When it comes to visiting South Korea, Seoul and Jeju are likely be the first places that come to mind.
As the country’s second largest city and a sea port, Busan is known for its beaches, mountains, hot springs, temples, and food, allowing travellers to enjoy the best of two worlds – a bustling metropolis and an unspoilt coastline.
Getting to Busan is easy: Both Singapore Airlines and Jeju Air currently offer direct flights from Singapore to Busan four times a week. The average flight time is 7.5 hours.
Last month, Busan hosted the ASEAN–Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit where South Korea and Singapore formalised an expanded air services agreement. Travellers can look forward to more passenger and cargo flights between the two countries in the coming months.
With a land area of 770 sq km, Busan is only slighter larger than Singapore. The city used to be a sanctuary for refugees during the Korean War of 1950. This slice of history and its proximity to the sea lead to some interesting spins on its food.
With local specialties and lively wet markets abound, here are the top five Busan specialties food-loving Singaporeans should not miss. Many of these specialty food options are located near to scenic spots, meaning you can enjoy good food and great scenery at the same time.
1. Dwaeji-gukbap (pork and rice soup)
This local favourite, often served in stone bowls, is delicious and hearty, with an intense but clean-tasting flavour of pork.
The broth is made by boiling pork bones for hours before soy sauce, rice wine and other seasonings are added. It is then served with thinly sliced pork, rice and a dollop of gochujiang (Korean red pepper paste). Fermented salted shrimp, garlic, kimchi, garlic chives and ssamjang, a thick spicy paste, can be added according to one’s taste.
It was said that this dish dates back to the Korean War when refugees used leftover pork bones from the American army base to cook soup.
You can find many restaurants which sell this dish near the popular tourist destination of Haeundae Beach. There is also the Haeundae Market nearby where you can try the dish.
Claimed to be South Korea’s largest beach, this 1.5km-long beach is right beside hordes of skyscrapers. There are many cafes, restaurants and hotels along the beach.
2. Milmyeon (potato starch noodle in cold broth)
Normally a summer dish, this noodle dish is served with a cold broth, often with flecks of ice, topped with gochujiang sauce, pickled radish, slices of pear and cucumber, sliced pork or beef and a slice of hard-boiled egg.
The noodles is made by mixing flour with starches of sweet potato and potato, hence giving it a springy and chewy bite. Different medicinal herbs, vegetables and pork bones are boiled together to make the broth.
The dish is believed to have been the creation of refugees who fled from the north during the Korean War. Buckwheat flour, a key ingredient for the usual Korean noodle naengmyun, was scarce during the war, and the refugees adapted by using wheat flour, made available to them via the US army; they mixed it with potato starches to make the noodles.
You can find a number of milmyeon restaurants along the Gwangbokdong Food Street, which is about 10 minutes’ walk from the famous Jagalchi Fish Market.
The Jagalchi Fish Market, the biggest of its kind in Korea, is located within a huge building. It is a great place to discover new species of seafood, some of which you may not have seen before. Near the building outside, there are vendors and restaurants selling fried fish lunch sets.
3. Naengchae-jokbal (chilled pig’s trotters and jellyfish with mustard and soy sauce)
Jokbal, or braised pig’s trotters in soy sauce, is another dish with Korean War influence. Busan’s Naengchae-jokbal is further influenced by the city’s proximity to the sea.
Served chilled with a tangy mustard sauce, the deboned pig’s trotter is sliced thinly and accompanied with strips of jellyfish and vegetables such as carrots and cucumber.
Rich in collagen, jokbal is said to promote firm and wrinkle-free skin.
The birthplace of naengchae jokbal is believed to be Bupyeong-dong; there is a jokbal alley in Bupyeong Market where there are several restaurants specialising in the dish.
After a good meal of naengchae jokbal, walk it off by visiting Gukje Market, which is a 10-minute walk away from Bupyeong Market.
Gukje Market is located in Nampodong, one of Busan’s downtown areas, where many sights such as BIFF Square and Jagalchi Fish Market are within walking distance. Refugees from the Korean War established this market as their means to livelihood. With “gukje” meaning international in Korean, you can imagine the amount and variety of products being sold here.
4. Eomuk (Korean-style fish cake)
Eomuk is one of Busan’s famous street food due to the high quality and freshness of seafood that is readily available there. Sold all over the city, there is even an alley lined with eomuk vendors at Bupyeong Kkangtong Market.
Made from ground white fish and other ingredients, eomuk is served in many ways from grilled or pan-fried to skewered and braised in hot broth.
You can find good eomuk at some of the eateries located at the Gamcheon Culture Village.
The Gamcheon Culture Village is formed by houses built in staircase-like fashion on the foothills of a coastal mountain. Set against the blue sky and ocean in the background, it is a haven for photographers and art lovers as the alleys are vibrantly decorated with murals and sculptures created by the residents.
5. Ssiat Hotteok (Korean pancake stuffed with seeds)
Hotteok may be a popular Korean pancake, but ssiat hotteok, where ssiat means seeds in Korean, is a Busan specialty.
This beloved Busan-style hotteok is made with glutinous rice flour dough. It is shallow pan-fried till a crisp golden layer forms on the outside. It is then slit open and typically filled with nuts and seeds of pumpkin, sunflower and sesame, along with a sugar and cinnamon mixture.
It is widely believed that nuts and seeds are good for the skin because they are rich in Vitamin E.
BIFF Square is among one of the best places to get your ssiat hotteok fix with many food stands specialising in this snack.
BIFF (Busan International Film Festival) Square is a movie district in Busan and used to be the home to the famed film festival before it moved to Busan Cinema Centre. Besides the multitude of street food stalls, check out Star Street where the hand imprints of stars on bronze plates are implanted onto the ground.
This advertorial is brought to you by Korea Tourism Organization (Singapore).