Posts Tagged ‘Fried Eel’


Yesterday was one of those painfully perfect spring days.

As I buzzed up the large hill the separates daily life and work, I was struck by the magnificent cordon of pink cherry blossoms contrasted against the greens of the expertly trimmed hedgerows lining their trunks. The air was classically cool paired against the warmth of the spring sun, its eastern rays illuminating each individual pink petal as they fluttered across the open road.

Korea is characteristic of four distinct seasons, but in actuality the year is really two severe halves with contrasting brief interludes of seductive bliss. Climate is largely the contributor to  this ephemeral euphoria. Spring and autumn cools are a welcomed respite from the heat and humidity of summer or the ripping chills of winter.

Its the trees that really add insult to injury if you will. In the fall, the mountains and hills are ablaze with dramatic autumn brilliance. But its the one week of spring that really makes you feel the ever gliding shadow of the sundial. For a fleeting moment, the roadways and walking trails are embraced in the ethereal bounty of light pink blossoms. The billowing cherry trees are supported by the starkly fragrant magnolias which arrive just a week or two earlier as well as the vibrant yellow forsythias lining walkways and spilling over walls.

Despite spring being my “birth season” (I just made “birth season” a thing) I never had much affinity for it. Sure you get blossoms and flowers, but I generally always saw spring as a messy slosh of a time back home. An uncouth transitional period. That just isn’t the case in my surrogate home: Yeosu, South Korea. Sure you get some rains, but there isn’t the heavy thaw and meltdown here. Winters are cold, but lack the white stuff down here on the coast.

Coming into my current 12 month contract, I knew that it would likely be my last in Korea. With 7 months left, I have already finished my last full autumn and thankfully my last Korean winter. The culmination of springs beautiful brevity paired against the knowledge of no certain repeat, has made me a bit anxious to say the least. I have been filled with the awareness that I need to consume this fading season. When I read online that Starbucks would offer a seasonal cherry blossom late, I made the emotion literal and stopped by the local cafe. Even at this very moment, my fridge is filled with limited edition cherry blossom sparkling water and sakura beer from Japan. Crazy much?

While on the northbound train headed for Seoul this past weekend, I saw Yeosu featured in the complimentary travel magazine. The highlight was about Yeosu’s annual azalea festival that happens in the outer reach of my peninsular city. To my dismay, I read that the event happens for only a weekend. The very weekend I was traveling up to see friends! Not entirely put off, I decided to make use of the 60 degree weather yesterday afternoon.

After school, I drove my scooter along the coastal road that would lead me to Yeongchwi Mountain (영취산). After about 20 mins, I pulled into the local elementary school and parked amoungst meteoric trees in full bloom. The school is situated on the north eastern edge of the mountain. On foot, I followed small farm roads headed up, headed west. Yeongchwisan has two peaks with a trough between. The deeper into the agricultural valley I dived, the lower the sun set into that mountain trough. Feeling pressured against time, I always chose the steeper fork in the trail, stopping only to shed my blazer and pop some gummies into my mouth.

20 minutes of sweaty hiking, and the wooded  mountain trail dumped off onto a paved narrow service road. Following this, I had a clear view of the southern peak half shrouded  in evening sun and completely covered in purple azalea blossoms. Only a few minutes of trekking, and I could hear the din of voices in the distance. As I approached, I found myself at the end of the road and cradled in Yeongchwisan’s trough. A large group of boisterous middle aged hikers chattered away in liquor induced blossom excitement. After snapping a photo,  I decided to poke my head into the food tent. A friend had mentioned that I may be able to find Korean flower pancakes (화전) there. As per usual, no one knew what I was talking about. Instead of a sweet rice based dessert, the serving women assumed I was talking about pajeon (파전) which is a savory  batter of eggs,  flour, green onions and other treats – fried into the semblance of a pancake.

A kind patron with excellent English heard my plight and offered for me to join him and his friends for pajeon and makgeolli (막걸리 – a milky rice wine).  I tried to explain that I was really hoping to make it to the blossoming summit before sunset (which was looming dangerously near) and that I should carry on. Alas, he was insistent and his English was quite good. One thing led to another and I was a few bowls deep in makgeolli and we were on to our second savory pancake with sides of tofu and steamed mussels. Next thing I knew, the sun had set and the serving women were ushering us into their cars. Once we were ferried  back to civilization, my new friend Danny offered for me to join him and his nephew for dinner. Despite being a bit full, I was equally tipsy and decided dinner would be a good opportunity to sober up for the scooter ride home.

The menu was potentially a new one to me (I have had quite a variety of foods here and find it difficult to differentiate it all) : fried eel with sides of fermented plum, various kimchis’ and other veggies. When I thought that I probably couldn’t eat another bite, the server came out with three large servings of  eel soup (영취산 ) . By the time my hosts had walked me back to my scooter, it was already 9PM. We parted ways as full, happy newly-forged friends.

Last nights floweret-flaying rain has carried through to the morning. Out with the blossoms and in with the leafy greens it seems. Spring has sprung.