A week ago I went out for dinner with around 10 other people; I was the only foreigner amongst many South Korean nationals and ordinarily I would find such a situation rather daunting however I had a blast! We headed to a restaurant called Dragon Dream for a seafood extravaganza first; unfortunately I have no idea what the best mode of public transport is to this restaurant as I was driven there in a car however I do know it is super close to the Seomyeon area and therefore you should be able to walk if you live or are staying close to either Seomyeon or Jeonpo subway stations. Anyway back to my experience… Dragon Dream is a restaurant that specialises in seafood and it is built within the walls of a cave. A literal cave. Carved within the walls of a mountain, it used to serve as a World War II Japanese bomb shelter during Japan’s colonisation of Korea. The salty scent of water hits you as soon as you walk through its doors, the place is lit up through the use of strategically placed fairy lights and take heed to mind the floor; although it has a covering, water still seeps through so do not make the same mistake I did and dump your cotton bag on the floor whilst eating to only then discover it sodden wet through!
The servers at Dragon Dream laid out the side dishes first; I tried caviar (not bad!) and also a dried jujube (similar texture and taste to a date in my opinion) for the first time as well as digging in to the expected side dishes of pickled veggies and seaweed. The group ordered three massive plates of seafood (including fish, mussels, crab, prawns, octopus) mixed with bean sprouts, other veggies and a whole load of a typically Korean yummy and spicy red sauce. It was delicious! We washed it down with copious amounts of alcohol; soju and beer mixed together to make somaek! I actually learnt a new Korean custom (or courtesy) during this meal: as a sign of respect you should not drink before the oldest person at the table has. Unfortunately, me being me and therefore at times a raging alcoholic, I took a sip of my somaek without knowing this information! ☹ But I was assured that it was fine considering I was foreign and therefore didn’t know this unwritten rule beforehand. Needless to say, I will definitely not be making the same mistake again! Once we had devoured the majority of the food on the plates, noodles were brought out and added to the remaining sauce and veggies. It was all mixed together and we dug in once more! I also knocked back one, two or three glasses of soju which was a great accompaniment!
After our meal at Dragon Dream, we walked out in to the mild evening air. I thought perhaps it was home time or maybe a few of us would head to a coffee shop for a drink however I was so wrong. Another Korean custom I learnt that night… it is perfectly normal to go to a different restaurant for a second round of food and alcohol! Apparently some groups even head to a third restaurant for a final round! So off we went, around the corner to a savoury pancake place. 범일빈대퍽 (roughly translated to Beomilbindaepeog) specialises in Korean pancakes; a type of food wholly different from the pancakes I am so used to tucking in to on pancake day back home. Korean pancakes are savoury; they are made using various different vegetables and a batter mainly consisting of flour and water (and maybe other ingredients dependent on which veggies you use) and you fry them until they are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Before that evening, I had tried kimchijeon (kimchi pancake) in Manchester and a few weeks earlier had eaten pajeon (spring onion pancake – food to be eaten on a rainy day!) and both were extremely tasty. But this place was next level; the pajeon came with seafood and we each had a tiny little bowl of soy sauce to dip the pancake in for added flavour. We all added a little dash of vinegar and a sprinkle of chilli powder to our soy sauce just to enhance it that little bit more.
We had makgeolli with our jeons; the oldest Korean alcoholic beverage, makgeolli is a milky, creamy off-white, sparkling rice wine which when mixed with cider (or Sprite/7-Up to other Westerners) is a treat! I was pre-warned by the group that makgeolli has the potential to gift you a bad hangover in the morning but I could not get enough of the stuff! I was overjoyed every time I saw my bowl being refilled, brimming to the very top with that sweet, bubbly mixture of rice wine and cider! Another thing to mention here; the more someone fills your glass, the more they like you! Also if you ever visit Korea and dine out with Koreans, do make sure you serve their drinks for them. This is another polite courtesy and illustrates your respect for the people you are with.
With a super full tummy and a merrier-than-normal mood, I left the pancake restaurant with the group; most people headed home by walking to the nearest subway station however myself and a few others decided to head to Starbucks for a late-night coffee before turning in. Given the time of year and the emergence of the season of spring, there has currently been a heavy emphasis on the cherry blossom theme here in South Korea, with coffee being no exception. Starbucks has an assortment of cherry blossom inspired beverages including a cherry blossom Frappuccino and a cherry blossom latte. I went for the Frap; it was pink and brown, topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of sweet, cherry flavoured candies! Super cute, super sweet and super appropriate given the time of year!
So, there you have a break down of my very first ever true Korean dining experience… the shorter version: food, food and more food! I can’t wait to enjoy a couple more evenings out like this during my time in Busan!