the street. Many world travelers might sneer at this scene: “You’re not ‘really’ experiencing a country by staying in the cities with all of the western accommodations.” But nothing will change that they’re there. And there’s plenty of local stuff to be found; You just have to venture off the path a little bit.
Since my flight was so early in the morning, I didn’t stay out at the beach area for too much longer. When I arrived at the airport the next morning, I ordered the last tall coffee and bagel I would probably have in a long time from Dunkin Donuts (although there are some bagel resources in Osaka). My Korea trip was absolutely fun, and I’m glad I was able to explore and learn about a country I’ve wanted to visit for some time. The country is definitely worth a visit, between the history, people and (awmanIwantsomerealKorean) food. And there’s only one way to really experience it. So, get to it.