Nari Kye, an employee at Anthony Bourdain's office, has been bothering him to do a show on her native South Korea. Anthony gives in to the pressure. His condition? Nari must come with him and guide him through Korean culture, customs and cuisine. An elated Nari agrees and, next thing you know, they're in Seoul and the adventure begins.
Korea is a region and former country of East Asia that was unified under one state, but now divided into two separate states—North Korea and South Korea—as a result of the Korean War (1950–53). Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the east by the Korea Strait and the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
Korean history begins with the founding of Gojoseon in 2333 BC by the legendary Dan-gun. Following the unification of the Three Kingdoms of Korea under Silla 668 AD, Korea went through the Goryeo Dynasty and Joseon Dynasty as one nation until the end of the Korean Empire in 1910, when Korea was annexed by Japan becoming part of the Japanese Empire, and remained so until Korea's liberation and occupation by Soviet and U.S. forces at the end of World War II in 1945. These two Cold War rivals then established governments sympathetic to their own ideologies, leading to Korea's current division into two political entities: North Korea and South Korea. The ensuing conflict between the two was largely a proxy war.
Historically, Korea has had close relations with China. Before the formation of South Korea, Korean independence fighters worked with Chinese soldiers during the Japanese occupation. However, after World War II, the People's Republic of China embraced Maoism while South Korea sought close relations with the United States. After the invasion of South Korea by forces from the North in 1950, the resulting war between the two Koreas ended with an Armistice Agreement, but the border between the two nations, referred to as the Korean Demilitarized Zone or "DMZ", is the most heavily militarized border in the world.
After the Korean War, the South Korean economy grew significantly and the country transformed into a major economy, a full democracy, and a regional power in East Asia. Today, South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, is Asia's fourth largest economy and the world's 15th (nominal) or 12th (purchasing power parity) largest economy. The economy is export-driven, with production focusing on electronics, automobiles, ships, machinery, petrochemicals and robotics.
Today, Seoul is considered to be a leading global city, ranking among the top ten global cities in the Global Cities Index of 2010. It is one of the world's top ten financial and commercial centers, home to major multinational conglomerates such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai-Kia. In 2008, Seoul was named the world's sixth most economically powerful city by Forbes. Seoul is also home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Changdeokgung, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
Seoul is the capital and largest city of South Korea. A megacity with a population of over 10 million, it is one of the largest cities in the world. Nearly a quarter of South Korea's population live in Seoul itself, making it the country's foremost economic, political, and cultural center. Seoul has been a major settlement for over 2,000 years, with its foundation dating back to 18 B.C. when Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, established its capital in what is now south-east Seoul. It continued as the capital of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire.
Although a variety of different Asian peoples had migrated to the Korean Peninsula in past centuries, very few have remained permanently, so by 1990 both South Korea and North Korea were among the world's most ethnically homogeneous nations. The number of indigenous minorities was negligible. In South Korea, people of foreign origin, including Chinese, Japanese, Westerners, Southeast Asians, South Asians and others were a small percentage of the population whose residence was generally temporary. Against the background of ethnic homogeneity, however, significant regional differences exist, and interregional marriages are rare. The Korean language is spoken by the vast majority of the population.
In 2007, 6.4 million foreign tourists visited South Korea, making it the 36th most visited country in the world, and this number was expected to exceed 8.5 million in 2010. Japan, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan together account for roughly 75% of the total number of international tourists. In addition, the Korean wave has brought increasing numbers of tourists from Southeast Asia. Seoul is the principal tourist destination for visitors.
Anthony Bourdain and Nari begin their Korean escapade in Seoul. Their taxi has barely left the airport exit when suddenly Nari makes the driver pull over and she and Anthony jump out, suitcases in tow, as they hit one of the many street food stalls along the way to the airport. Fellow travelers sit on their suitcases chowing on Korean street food one last time before a trip away or first thing upon their return, that's just how popular, and good, Korean street food is.
Airport Exit Food Stall: Anthony and Nari park themselves in front of a stall and order a piping-hot bowel that features several different popular Korean street foods, from blood sausage to noodles, all drowned in a fiery red sauce. Almost immediately, Anthony begins to feel less jet lagged.
Noryangjin Seafood Market: Still fighting jet lag, Nari drags Anthony to the Noryangjin Seafood Market, Seoul's largest seafood market. As they explore the day's catch, they happen upon an interesting treat—live octopus—and discover how difficult it is to swallow with the tentacles clinging to the roof of your mouth with every tasty morsel.
Taekwondo Dojo: Anthony and Nari visit the dojo of Korea's Taekwondo champions, the K-Tigers, for a demonstration of Korea's number one martial art and some basics self defense techniques. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. Taekwondo may be loosely translated as "the art of the foot and fist" or "the art of kicking and punching." As with many other marital arts, it combines combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise, and in some cases meditation and philosophy.
Kimchi Farm: Anthony and Nari visit a kimchi farm about 2 hours outside of Seoul where the farmers not only cultivate all the ingredients that go into making kimchi, but also make their own kimchi through all its various stages. The farmers invite them to a meal of kimchi pancakes, oysters, pork, and a bubbling bean-paste soup.
Kimchi is a popular Korean fermented dish. Kimchi is the most side dish, in Korean cuisine. It is also a main ingredient for many popular Korean dishes such as kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae), kimchi soup (kimchiguk), and kimchi fried rice (kimchi bokkeumbap). There are many types of kimchi including cabbage kimchi, string onion kimchi, cucumber kimchi, radish kimchi, and sesame kimchi. The main ingredients in kimchi are smashed ginger, chopped radish, salt pickled small shrimps, and fish sauce.
Hantan River Fish Restaurant: Before joining Nari's grandfather at Hantan River Fish Restaurant, Nari and Anthony catch their dinner in a nearby river just miles from the border that separates North and South Korea, referred to as the Korean Demilitarized Zone or "DMZ". It's the most heavily militarized border in the world. The restaurant has agreed to prepare a local specialty: mae-un tang.
Mae-un tang is a hot spicy Korean cuisine fish soup boiled with gochujang (Korean red chili pepper paste), kochukaru (chili powder), and various vegetables. As its main ingredient, fresh or saltwater fish is cut into several pieces and boiled with ground beef, green vegetables such as watercress and garland chrysanthemum. Onion, radish, chilis, crown daisy, garlic, and sometimes zucchini and bean curd are added to the mixture to absorb the chili pepper paste which is the main flavoring of this dish. It is then seasoned with chili powder, garlic, soy sauce, and additional gochujang may be added once more to meet everyone's taste buds. Popular fish for this dish may include red snapper, sea bass, yellow corvina, codfish, croaker, pollack, and even freshwater fish like carp and trout. In addition, other shellfish such as crabs, clams, and oysters can be also added to this soup to complement and enhance its spicy yet refreshing flavors.
Bang-a-thon: Anthony and Nari spend an evening hopping between the various types of Bangs in Seoul. A Bang (pronounced "bong"), is an arcade for computer games, movies, drinking, and other entertainment. Popular among the younger Korean generation, there are hundreds, if not thousands of such establishments in Seoul.
Food Stall: Nari takes Anthony to a little hole-in-the-wall that specializes in chicken, including the "dirty bits"—the feet, guts, and even the anus (sphinter muscle). After a few shots of soju, a popular rice whiskey comparable to vodka, though slightly sweeter, Anthony tries the spicy stir fry chicken feet, which are surprisingly tender. Then he tries the chicken anus grilled up with onions and red-hot chilies, and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Karaoke: After a substanial amount of arm-twisting, and soju, Anthony finds himself in a karaoke joint watching Nari perform before some friends.
Hangang Restaurant: After a night of heavy drinking, Anthony and Nari visit Hangang restaurant in search of their famed "hangover soup"—a spicy potato stew with fat hunks of meat.
Charcoal Factory: Nari drags a snarky, still very much hungover Anthony to a charcoal factory that doubles as a sauna and barbecue restaurant—two things traditionally important to Koreans. After a good steaming, they enjoy some Korean barbecue pork and a cold bottle of soju.
Family Dinner and Sebae: Anthony joins Nari for a family dinner with her grandfather, aunts and uncles. Nari dresses in a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress from the Joseon Dynasty, that is worn for special ceremonies and traditions. In this instance, Nari wears hers to perform a sebae, translated as the "big bow", for her grandfather. After the ceremony the family sit down to a meal of radish wraps, pork, mushrooms, oysters, and, of course, kimchi. Koreans commonly say Jal meokketsseumnida (“Thank you for the meal”) before a meal.
Sebae is a traditionally observed activity on Seolnal (Korean New Year), and is filial-piety-oriented. Children wish their elders a happy new year by performing one deep traditional bow and the words "saehae bok manhi badeuseyo", which translates to "please receive many blessings in the New Year". Parents typically reward this gesture by giving their children New Year's money (usually in the form of crisp paper money) and offering words of wisdom.
As Anthony enjoys the meal and the company of Nari's family, he finds himself wondering why it took him so long to come to South Korea. But he's happy he waited until he had someone like Nari Kye to put a face to the country, and its delicious food, to make it more personable.