Busan: Seomyeon, Eating Silk Worm Larvae and Observing Hipsters

A word on hipsters. Let’s begin with the basic premise that male hipsters the world over have a distinctly effeminate quality. For instance, in San Francisco, they wear ladies skinny jeans, spend inordinate amounts of money on product, be it hair, skin or otherwise, and visit facial hair barbers in order to achieve the perfect arrangement to go with their ironically large glasses and slick, old-timey hairdo.

In Korea, the hipster takes on a decidedly more mature twist. Like an older male scholar kind of a look. Where the American version is in a button up vest and bowtie (and I realize, I am discussing one variety of American hipster), the Korean man wears a button up blazer or cardigan. Our yankee boy sports a handlebar mustache while his Korean counterpart prides himself in the tiny pores and smooth skin that cover his hairless, and possibly plastic surgerized, feminine face, in addition to his well manicured, delicate, hands.

The real achievement of the Korean hipster? Hands down his hair. Good god, HIS HAIR. Each male hairdo in Korea is more spectacular than the last. They often take on a helmet like quality, due to sheer thickness of the stuff, and they are always, I repeat always, lousy with product. Korean men buy (and rely on) product with as much enthusiasm, and sometimes more, than the Korean lady.

There are “punk runK” hipsters to be sure, and their more k-pop influenced brethren. But this style here? It is everywhere. And yes, that is a murse.

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We took the subway to the Seomyeon district/neighborhood for a little nightlife and some food. Seomyeon is a mix of old and new, high-end and seedy, and it’s all neon and just what one would want out of a trip to Asia.

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We were drawn like moths to this brightly lit blow up bottle. When we reached the entrance we were silently greeted by a woman who is better described as a madame (at least she looked and smelled like one) who guided us into an elevator with some sort of strip club name written on it that included the words “gentlemen” and “snake” but I can’t remember in what arrangement. We were fairly certain we were heading into something racy (which would have been awesome) but alas, it was just a bar playing the Dodgers and Yankees on TV (hisssssss) and she was just a woman making sure we didn’t change our mind or get off on the wrong floor during our elevator ride.

The interesting thing about this place was the snack they served to go with their alcohol (as all places do, gratis).

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The dried squid is genius as a bar snack, being all chewy and salty, and of course peanuts are a total American bar snack so we were right at home with those. But that dried seaweed was the goddamn skankiest thing I have ever put in my mouth. The taste was incredibly intense, and, it was SO hard and dry that it remained in my mouth for quite some time as I tried to break it down. It was so skanky in fact, that Randi could not continue to eat it, and she is no wimp, my friends.

Anyhow, our gentleman’s club only offered bottle service, naturally, so we set out to find somewhere else where we could accelerate. This is easier said than done, as I have mentioned before, there is really not a mainstream cocktail scene in Korea. Maybe in high-end hotels or swank bars, but you can’t get one just anywhere. Even finding a simple shot can prove difficult as many places that do carry hard alcohol only offer bottle service. So we wandered the neon alleys for a time.

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Eventually, we saw a sign for “Rock & Roll Bar” which was encouraging. Any place that caters to Americans tends to offer hard alcohol. In we went, up the stairs and all that (so Korea, the upstairs bar thing)

in to a bar full of expats, drinking to a soundtrack of…wait for it…rock and roll. which was not a bad thing. Even better, they did have shots, as predicted, and yet again there was the befuddling option of Jim Beam white or Jim Beam black (the hell???) So we had some shots and the boys practiced their Japanese girl giggles

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Then proceeded to get their asses handed to them at pool by these two guys

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With that, we headed out to find food. Seomyeon, not uncommonly, is full of restaurants with outdoor fish tanks and the occasional outdoor food prep

We kept going until we saw a place packed with locals and thought that would be as good a choice as any. Let me tell you, the needle on the record stopped when our group of whitey uptightey’s walked in. Like it went totalllllly silent. We sat, and slowly the murmur in the crowd built back up, as everyone eyeballed us and generically wondered what on earth we were doing in there. One of them just could not take it anymore, so he sent us a bottle of makgeolli, then came to administer said makgeolli and pantomime and laugh with us and find out where we are from (San Francisco, always a big hit with Koreans). He was adorable.

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This was a strictly hangul place, no English-speaking employees (well, the one lady running the front did not speak English), no English-speaking patrons, no pictures on the menu. We pointed at someone else’s hot-pot and nodded, and thus, our order was placed.

She returned rather quickly though, with a bowl of silk worm larvae, and a dismissive wave of her hand as though the whole idea was silly and a waste of time.

Bugs with chopsticks

It would seem that a table of four men had sent it to us, to test our mettle I suppose. They sat watching us and whispering, and when we all ate it with not so much as a bat of the eyelash, they all lost their shit, thrilled that the foreigners ate the bugs. They were absolutely delighted by this turn of events.

Bugs close up

The silk worm larvae wasn’t bad. Firm on the outside, creamy on the inside. They tasted like dirt with a little salt. We got laughter and thumbs ups from our observers, and at that, we knew we passed their test.

Our hot-pot was preceded by one of my favorite…banchans? it’s weird to call it a banchan because it is a full on dish. Anyway, the Korean omelette, doused with a healthy zig-zag of sweet kethchup.

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Our kimchi hot pot was perfect as always. If there is a more soulful dish than that, I don’t know what it is.

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Fat and happy, we boarded the Friday night subway, teeming with Young Koreans ready to party, and headed home.

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