Busan: Larger than Life
Busan may be the second largest city after Seoul, but it still thinks big. Really big. Besides being the fifth largest port in the world, Busan also boasts the world’s largest department store at Shinsegae Centum City. Aimed for completion in 2013, Busan’s 510 meter Lotte Super Tower will become the world’s third tallest skyscraper. And as recently as this August, the city even put in a claim for a Guinness world record: the 7,937 parasols that paint the popular sands of Haeundae beach each summer are officially the largest collection of beach umbrellas on any one beach in the world.
There’s a reason why Haeundae beach contains the largest number of parasols in the world. It’s the first place most people think of when the subject of swimming, sea, and sand comes up in Korea. During peak season, it’s not uncommon for the number of visitors to approach the millions. Everyone crowds together under large parasols to snack on squid and beer or kimbab and cola between quick dips in the sea. Families also like to rent large yellow inner tubes and float about next to each other in the shallows while enjoying the sun and the surf. Busan Aquarium also lies in the center of Haeundae beach, readily awaiting new onlookers to touch the starfish and the shells in the popular tidal pool exhibit.
写真提供= Jelly Fish Entertainment
Although Haeundae is the most famous, nearby Gwangali beach also has much to offer both day and night. Despite the lack of parasols and inner tubes, Gwangali attracts its own fair share of swimmers. Set back from the sea by the Gwangan Bridge (a diamond-white double-decker suspension bridge stretching across a bay), Gwangali is the quiet, sophisticated neighbor of Haeundae. Whereas Haeundae is directly connected to several hotels, Gwangali is mostly set apart from buildings by a main road, affording visitors a mellower beach visit. As night falls, Gwangali offers evening showings of movies or video art installments to one side of the beach while on the other side, behind the family restaurants and lounge bars across the road, several raw fish restaurants prepare for the beginning of the dinner rush.
Fish soup for the soul
As a port city, Busan’s Jagalchi Fish Market makes available every ingredient the sea contains. Patrons can buy live fish and seafood on the first floor and have it deboned directly. They can then take their purchase to the second floor to enjoy either as a raw fish platter or a hearty seafood soup of the freshest quality. Even those who are squeamish about eating ocean cuisine might still enjoy taking a walk through the fishermen’s stalls on the first floor to see the day’s haul. Some fishermen are quite theatrical and will even let you hold (or kiss!) their catches.
Two other local delicacies are dwaeji gukbap (“pork rice soup”) and milmyeon (“wheat noodles”). Dwaeji gukbap is so popular in Busan that entire street is dedicated to it near Seomyun subway station. This white soup broth is presented boiling in a small, heavy black pot in which slices of cooked pork, rice, and other additions are mixed. Salty mini-shrimp, red pepper, chives and salt are also popular garnishes for this soup. The correct combination of these ingredients varies according to person, but the result is always a savory soup that satisfies body and soul.
Meanwhile, there are many restaurants throughout the city that serve milmyeon, but the most famous one is “Gaegeum Milmyeon” behind the strip of shops near Gaegeum Station. This restaurant is so famous that patrons will stand in line for a bowl. The menu offers only two choices: plain or spicy noodles. The noodles are made from wheat and served cold in a large silver bowl with ice cubes, cucumber slices, and a boiled egg. Spicy, thinly sliced radishes are given for free as a tasty side dish. Although simple, this dish is one of the best Korea offers to beat summer heat. The establishment runs so smoothly that even though customers’ comings and goings are as consistent as the line out the door, and orders are served within just two or three minutes of being made. Now that’s fast food!
Photo credit: Kate Avonlea, Esther Oh