Friday, June 3, 2011

On the Road . . . Korea: Grocery Stores and Outdoor Markets

Whenever I travel to a new country, or sometimes a new city in America, I make a point to visit either the grocery store or an outdoor market.  It was a habit I got into after I studied abroad in England and learned very quickly how much you can get a sense of the produce, flavors, and food choices based on the food at the grocery store.    
Visiting grocery stores and markets has a very interesting effect.  In one way, it can remind you that you and the people of the city aren’t so different.  Seeing products that you buy in America or seeing vegetables, fruits, and flavors that you find familiar and comforting help make the new place somewhat more familiar.  This effect rang true for me when I was in Ireland.  I was traveling by myself and was starting to feel a little lonely.  I had just gotten very lost in Cork and by accident ended up in their famous market.  Seeing so many foods I was familiar with and by sharing a collective experience of looking at meats, talking to vendors, and exploring food counters, reminded me of being part of a shared experience with that city. 
Conversely, markets can also remind you that you are an outsider.  In walking through a market and store in which you are unfamiliar with ingredients, food preparations, and what a food is, then it is a reminder that you are not part of foodie community.  Even the strangeness of an unfamiliar food smell can be a reminder of being “other.” 
I experienced both excitement and hesitation in Korea during my exploration of the HomePlus grocery store and then neighboring outdoor market.  The grocery store had a great sense of the familiar but in an uncanny way, while as the market felt a little more like I was intruding, reminding me how much I have to learn about Korean food. 

I’ll start with the grocery store adventures.  The store was filled with the similar and the uncanny. . .
Individually wrapped sushi. 
The mushroom section would make any mushroom lover envious of such a range and selection.

The look of this reminds me of bacon.  The open bins and large quality is kind of exciting.
Spam? . . . . Didn’t expect that one and in such convenient on the go packs.  

The wing counter.

I’m used to beef jerky, but cheese and jerky and tuna jerky would be worth trying.

I wish my beer in America came with snacks.

Other parts of the store, reminded me of being in quite a different foodie culture. 

Not the usual American lobster tanks, but flat fish and things with suckers and spines is a new one.

Fresh ginseng

This is a rice water drink that is, as Kim aptly described it, the Korean version of “Sweet Tea.”

Dried sardines, shrimp, and other dried fish.

The deli counter is replaced with a Kimchi station.
The outdoor market was a little more raw.  There were so many stalls of mostly women, setting out and prepping food.  There are tons of snacking stations, as well as places to shop.  This picture is only small sampling of the size and scale of the market. 
The market also had some of the less packaged and polished versions of Korean cuisine.  One was the fish options.  The tanks of fish I was getting used to and it is really great to see how fresh the seafood is.  The stalls of salted and dried fishes of all shapes and sizes, with even what almost looked like sting rays in the back. 

There was also several stands that highlight the core ingredients: cayenne powder, garlic, and a spicy red sauce that is version of sriracha. 
I was able to get to both markets on my first day in Gangneung and it was a big help in getting me in the mindset of the food coming up.  While some foods made me nervous, others made me curious, amused, and happy.  If all of these foods were indications of the food adventures ahead, then I was ready for some pretty fantastic foodie quests.         

Coming up on Sunday . . . Main Dishes
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