Sokcho ~ Seaside Beauty

Descending the winding roads, ears popping, the blue sea comes into view after a long tunnel through Korea’s highest mountain, Seoraksan. The precipitous Dragon Ridge is visible to your right among the scattered foliage, and beyond the road’s horizon, a small town spreads out before you, Sokcho. It’s 180 km directly east of Seoul, but can take up to eight hours to get there if you’re one of the unfortunate souls to leave during rush hour on a Korean holiday. We had a normal four hour trek behind us now, and the ocean was almost within reach.

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Dragon Ridge

We brought the dogs, and they require stops. It’s nice to check out the scenery and stretch, so they provide the excuse. One of my favorite roadside snacks is fried baby potatoes with a strong coffee.

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Rest stop vista.

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First stop was a dip in the frigid May waters. I was the only one without a shirt, and the only one in the water beyond the brave girls soaking their sandals. Next, we went to eat a big dinner to celebrate.

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We drank some flavored soju, ate squidcakes, (squid circles, crabcake style) a cold, raw fish and turnip appetizer plus a spicy soup of various shells.

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There is a famous (like way overly famous for the quality) fried chicken establishment in Sokcho, called Man Seok. You get a box of breasts, thighs and the strange bits fried and dipped in a savory sauce. It’s okay, but confusing how they bamboozled everyone to think it’s worth carting all the back to Seoul. I’ve never eaten it without getting heartburn. Yet, somehow, I’m always happy to get it. We ate picnic style in the park with the cool breezes of the bay.

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Later, we popped in for a early dinner before leaving. Jordan wanted me to try sea urchin, but didn’t tell me what I was eating, just to “Trust me.” It tasted like the ocean went bad. Perhaps there are good urchins, but I found the Ursula of urchins. It was powerfully funky and overwhelmed the mouth with sea flavor. (The urchin is that brown lump in the middle of the bibimbap bowl.) Luckily, we ordered some cold noodles to balance it out.

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We walked off the sour stomach in the cooling air of evening to let the dogs relieve themselves before jumping back in the car for the quiet dusky drive to Seoul.

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The next weekend, we went back with James and his friend. The weather didn’t cooperate, but that didn’t stop the two teenagers from swimming under the cool clouds until their lips turned purple. We ate ramen noodles and peanuts for lunch, to save up our appetites for the clam bake at night. It was worth it. Fire-roasted abalone, scallops, clams and kimchi made for a great meal.

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James and Sam

We left the next day after a hefty meat BBQ, and stopped a few hours later at a large Korean rest stop. I thought it might be interesting to show some of the food they sell to travel-weary traffic warriors.

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Do Hwa ~ Chinese Comfort Food

There are over 41,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. There are 36,525 McDonald’s in the whole world! Despite that imbalance of General Tso to Ronald McDonald, I didn’t eat Chinese food until I was 17 and dining out with a friends’ family. The shock registering on their faces when I informed them that I’d never indulged in Szechuan cooking was akin to telling a Deadhead you thought Jerry Garcia was “that ice cream guy.” They went through the 5 stages of grief upon hearing the news: “No, never? How could you never have eaten it? Are you sure? That’s so sad. We’ll order you something nice.”

I liked it, and have always thought the same thing afterwards: saucy, too much rice, and the chicken pieces seem cobbled and held together with the thick fried skin. I grew to enjoy American Chinese food more and more, and found the cool guy joints like P.F. Changs to be very satisfying despite the cultural morass it created by offering Korean, Chinese, Singaporean and Cantonese style chicken.

So, in Korea, I was expecting to have a nice meal of authentic Chinese food due to the close historical ties of the two countries. I had eaten at one Chinese place that was awesome. This was a high backed chair, cloth napkin place, with lots of cool Chinese art on the walls with a golden dragon protecting the entrance. We ordered the the middle priced set menu which had a nice mix of everything.

First we started with the Chinese fire water and a saucy vegetable seafood dish.

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This is a thin sliced pork salad with peppers.

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These are giant fried shrimp in a sweet n sour sauce.

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My least favorite dish was the mixed mushroom and scallops

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Here is the classic sweet and sour pork (with a cherry on top).

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Last, we had a big beautiful noodle soup with a squishy bread to dip.

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Everything was well cooked and tasted fresh, and we had no rice!