I know I still need to put up the photos from my southeast Asia adventure. That’s a particular task that’s huge enough that I just haven’t tried yet. Soon! But meanwhile, I finally took some pictures at the market today. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m crazy about this market. It comes every 5th and 10th day of the month, and I go every time. There’s just so much interesting stuff. I could spend the whole rest of the year trying to learn how to use the stuff they sell here, and I probably wouldn’t even get halfway. Not that that’s going to keep me from trying.
Every market day, the market takes over this street in town. It mainly has restaurants and textile stores otherwise.
Perhaps not the best thing to show first, but this is 순대 sundae, which is not at all like an ice cream sundae. It’s sausage made of rice and blood, and it’s usually served in a soup with offal. I decided to try a new food for my birthday, so I went to a restaurant and had this soup, known as 순대국밥 sundae gukbap. And actually it was really tasty. Since living in Korea I fear eating almost nothing anymore. Though this market still contains some of the things I haven’t yet accepted.
Here’s a better image of the market. Three old ladies sitting there on the road selling their stuff. When not talking to a customer, they talk to each other, and it must be funny stuff because they laugh a lot. I don’t know most of the stuff they’re selling—they’re some of the many vendors who sell unidentifiable roots whose uses I have no idea about—but the one in the front on the right side is very persistent in selling her stuff, and finally convinced me to buy something I didn’t quite understand today. It’s 냉이 naeng’i, which apparently is known in English as shepherd’s-purse and is a weed. What you do with it in Korean cuisine is you stick it in your 된장찌개 (doenjang jjigae, soybean paste soup). I’ve made doenjang jjigae before with mild success, but maybe the naeng’i will give it that magic something.
Here’s a vegetable stall. On the floor, foreground to background, we have: spinach and ginger; lotus roots; daikon radishes (in the plastic basket); scallions; something that I think is seaweed; and then everything is too far away. On the table the only thing you can see is cabbage, the kind they use to make kimchi.
This is the same vendor, a little further down the table. Here we have various mushrooms (paeng’i, one whose name I don’t know, and pyogo, known in English by the Japanese name shiitake because the Japanese introduced us to them first) and peppers and cucumbers, and then below that some spinach and some stuff I don’t know and some regular old onions (and garlic, I think), and then on the ground broccoli and a bunch of stuff that I can’t explain.
Here’s another vendor. I think in the front is some different kinds of rice. Next to that is 취나물 (chwinamul), which is an aster that grows in the mountains. They dry it out, and then you take it home and boil it or something, and it’s a side dish. I may not have mentioned, but Korean cuisine is big on side dishes. Almost every meal comes with an array of them, known as 반찬 banchan, all spread out in little three-inch bowls. At the very least you’ll almost always get some kimchi. Though it’s not always cabbage kimchi—kimchi is more of a method of preparation than it is a specific dish. With sundae gukbap, you’ll always get daikon radish kimchi, and some people pour the kimchi juice into the soup. I tried that before I finished the soup yesterday, and it was indeed delicious. Behind the chwinamul is something that was described to me as medicinal, not food; and further back you can see things like chestnuts, unidentifiable roots, and garlic.
In the front we have more of that medicinal stuff, and more chwinamul and some peanuts, and then you’ll notice a bunch of sticks. They sell a lot of sticks and wood at the market. I think I finally figured out what’s going on with that. The other day Sean brought me up a little sealed bag that he’d found somewhere, the kind they use to package candy in the States, with a woodchip and some dried-up roots inside it. It was marked 백숙 (baeksuk), and I looked this up and found out it’s a style of cooking known as something like “white cuisine” (baek is the Chinese root for “white”). White is the color of purity and cleanness here, and baeksuk gets its name by involving only a few ingredients. In the case of the bag Sean had brought me, the recipe goes like this: Boil some water for 40 minutes with the woodchip and the roots in it. Then put a chicken in there and boil it for 30 more minutes. Then take the woodchip out before you eat it. (I’m not sure about the roots.) But it still seems like they sell an awfully high volume of sticks and wood. Either baeksuk is a lot more popular than I realize, or there’s some other use for the sticks and wood, or the vendors just bring lots of the stuff every time because it never goes bad. Further on beyond the sticks in this picture are chestnuts, various beans, eggs, fern sprouts, and vegetables I don’t know.
Same vendor, different vantage point. Here are peanuts, and then lots and lots of different kinds of beans, none of which are regular old kidney beans that you might use to make chili or a Cincinnati 5-way. The bottle on the far left probably has homemade sesame oil, and on the ground are more unidentifiable roots.
On the top row, only halfway in-frame, are: fern sprouts, unidentifiable roots in a bag, naeng’i, peanuts, and probably parched sesame seeds in those little bags. Then there are some vegetables that I should really learn because they look tasty. And then garlic, chestnuts, possibly peppercorns, and jujubes on the far right.
Then we get to the fish section. It’s only recently that I dared to enter here, but my school lunches have featured some fish prepared in actually pretty tasty ways, and I decided that being able to cook fish would actually be a pretty darn useful life skill. So I got some fish from this very vendor and fried it up breaded in a Korean style that I found explained on the internet. Sean was there when I did this, which was handy since he’s cooked fish before and was able to give me advice on how not to ruin it. We both agreed that the fish was amazing fried this way. I’ll make it at Crowduck.
I really don’t understand most of what happens in the ocean. I don’t know what any of the stuff on the left is, and I can’t tell you anything about the dried fish on the right except that they’re dried fish.
Crabs, mussels, and different mussels. They use mussels in Korean soups. The thing is, they leave them in the shells. It’s your responsibility to dig them out from the bottom where they’ve sunk and then use your chopsticks—never your fingers, you mustn’t touch your food!—to get the meat out.
In the front, dried fish; in the back, seaweed sheets, which you can use to make sushi, or, far more likely, 김밥 (gimbap), which is shaped like sushi but has ham and vegetables and egg in it instead of fish.
Beyond the seaweed sheets, there’s this. Foreground row: raisins, peanuts, and I guess different peanuts. Next row back: almonds, jujubes, walnuts, pine nuts and behind them peppercorns, and some kind of fish patties I think. Maybe squid. And in the tubs in the back are some kind of black bean or something, then I think squash seeds, and then sunflower seeds.
And then beyond that we get back into fish. The foreground row is just a bunch of different sizes of dried anchovies. The bigger ones are good for making broth, and the smaller ones get cooked up in some sesame and soy sauce and stuff and just eaten straight as a banchan. Behind the anchovies are fish broken into little pieces. The far left stuff may actually be squid.
I’m no fishologist, but I think these ones in the front are flounders and then clearly some kind of stingray or skate.
Alright, some vegetables! In front are beansprouts in the metal bowls and spinach in the boxes; behind them more scallions (these are a very popular food here), various unknowns, and I think the hulking black mass is kelp; and on the table in back are Korean radishes (무 mu), further scallions, Western cabbage, garlic stems (마늘쫑 maneul jjong, which make a very tasty banchan), and stuff too far away to make out.
Naeng’i and chwinamul are the only things I can identify here. The bottle is some kind of oil, though it originally held soju. Soju bottles are very widely reused here. They use them not only for homemade oils, but also at restaurants to serve water in. Why waste?
This is my favorite vendor. The little old lady who runs it—not the one in the picture, she’s just a customer, and the vendor is even littler and older—is really cheerful and cute and always gives me free little bonuses, like a bag of beansprouts or a thing of paeng’i mushrooms. I think she once said she was thrilled that I like to cook Korean food. Although she’s not the only one who gives me free stuff. There’s a fruit vendor toward the beginning of the market whose stall I didn’t take a picture of, mainly because the fruits he sells are all pretty familiar to anyone reading this, stuff like bananas and strawberries and cherry tomatoes. During the fall he would give me a really hearty “Hello, Naych!” and a bunch of free Concord grapes pretty much every time I came down, even though I hardly bought any fruit from him and the grapes weren’t terribly cheap. Just today, his wife, who fries up seaweed sheets at the stall next door, gave me an absolutely free tupperware full of a banchan made of some kind of marinated paper-thin-sliced sweet squid. It’s pretty delicious. If I understood right, she gave it to me because I showed her the naeng’i that I bought, and that means only one thing, soybean paste soup, and she said this squid stuff is a perfect banchan to have with soybean paste soup. And when I come back on Friday she’s going to give me some kimchi. For my part I’m going to try to need some fruit, so I can buy it from the man.
Anyhow, the lady running the stall in the picture (had you forgotten that this is a caption?) also has everything. In the picture above are mainly a lot of things I’ve covered before, plus carrots and some rice-based things in the very foreground. But the pictures below are her stall too.
In this one is acorn gel (you can see 도토리묵 dotorimuk on the sign), behind it sweet corn bread, and next to it some things I don’t know.
And here, amid her collection of candy, are the beondegi, the silkworm pupae, seen here waiting in boiling water for hungry customers. I sent them as a joke Christmas present to Grandpa, but over here people eat them with completely straight faces.
If I wanted a house plant, I would know exactly where to go. Maybe some of these are even edible in some way.
Lastly, here’s a place I patronize pretty much every time I come down, because it gives me instant gratification. This guy sells: two kinds of donuts, one that’s just dough and one that’s full of sweet red bean paste; shishkabobbed chicken; corn dogs (next to his hand in this picture), which are usually served covered with sugar, mustard, and ketchup; 돈까스 donkkaseu, which are ground pork patties on sticks and probably really bad for me; and some kind of popcorn chicken things that I’ve never tried. In the foreground is the 어묵 eomuk station. Eomuk, as near as I can tell, is pulverized fish that’s agglutinated into cardboard-thickness sheets. Here they cut strips of it and spear it zigzaggingly onto these long sticks. Then they put the sticks into boiling chicken broth. It’s actually not too bad, though certainly not my favorite thing in the market. You eat it with a cup of broth (someone’s in the midst of scooping a cup right now in the picture) and some soy sauce sprayed on from a spray bottle.
So now you know where it is that I’m shopping every week. Russell read my blog when I said I was only going to shop at the market, and said, “Why don’t you just handcuff yourself?” But now it should be clear that I’m not going wanting for anything by shopping only there. (Though he may have been talking about the admittedly restrictive schedule.) The only problem I’ll have is that there’s just too much food for me to understand it all.
I asked one of the vendors today for a little more background on it. How long has it been going on? “Since old times,” he said, and it’s always been every day of the month that ends in 5 or 0. Where does the food come from? He told me that it’s too cold to grow anything around here at the moment, so the food all comes from Seoul, and before that it comes from Busan or Jeju. Some of the stuff comes from China, like the huge carrots. But during the growing season, there’s tons of stuff from right around here, from local farms. Honestly, when I get back to the States, it’s going to be pretty hard to adjust to supermarkets being the only place to get food. The market is an endlessly fascinating and puzzling place and probably my favorite part of this whole town.
P.S.: I had a great birthday, and I’ll probably go into more detail next time I write—just so you know I didn’t forget about it.