December 2017


Visiting the Biggest Department Store in the World

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South KoreaDid you realize that the biggest department store in the world is in Busan?  No?  Well it is and I went there, because why not?  It’s the biggest in the world.

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South Korea

The store in question is the Centum City location of Shinsegae, a Korean department store.  And it is impressively large.  I’m not sure how much of a sense of scale you get from those pictures, but it is an imposingly monolithic structure that was even bigger than I assumed it was going to be.

Cavernous, multi-level department stores are a dime a dozen in this part of the world, so on the inside it doesn’t look all that much bigger than the norm.  But then there’s the certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records which confirms that, at an area of 3.16 million square feet, this is indeed the largest department store in the world.

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South Korea

But of course, what really interests me here is the food hall in the lower level (try to act surprised).

Most of the menus at the various vendors here were entirely in Korean with no pictures, so I basically just wandered around until I saw a dish on one of the counters (waiting to be picked up) that looked good, then I pointed to it.

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South Korea

Ah, pointing; my old friend.  Here’s a hot tip for you: when you’re traveling and you don’t know the language, pointing is as good as gold.  Just look around for something that looks good, then point.  Of course, if you’re a picky eater or you have food restrictions this could end badly, since you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to eat, but otherwise it works great.

I wound up with bibimbap in a hot stone bowl, which is a Korean rice dish that comes like this:

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South Korea

Then you mix it up, and it winds up like this:

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South Korea

It’s so great.  There’s a really inviting mix of flavours and textures here, and the piping hot stone bowl crisps up the rice around the edges.  If you’ve never had bibimbap, you need to fix that immediately.  It’s pretty much the opposite of an acquired taste; I can’t imagine anyone not liking it.

McDonald’s Around the World: South Korea Edition

McDonald's in Busan, South KoreaI’ve eaten some pretty awful stuff at McDonald’s over the last few months; McDonald’s in South Korea has single-handedly made up for all of it.  It was actually kind of bizarre how good everything was.

McDonald's in Busan, South Korea

First up: the Bulgogi Burger (bulgogi is a Korean dish featuring grilled, thinly-sliced beef or pork that’s been marinated in a special sauce).  The first thing that stands out here is the burger itself; it’s made of pork instead of beef, and had a pleasantly tender texture that’s kind of like a McRib patty, but better.  The patty is completely covered in the sweet, tangy bulgogi sauce, and topped with lettuce and mayo.  It was actually quite good.

McDonald's in Busan, South Korea

The next thing I tried was the Supreme Shrimp Burger.  The patty here is kind of odd — it has whole pieces of shrimp, bound together by… more shrimp?  I think?  Ground shrimp?  The whole thing is breaded and fried, and it was way better than I was expecting it to be.  The shrimp itself had a really great texture; I was expecting it to be dry and rubbery, but it was actually quite well cooked.    The exterior is nice and crispy, and it’s topped with lettuce, tomato, and a slightly sweet sauce with a bit of a kick.  This wasn’t just good for McDonald’s — it was legitimately delicious.

McDonald's in Busan, South Korea

The last thing I tried was the Double Chocolate Waffle Fries.  This one is straight-up bizarre, and I was fully expecting it to be gross.  Basically, you get a plate of plain chips (they call these waffle fries, but they’re thin and crispy throughout — they’re chips), along with a packet containing white and milk chocolate sauces that you pour all over the chips.

McDonald's in Busan, South Korea

I’d like to note that the design of this packet is kind of ingenious — you just fold it in half,  snapping it open, and then you dispense the sauce by squeezing the two halves together.

McDonald's in Busan, South Korea

This was so much better than I thought it was going to be.  The chips were fresh, crispy, and barely salty at all, so they were a surprisingly good vehicle for the chocolate.  And the chocolate sauce was actually pretty tasty — it reminded me a lot of Nutella, only without the hazelnut flavour.  If you’ve ever had chips dipped in chocolate, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect here.  It’s weirdly delicious.

Colours Aplenty at the Gamcheon Culture Village

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South KoreaThe Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan is definitely one of the more striking sights I’ve seen on my trip so far.

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea

The whole neighbourhood is on a pretty serious incline (I’ll admit that I got so winded walking up a particularly long and steep hill on my way there that I legitimately wondered if I was going to have a minor heart attack), and all of the houses have been painted in various vibrant colours.

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea

Most of it is just a regular neighbourhood that people live in, but there is a road going all around the area that has coffee shops, food vendors, and random quirky stores and murals.

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea

The main appeal is just looking at it from afar, but it’s a neat area to walk around in, too.

Souping it up in Souptown

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South KoreaOne of the specialties in Busan is a soup called dwaeji gukbap — pork and rice soup.  There’s a whole stretch of road in the Seomyeon area of town that features nothing but one restaurant after another that specializes in the dish, so yeah, it’s a big deal here.

I picked one pretty much at random (I did have a recommendation, but the signs were all in Korean, so I had no idea which was which), and went in to get my soup on.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

They love including pictures in their menus here, which is a boon for clueless travelers like me, because I can just point to what I want to eat.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

The soup is an elaborate affair, coming with several bowls of condiments (and the requisite kimchi, of course).  It’s a bit bland at first, but once you start adding the various pastes, vinegars, and add-ons, the soup really comes alive.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

It’s incredibly hearty, too, with a ridiculous amount of very tender, thinly-sliced pork, and a heaping amount of rice.  It’s a really satisfying lunch.

How Desperate are you?

ToiletMany of the toilets in this part of the world, particularly in China — even the ones in touristy places like museums or the airport — are of the squat variety.  If you’ve never encountered one of these things, it’s basically a porcelain hole in the ground.

Proponents will tell you that squatting is actually a more natural position than sitting to do your business, and maybe that’s right, but I just can’t do it.  There are so many ways it could go wrong.

I actually came close to being desperate enough to use one at one point– but then I had a grim, Dead Zone-esque premonition in which I lost my balance mid-squat and fell over, and that was that.

Delicious (Not Seafood) Stew

Stew in Busan, South KoreaAfter visiting the Jagalchi Market, I was walking along the nearby vendor-festooned alley looking for something seafoody to eat.  When you visit a country’s largest fish market, you’ve pretty much gotta eat some seafood.  It would be weird if you didn’t.

I eventually found a stand with a few benches set up that had three big vats of stew they were serving up.  There were a couple of ladies eating something that looked quite hearty with noodles, so I sat down, pointed at their bowls, and I was off to the races.

Stew in Busan, South Korea

The owner of the stand got a bowl, filled it with some noodles, topped it up with stew from one of the bubbling pots, then finished off the bowl with a heaping spoonful of some kind of chili paste, and another spoonful of minced garlic.  She added a bit more broth on top, and then handed me the bowl.

Given the proximity to the Jagalchi Market, I had assumed this was going to be a seafood stew of some sort. It was not.  My disappointment quickly faded away, however, when I realized how delicious it was.

The stew was filled with huge chunks of ultra-tender beef brisket, blood cake, leeks, and the aforementioned noodles, all in an intensely flavourful, sweat-inducingly spicy broth.  It was so good.  And for only 4000 won (less than five bucks Canadian), it was a pretty amazing deal.

Something’s Fishy

Jagalchi Market in Busan, South KoreaYou know as soon as you climb up the stairs of the subway station that you’re in the right place — the smell of seafood is everywhere around Jagalchi Market, South Korea’s largest seafood market.

Jagalchi Market in Busan, South Korea

And the inside is an impressive sight, featuring row after row of vendors selling every type of edible aquatic creature that you can imagine.

Jagalchi Market in Busan, South Korea

And then you walk out of the building on the other side, and you see where all that food comes from.

Jagalchi Market in Busan, South Korea

And in case you haven’t had enough seafood yet, there’s a road next to the market that’s crammed with more vendors — it must go on for almost a kilometre.  It’s kind of a crazy amount of seafood.

Jagalchi Market in Busan, South Korea

Straight to the Street (Food)

Street food in Busan, South KoreaYou know how I know I like Busan? I hadn’t even checked into my hotel yet, and I had already seen several street food vendors dispensing tasty treats.

I passed one vendor selling these cakey-looking things with an egg on top — it looked good and smelled sweet, and I couldn’t resist.  I didn’t even know what it was, but I knew that I had to eat it.

Street food in Busan, South Korea

I mean, the hotel wasn’t going anywhere, so why not?

It was quite tasty — it’s kind of like a very sweet piece of fresh cornbread, only with an egg on top and a little bit of a ketchup-like sauce.  I could have done without that sauce, though it did add a bit of a savoury kick to cut the sweetness.

Exploring the Forbidden City

Forbidden City, Beijing, ChinaBuilt in the early 1400s, the Forbidden City is a really impressive palace compound (consisting of 980 buildings over 180 acres) right in the middle of Beijing.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

There’s not a whole lot to do in there other than wander around and admire the various buildings and statues (like Pompeii, this is one of those places I kind of wish I had done in a tour for a little bit of historical context).

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Still, it’s seriously impressive, and if you’re in Beijing, there’s really no excuse to miss it (when I say it’s in the middle of the city, I mean it’s literally almost exactly in the centre of the city, so it’s very easy to get to).

Forbidden City, Beijing, China