With cheap international flights, come the compromise of long transits; so we landed in South Korea late at night in a zombie-state, but with a delirious joy for our appending adventure. This was my first trip to South Korea and also the first time I’ve been on a girls trip with my mother and sister. We spent under two weeks in the land of kimchi, with just two days and two nights in Busan. We thought we’d ease our way into the hustle and bustle of Seoul.

Air Asia, Sydney to KL to South Korea Busan

So here’s what we saw and ate in Busan during our short stay:

Kimchi Jjigae

Especially if you’re travelling during the cold season (December and January) where temperatures drop below zero, the humble kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) is pure comfort. On our first night in Busan (South Korea’s second largest city), we stumbled across a restaurant called 산만디탕 that served only kimchi jjigae. The menu offered this in three sizes: small (for 2 – 3 people) was just ₩18,000 (equivalent to about $18 AUD), medium (for 3 – 4 people) was ₩24,000 and large (for 4 – 5 people) was ₩29,000. Rice with a fried egg was an additional ₩1,000 each and of course, banchan (spinach salad, radish kimchi, pickled onion and sausage coated with fried egg) was complimentary. The sourness of the fermented kimchi in the soup was deliciously balanced with tofu and fatty slices of pork belly which was cooked at the table by the waiter. Also popular here was seasoned and grilled dried pollack (황태구이, ₩15,000).

Busan kimchi jjigae 산만디탕 banchan

Busan kimchi jjigae 산만디탕 cooked at the table

Busan kimchi jjigae 산만디탕 cutting pork

Busan kimchi jjigae 산만디탕, fried egg, rice, seaweed

Busan kimchi jjigae 산만디탕

The restaurant was a few shops down from Tower Hill Hotel:

Coffee

As I normally have my coffee with soy milk (a request which was met with confused faces almost 100% of the time in Busan), I switched to espressos and Dutch coffee (cold drip seemed to be trending here) during the trip. One of the best places for coffee in Busan was at 바우노바 Baunova Coffee (중구 동광동1가 13-2 1층, Busan, South Korea).
바우노바 BAUNOVA

바우노바 BAUNOVA coffee roasters

Dutch coffee cold drip 바우노바 BAUNOVA

Food Halls & Food Courts

Erase any preconceptions you may have of the sub-par food available at shopping centre food courts and food halls; the ones in South Korea will blow your mind.

The Lotte Department Store in Gwangbok (20-1, 7-ga, Jungang-dong, Jung-gu, Busan) was a short walk from our hotel and was a warm sanctuary from the winter chill. Like a scene from a movie, every display was arranged in the most meticulous manner. We feasted with our eyes and wandered around aimlessly, trying to take it all in.

Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

The golden glaze on the large stuffed squid caught my attention so we started with that. There were a few stools dotted around the stall and one of the cooks signaled us to sit down. To our delight, the ojingeo soondae rice stuffed squid (₩9000 = approx $10.50 AUD) was served with complimentary bowls of dashi stock soup, tteokbokki spicy rice cakes and some pickled daikon! I loved the fragrance of the sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and sesame seeds, and the squid itself was perfectly tender and not at all rubbery.

rice stuffed squid - Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

We also nourished ourselves with various types of steamed and pan-fried mandu (dumplings). Large steamers were stacked high with identically shaped buns, each of them with precisely the same number of folds and pleats. My mouth just salivates thinking about the hot, salty and pleasantly pungent sourness of the kimchi filling.

Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok kimchi buns

pan-fried dumplings Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

more dumplings - Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

Strawberries were sold by the tray, they were arranged in neat circular patterns and were coloured in such an intense red that I had to look twice to check they weren’t fake.

trays of strawberries - Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

With pumpkin in season, it was cooked in numerous ways – as pancakes, battered in strips and candied,  stuffed and filled with fried rice and sauteed prawns, roasted with sweet potato and more! How I wished I had the stomach capacity to devour it all!

rice stuffed pumpkin - Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

Belgian waffles were available in plain, vanilla bean, caramel, multi-grain, chocolate and almond. The chocolate waffle wasn’t just an ordinary chocolate batter, the entire waffle was dipped into chocolate, producing a thin chocolate gloss that ruptured upon first bite. The almond flavour was a plain waffle topped with almond brittle – could anything be more perfect?!

waffles - Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

Donkkaseu, the Korean interpretation of the Japanese tonkatsu teased us in the bite-sized form by the cup full, but it was the sight of the larger skewered cutlets with perfect crunchy panko crust that made me weak in the knees.

katsu - Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

Healthier options included these gorgeous fruit rice paper rolls, exquisitely rolled to showcase slices of kiwi fruit, pineapple, strawberry and perilla leaf.

fruit rice paper rolls - Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

There were also piles of yachae twigim (deep fried vegetables similar to the Japanese kakiage) and more meat on skewers.

tempura and skewers - Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

Chapssaltteok (Korean style mochi rice cakes) and many other Korean delicacies were packaged and gift-ready.

Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

And don’t worry about eating all those pungent foods, there were complimentary mouthwash dispensers in the bathrooms!

Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

In case the food hall wasn’t a strong enough drawing card, the Lotte Department Store Gwangbok branch also has a sophisticated four-storey hourly water fountain display show!

Lotte Department Store food hall Busan Gwangbok

Later that evening, after a stressful miscommunication with a taxi driver who took us all the way to North Busan’s Shinsegae Premium Outlets (1133 Jungwan-ro, Jangan-eup, Gijang-gun, Busan) instead of Shinsegae Centum City (1495 Wu-dong, Haeundae-gu, Busan), we shopped up a storm at Centum City’s 9 floors (it is registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest department store in the world!) and then vowed to return the next morning to inspect the food hall 😉

Shinsegae Centum City

Shinsegae Centum City is also known for SpaLand, it’s hot springs complex, so it was naturally the first order of the following day (but more on that later).

Many of the same foods spotted at the Lotte Department Store food hall were also on display here at Shinsegae Centum City. A few stand-out items were —

These intricately shaped Chapssaltteok rice cakes, …

Shinsegae Centum City

Plus these colourful fruit ice pops by Brick POP, …

Shinsegae Centum City brick POP

And mountains of seaweed crisps in as many shapes and forms as you can imagine, …

Shinsegae Centum City

At the time of discovery, these gyeranppang were foreign looking egg cakes, but by the end of our South Korean adventure, we had eaten plenty of them!

Shinsegae Centum City

We also grew to appreciate the abundant varieties of fish cakes, …

Shinsegae Centum City

Shinsegae Centum City

Cakes and pastries, …

Shinsegae Centum City

And the numerous types of deep-fried goodness!

Shinsegae Centum City

In the style of Japanese yakitori, freshly prepared pyramids of dakkochi (spicy chicken skewers) were on display at another stall, …

Shinsegae Centum City

And there were rows and rows of KFC! Hooray – that’s one off the bucket list – Korean Fried Chicken in Korea!

Shinsegae Centum City

That morning, after a rejuvenating leisurely time at SpaLand, we gleefully ate our way through Shinsegae Centum City’s food hall, finishing with a tasty mixed vegetable and seaweed bibimbap.

Shinsegae Centum City

Spa Land Centum City (스파랜드 센텀시티)  

Helmed by CNN as Korea’s most outrageous sauna, SpaLand, located at Shinsegae Centum City, consists of 22 spas fed by two different kinds of all-natural spring water pumped up from 1000m underground, 13 distinctively themed ‘Jjimjilbangs’ and saunas, and an open-air foot spa. The “sodium bicarbonate hot spring” is the “beauty bathtub,” said by the spa to “remove your dead skin cells and make your skin and hair shiny. The “sodium chloride hot spring” is “similar to seawater” and has a “heat-preservation effect” that is “good for blood circulation and helps to relieve pain from neuralgia and backache.”

Unfortunately, there weren’t nearly enough showers so we were slow to start (you bathe nude so it is mandatory to rinse yourself beforehand). However, once we had our first soak, we were able to blissfully enjoy the sheer luxury of the tranquil opulent surrounds. I wish there was something like this in Sydney!

Tip: Early bird (admission between 6:00- 9:00am) or night time special (admission after 8:00pm) is just ₩8,000 on weekdays and ₩10,000 on weekends & holidays, a saving of ₩5,000 from the original adult price. Also note that kids under 13 aren’t allowed at this spa complex.

Shinsegae Centum City - Spa Land

Lam family at Shinsegae Centum City - Spa Land

Bakeries & Patisseries

There are eight OPS branches in Busan and although most of them are actually located within department stores, I thought they were well deserving of their own sub-category because stepping into the bakery was such a fantasy come true. Photographic evidence below.

From decorative savoury buns to a magnificent French Galette des Rois Feuillete, and everything in between, we could have spent days inside an OPS patisserie-boulangerie and we still wouldn’t have been able to try everything.
OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan -

OPS bakery Busan

Similarly at French bakery, Dalloyau, who have 45 stores around the world, with seven of those in South Korea, the displays of macarons, cronuts and savoury breads were every carb-queen’s Heaven!

dalloyau busan - macarons

dalloyau busan cronuts

dalloyau busan

Nampo-dong: Jagalchi Fish Market, Gukje Market, BIFF Square and Gwangbokdong Food Street

The most memorable experience in Busan though, would be exploring South Korea’s largest fish market, Jagalchi Market (자갈치시장) where I came across bizarre – and edible mind you – creatures including the fluorescent sea squirt (sea pineapple) and gaebul, also known as penis fish (refer to the below photo respectively).

Sea pineapple and gaebul also known as penis fish at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Along one laneway, diners selected large spiny crabs and shimmering fishes from live tanks and were then ushered into restaurants where the chefs transformed the fresh seafood into cooked delicacies. I noticed that the doors and walls of restaurants diminished as we ventured deeper into the market alleyways. Soon it became a common sight to see diners perched beneath shabby canopies to devour sizzling hot pot stews.

Crabs in tank at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Raw baby crabs were fermented in chilli paste or soy sauce and bottled in jars. Salty whiffs of the fermented goodness floated in the air, sending our umami senses into a wild party.

Fermented crab in jars at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Everywhere we looked, we noticed that the fishmongers here were predominantly female. I later learned that the women are referred to as Jagalchi Ajumma (ajumma, being the Korean term for middle-aged women or married women). The story goes, that during the Korean War, women had to step up to run the family business while their brothers, husbands or fathers were away, and the tradition has since remained.

Fishes in trays at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Women at market stall selling fish at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Seafood on market floor at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Around another bend, vignettes of colourful plastic trays filled with fish turned into glorious scenes of golden fried whole fish and grilled fish fillets on the barbecue; the tantalizing aroma that filled the air from herbal broths and spicy stews was magnificently drool-inducing.

Fried fish at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Korean stew at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Further down the laneway, neatly bundled piles of dried squid, and boxes of dried shrimp, dried pollack, dried sea cucumber and dried anchovy countlessly filled the market tables.

Various dried cuttlefish and squid at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Dried shrimps at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Anchovies and dried fish and shrimps at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

More fried fish varieties at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Woman washing octopus on knee at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

I hypnotically watched the women at work – fresh gigantic octopus with large squirming tentacles were washed then scrubbed with full vigour. The octopus were then gently placed in turquoise, pink and blue plastic tubs, and sat like precious stones on a jewellery counter.

Large live octopus on trays at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Row of live octopus at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Whole swordfish (갈치 hairtail fish) were lined up for close scrutiny; we were careful not to bump into local housewives who were on their daily pilgrimage to buy the day’s harvest.
Hairtail fish at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

A little further behind the wet market, rows of squid and skate were hung out to dry in the same way it’d been done for decades – the skate were simply skewered through hooks and even spaced out on a rack; and the squid thrown over a lattice of poles. For days, it would be dried by the sun and the wind.
Skate hanging at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Cuttlefish hanging to dry at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

In terms of food-on-a-stick, this deep-fried fish cake really set the benchmark for Korean street food.

Street food at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Fish paste was minced with impressive knife work, then wrapped around a crab stick and nori seaweed, and then deep fried! Piping hot, the skewers were incredibly sumptuous.
Fried fish cakes street food at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Street food stall at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

There were so many varieties of clams, seaweed, fish, and other seaweed which we didn’t know existed! We did also see turtles, swimming in a tank, ready to be slaughtered… Be careful of where you look!

Turtles in tank at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Korean seaweed at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

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Clams at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Sea snails, sea squirt at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

Trays of lams and sea snails at Jagalchi Fish Market Busan South Korea

We wandered around Gukje Market (남포동 국제시장), BIFF Square (BIFF 광장 (구, PIFF 광장)) and Gwangbok-dong Food Street (광복동 먹자골목) all afternoon and into the night, shopping up a bargain at Gukje Market’s wholesale prices (Gukje Market was originally formed by Korean War refugees and is Busan’s largest open-air market) and stuffing ourselves silly with the irresistible array of street food.

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In another sign of food-on-a-stick ingeniousness, strawberries and grapes were pierced through bamboo skewers and coated with a candy glaze. Waffles were always perfectly trimmed and sandwiched with fresh cream.

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Ssiat hoddoek (seed-stuffed pancakes) were extremely popular, as were odeng (skewered fish paste) served with seafood broth and a soy or chilli dipping sauce. Some odeng bars clearly had a cult following with hoards of diners crowding in the winter cold.

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Paper bags of roasted chestnuts provided a comfortable warmth; these were too effortless to eat, with the vendor hand peeling each and every chestnut.

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Patjuk, a red bean porridge, is another common winter delicacy. The red color of the beans is said to expel devils, and get rid of slight sickness.

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And you know those twisted Korean potato chips (aka tornado potato)? I finally found out why they were referred to as being “Korean” despite it not being flavoured by anything remotely Korean… It originated from South Korea! This was everywhere! Koreans have really have thought of everything when it comes to food-on-a-stick!

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The market stalls spill out onto the street; I remember crossing one of the main roads and peering down what seemed like an infinite street — neon signs glowed against the peachy sky and faded into Busan’s distant mountains.

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Danhobak (aka kabocha or Japanese pumpkin), were freshly harvested and sold from the back of trucks.

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Pop-up vendors pushed weighty carts filled with hand-picked selections of lotus root, enoki mushrooms and various greens.

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When it came to banchan side dishes, the variety was overwhelming.

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There are over 200 varieties of kimchi, each with its own unique combination of cool, spicy, crunchy and tangy. The kimchi alleyway was a vivid sea of red with every possible type of kimchi available in abundance.

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There were even stalls dedicated to selling variations of gochujang, the legendary Korean condiment made of fermented soy beans and chilli.

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A variety of flours and grains, fish cake, dried chillis and fresh tofu could also be found.

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After more shopping, and more eating, we had a ‘light dinner’ of dakgalbi where we cooked our own gochujang marinated chicken on a hot plate and following the lead of locals, we ordered some instant ramen to add to our hot plate to mop up all the flavours.

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And now I’ll leave you with one of the most glorious sights spotted at Gukje Market… How about this mountain of French fries and a side of spicy tteokbokki (rice cakes)?!

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Stay tuned for the next South Korea post on the Street Food of Myeong-dong (Seoul).

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Jennifer is the founding blogger of I Ate My Way Through (originally, Jenius.com.au). Growing up in the multicultural melting pot of Sydney’s Inner West as a second generation Australian (of Vietnamese refugee parents of Teochew Chinese ancestry), Jen has always had a deep curiosity about global cuisines, culinary heritage and the cultural assimilation of immigrants. For Jen and her family, food is always at the centre of all celebrations, life events and milestones. A lover of the finer things in life, as well as cheap eats, her blogging ethos is all about empowering and inspiring people to expand their culinary repertoire. When not running her two companies (she is also the Managing Director of The Bamboo Garden online marketing agency), Jen can be found exploring old-world charms at vintage markets and delving into local eats around the world. She has a weakness for fried chicken.
6 comments
Mk
Mk

Hi Jennifer,

Very detail travel log in busan. May I know which hotel you stay in Busan.


keekoyman
keekoyman

Great article. Going there tomorrow! thanks for all the tips

Vivian
Vivian

Hi! Just wondering.. how did u get around at busan? =)

Lisa
Lisa

This is an amazing post! Very detailed and with gorgeous photos. I will be sure to check a lot of this out when I vist Busan this year. 


Lisa @ thecreativecanvass.com