Travel Musings: Yeosu (여수) 2018

When it comes to Korea's coastal cities, arguably the cities around the southwestern coasts have largely taken a secondary role to other parts of Korea, that is, until Yeosu made its global debut with the 2012 Yeosu Expo. Even for Koreans pre-Yeosu Expo, it wasn't as highly sought after as a holiday destination like it is today, mostly remembered by the locals as the first and important naval base for revered national hero Admiral Yi Sun Shin of the Imjin Wars.

In the years following the Expo, recognition and admiration of the largely untouched natural beauty of Yeosu as well as its tasty fare (Namdo cuisine is well known in Korea after all), began to really put the city on the map. The timing of the Expo couldn't have been any better as a, back then, new band called Busker Busker was making a name for itself with its youthful yet folksy music with their popularity really taking an upturn with the now infamous song called "Yeosu Night Sea". The yearning folk-ballad, complete with gorgeous shots of actress Han Ga In in beanches of Yeosu, struck an emotional chord with generations and the song has now become synonymous with the coastal city.

Having lived in Korea since Yeosu's rapid rise in recognition and popularity, it had long been on my list of places I wanted to visit in Korea which finally came to fruit with a trip earlier this year. Despite having been to numerous coastal towns in Korea now, Yeosu proved to have its own distinct color It also, to date, has been one of the more "romantic" cities in Korea I've been to and by that I don't mean so much the lovey-dovey sense but there's something in the atmosphere, the colors, the feel that evokes a sort of Van Gogh-ey kind of artist's soul in one. Here's a look at my all too brief time in Yeosu.

The drive from Seoul took about 4 hours with one or two pit stops along the way. At rest stops along the way I've seen these sort of grilled cheese blocks increasingly being sold around the country in recent years. Akin to haloumi cheese, they maintain their structure and shape during their grilling and are far less savory than most other cheeses. The cheese is also made locally and it's interesting to think that even a decade or so ago, cheese beyond what was found on hamburgers and pizzas were still largely unfamiliar and unpopular with the masses here. But now they're not only making cheese locally but offering it at rest stops in Korea!

A bit of squeak and a bit of savoriness. As a cheese lover I would've loved the more depth but hey, it's a nice little snack albeit a pricier one compared to the other rest area fares offered around.

Departing Seoul in the morning, we arrived in Yeosu just in time for lunch and made our first official stop at Gaedojib for some Seodaehwoe. The seodae fish is a local fish that can only be captured in the wild (ie cannot be raised/farmed) and apparently only comes from the Yeosu region. I've seen it translate as everything from the red tongue sole fish to flat fish and I'm not sure what to tell you except it looks basically something like this:

The fish can be prepared in a number of ways but a popular method here is to have it raw style in a hwoedeopbap kind of way where the slices of raw fish is mixed with rice, vegetables, sesame oil and a spicy sweet seasoning for a flavor and texture pop of a dish.

While a number of restaurants offers this dish in Yeosu, I was enticed by Gaedojib as the reviews were saying that it was an old restaurant and one that had been running in the same family for two generations now. And you know I'm a fan of timeless restaurants :)

Located just by the famous Gyodong Market of Yeosu, this restaurant has all the visible signs of a long-running restaurant with the exception of its newer sign.

The seodae fish is the only thing on the menu and its prepared in one of two ways- braised or mixed into the spicy sweet mixture. Both dish goes for 10K a serving, with extra bowls of rice 1K. Local makgeolli is 3K a bottle while soju and beer go for 4 a bottle. As the various signage shows, they've also been featured on a number of TV programs.

The place is run by this funny halmuni who has a lot of pride in her food and restaurant. As she explained to us. the restaurant was first opened by her mother-in-law who hailed from Gaedo (hence the name). After years of working in the family business, she picked up all the secrets and makes virtually everything herself.

Her home cooking is quite evident from the get-go with cold home brewed barley tea and an array of homemade sides offered. The side dishes included two varieties of the famous gat kimchi of the region with one made the commonly-known spicy way and the other a refreshing "water" kimchi variety. The stir-fried anchovies was surprisingly not fishy and addictive for its savory-sweet flavors while the home pressed sesame oil used in the soybean sprouts elevated it from your everyday sprouts.

As everything is made-to-order and the ajumma serves, cooks, and handles everything in the restaurant operations I was thinking it must take some time on busier days but luckily for me there was only one other team on my visit. The seodaehwoe muchim is brought out on a big plate like below with the nuggets of fish and crunchy vegetables dressed up in red and given a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Separately, big bowls of rice in metal bowls are served with a splash of that home pressed sesame oil. Already the combination of the nutty scent of the sesame oil and the tart and spicy seasoning is enough to get your mouth watering. To your bowl of rice you mix in fish and make your own seafood bibimbap of sorts.

While one may think the dish is no different than your standard hwoedeopbap (mixed rice with raw fish), there are a number of ways this version is different. First, the seodae fish itself is a lot plumper and fuller; often times in hwoedeopbap the fish is sliced much thinner and in a smaller amount sometimes making one think they're having just rice and vegetables mixed in sauce. Here, you get good sizes of the fish in almost every bite.

What's also unique is the variety of flavors that are far, far more complex than your standard hwoedeopbap. I already mentioned a few times about the home pressed sesame oil which, once it hits the warm rice just gives the whole mixture a lovely velvet-like grounding. But the sauce itself is also unique as their primary ingredients- including the gochujang and the makgeolli vinegar- are made by the halmuni herself. The gochujang is not as sweet nor spicy as it looks but it has a deep earthy peppery tone to it while the makgeolli vinegar cuts through the other flavors but not overwhelmingly. The makgeolli vinegar has an almost fruity tone to it which made me ask her if she uses any fruit to make her jangs (condiments) but she told me there was none. Just good old fashioned makgeolli vinegar that produces its own hint of natural sweetness.

The owner halmuni was a humorous woman throughout the meal. As I was taking picture after picture of the food she gave me a playful slap on my back and told me to stop taking pictures and get eating (oh, the abuse I endure for this blog :P). Later, as she shared with her about all the lengths she went to make her food she proceeded to casually just sit at our table to do so. She also told me my bowl didn't have enough fish and proceeded to take the platter of the remaining fish mixture and scoop it onto my bowl as she explained the ratio was better now. This sort of act of kinship is much more common in the rural parts of Korea and it catches city slickers like me off guard too but what a funny halmuni she was.

After our meal, she proceeded to give us a detailed tour of her kitchen, primarily the various ingredients she handmade such as her makgeolli vinegar.

She organizes them by date so she knows exactly how fermented the vinegar is while the straws at the top of the reused water cooler bottles helps it to "breathe". This know-how and recipe was from her MIL she explained.

This was her homemade gochujang. It's always surprising to me how sweet the mass-produced gochujang are these days but the depth of her homemade gochujang is something else.

Gaedojip (개도집)
5, Namsanbuk 6-gil, Yeosu-si, Jeollanam-do, Republic of Korea
전라남도 여수시 남산북6길 5

We took a simple walk around the Gyodong Market, right next to restaurant, but most of the stores were closed because it was still early in the day. Still, stalls selling fruit, vegetables, seafood and such were spotted around and prices were quite low.

Gyodong Market (교동시장)
15-10, Gyodongsijang 1-gil, Yeosu-si, Jeollanam-do, Republic of Korea
전라남도 여수시 교동시장1길 15-10

After checking into our Airbnb from the long drive from Seoul, we decided to take it easy and do a simple beach day. Mosageum Beach was said to be rather quiet and private although a bit further out so we decided to make the drive up north to it (around 20 mins?). Once you made your way out of the main Yeosu city section, there was this interesting cave tunnel for vehicles one had to pass through. The tunnel is narrow to the point that it's only big enough for one lane and as such there are traffic lights that gives a few minutes time to either directions to completely pass through the tunnel.

If that sounds claustrophobic, do note there are quite a few shoulders in between one can pull over in case of an emergency and the entire time it takes to pass through is only around 2 minutes?

The Mosageum beach itself is located in a bay and the narrow coastal road leading up to it passes through a small town which I imagine gets quite crowded in the peak summer season.

Because it was still early June, the beach itself was rather empty with plenty of space between groups for laying out on the beach side. The darker sand is fine although there are quite a bit of shells around.

Water is quite clear and clean and temperatures were cold but certainly not on an icy level. There were plenty of people wading in the water (although I didn't see anyone doing any full swims or dives). Waves were gentle enough there were a few small children out and about with their parents in the waters. Great place for a beach day!

Mosageum Beach (모사금해수욕장)
69, Ocheon 3-gil, Yeosu-si, Jeollanam-do, Republic of Korea <-- This is the address of a random pension right next to the beach since the beach address isn't so readily found
전라남도 여수시 오천3길 69

After freshening up back at the Airbnb, we decided to head out to the main central area which stretches from the Lee Soon Shin Plaza, along the coast, to Geobukseondaegyo or Geobukseon Bridge. This coastal block is a lively one, sandwiched between the harbor and the numerous shops, restaurants, and live musicians performing. Made particularly famous by Busker Busker through, what is now unofficially the theme song of Yeosu, "Yeosu Night Sea", its particularly become a sort of pilgrimage site for young couples and aspiring musicians where the youthful optimism and young love is said to permeate the air.

Interestingly, one of the more famous attractions in this spot is "Nangman Pocha (낭만포차)" or "romantic pojangmacha", which is the name given to the rows of street tents offering quick seafood options paired with a range of cheap alcohol. Now the general romantic image people have which draws so many to these tents is the idea that young friends and lovers can enjoy soju and cheap seafood right next to the beach under the glow of the tent lights and the warm ocean breeze. The reality is that these tents are generally teeming with people, (expect lines at many of the stalls on weekends) making it seem more a live market affair than a romantic setting while the seafood is dished out in a factory-like setting. Note also that prices aren't exactly cheap either.

The most popular option here is the samhab- the area's take on the normally pungent fermented skate, samgyeopsal, and kimchi combo. Here the fermented skate fish, very much an acquired taste, is absent and instead replaced with a medley of seafood including nakji, abalone, pen clams, and joined by vegetables, kimchi, and samgyeobsal. In variety alone this seems like a great deal except the seafood are mostly frozen (honestly, I'm not even sure if the seafood is from Yeosu), the kimchi obviously a mass produced one from some factory (probably in China), and put together and dished out with all the efforts and emotional resonance of a teenage worker at McDonald's (except you are definitely not paying McD prices).

But while the food is just average, the atmosphere is something else. Where you're situated just next to the ocean in these pojangmachas and enjoying hearty food and cheap soju.

People often think the cafes are the best spots to people watch in Korea but I would definitely say a pojangmacha is the best people-watching spot in Korea. From awkward young couples on their first few dates to friends joking and laughing about everything and nothing... everything has just a more romanticized feel here- particularly when you yourself are imbibing from the same magic green bottle.

Anyway- back to the food- it's ok and makes a decent pojangmacha-level anjoo though the prices here are on par with Seoul.

Fried rice is also ok although it gives you enough excuse to order that one last bottle of soju to split with your friends as a closer.

On one hand, it is a pojangmacha, and once the dish cooks together there's certainly nothing offensive about it- not that there's anything particularly praiseworthy about it either. It has a very mildly spicy kick to it and it does pair well with soju. But honestly, the whole place, including its food and prices, are all anchored in the environment. Good in small doses and perhaps an experience worth trying once but I'm certain there must be a better, less-touristy pojangmacha on the beach option in Yeosu that I'll need to discover before my next visit.

The pojangmachas aside, the little public park area they're in is quite a lively, if not warm bubbly feeling inducing atmosphere. The glow in the waters of the reflected lights, the performers singing their songs, and the youngsters all around does naturally make one get the happy feels.

Walking to the other hand of the harbor, although we had just had the samhab dinner, we were intrigued by this seafood ramen that was being mentioned frequently on Instagram and such. Although we were all stuffed, the restaurant was right there and we decided to hop in line (yes, there was a line at like 8 or 9 PM) and go for it because A. YOLO and B. is there ever NO room for ramen?

The restaurant actually specializes in octopus dishes including the samhab from earlier. We noticed the samhab here was much better in quality than the ones in the nakman pocha with a more ample variety of ingredients including the local special dolgat kimchi. They also sell the ocotpus ramen, seafood ramen, steamed octopus, etc.

I mentioned how the Busker Busker band really catapulted Yeosu's name and recognition with their hit song "Yeosu Night Sea" and this restaurant, in a playful nod, has a huge sign saying the day Jang Beom June (the lead singer of the band) comes into the restaurant, everyone gets their meal for free haha.

Had I known about the quality difference in the samhab, I would have just tried it here. Instead, we ordered the octopus ramen and a bottle of the local makgeolli from nearby Gaedo Island.

And voila, the octopus ramen.

With a variety of shells, crab, shrimp, and the big ol' octopus on top acting as the cherry of the sundae for the whole thing, visually this was a wowzer and made sense why so many chose to upload it.

However, although the seafood and ramen were good, it would be a stretch to say that this was a "seafood ramen". Clearly to a bowl of cooked instant ramen (one can taste it's Jin ramen) they had added cooked seafood atop giving you essentially cooked seafood atop a regular bowl of ramen. Visually I thought this would be an upgraded ramen with a deeper, seafoody broth but that was definitely not the case. The Gaedo makgeolli was also a bit too sweet for my liking.

Dolmooneo Sanghwoe (돌문어상회)
434 Jonghwa-dong, Yeosu, Jeollanam-do
434 종화동, 여수, 절라남도
+82 61-665-4595

Geobuksan Bridge next door at night and the glow of the lights of the city all around. Verrrry nice.

On the way back to the hotel, picked up the local makgeolli as I usually do when I travel within Korea. This was the Yeosu standard dongdongjoo and makgeolli. Both were far less sweet than the Gaedo makgeolli and nice and crisp.

On the second day we hit up a placed called Hongga for lunch. An old school joint, they're known for their galchi jorim as well as their namdo-style baekban which is a reflector of the tastes and flavors of the Jeollado region.

When we first entered the restaurant, the owner lady, a gruff and intimidating woman, immediately barked at us saying that she didn't accept groups smaller than 4 people. Perplexed, and slightly astounded, we were about to walk out when she then, also in a barking tone, said, "But what am I to do since you came all the way out here?" and motioned to us to sit down.

There's a lot of stereotypes about the people of the southern regions in Korea that they are hot-tempered, fiery and their "gi" (aka "chi" or energy) are quite strong and she certainly fit the description. A few minutes after ordering the galchi jorim orders, she called out to me,
"Hey chonggak !" (a term for an unmarried young man)
I ran over, heart pounding, fearing she had decided to not serve us after all.
"Come carry this tray. The rice pot is over there so if you want more help yourself. But don't take more than what you can eat!" She groused.
And so I became the server for our own meal.

But what a spread it was.

Root vegetables, seafood dishes, and that marvelous galchi jorim (braised hairtail fish).

There's a perception that the flavors of the southern regions' cuisine are just one dimensionally spicy, salty, and fiery with the spices coming together with all the grace of a wrecking ball. Despite how strongly seasoned many of the dishes looked, they were actually quite tame and well balanced. And with everything homemade and using fresh ingredients, there was absolutely no room for criticism. The jeotgal made from baby squid was a bit intense though, even for me, with their huge eyes and all still intact.

The star of the meal is the galchi jorim which, as the lady clearly let us know in the beginning, normally was only served from the 4 person quantity but she made a special 2 person serving for us. Nice, plump fish and that seasoning was not as spicy as it looked with the ample onion adding a natural hint of sweetness. A fantastic version of this popular dish and one of the best I've had.

Back to the interesting owner ajumma. Not too long after we had sat down, a group of ajummas who were traveling through Yeosu also came in to dine. By the time we were both eating our two groups were the only ones in the restaurant (it was already past the regular lunch time). The group of ajummas had been chit chatting with the gruff ajumma who, a few minutes later, busted out some soju and proceeded to sit down with them as they shared gossip and soju. Mind you that A. the group of ajummas and the owner ajumma never met before and B. this was still 1 or 2 PM. They cackled and gossiped like old friends over drinks and food and then proceeded to pepper us questions about if we were single, if we'd like to go on a date with a friend's daughter, how it was a pity that such bachelors were in such a beautiful city with no lady friends.

By the time we were leaving, the scary owner ajumma (who still remained quite petrifying) was fussing over us saying we should have eaten more bowls of rice and to come back again soon. Such is the paradoxical and often confusing manner that Korean ajummas express their love and affection.

But boy was the food good.

Hongga (홍가)
248-9 Bongsan-dong, Yeosu, Jeollanam-do
+82 61-642-9991

Fueled and bemused by the rather interesting dining experience, we headed out to Dolsando or Dolsan Island which connects to the mainland via the two bridges seen the previous night on the Yeosu coast. The Dolsan Island is known for its beauty as well as its gat, a special mustard green which is made into the famous gat kimchi. In fact, the gat is so well known that it's called Dolsan Gat, referring to this island where the greens grow exceptionally well. Thus you'll see many vendors selling gat kimchi around the island (and of course in Yeosu).

But we weren't on the hunt for gat but some caffeine and we settled on B. Stony Cafe as our choice. The huge, airy cafe also has a huge outdoor terrace that faces the ocean for some magnificent views.

Brews were strong and the cafe has a very casual yet hip atmosphere. Perfect way to just relax and enjoy the sea breeze. 

B Stony Cafe (비스토니카페)
1411 Dolsan-ro, Yeosu, South Jeolla Province
전남 여수시 돌산읍 돌산로 1411
Weekdays 11:00~20:00
Weekends 10:00~20:00

Dolsando's most famous attraction is Hyangiram (I've also seen it spelled Hyangilam) which is considered one of the four Buddhist hermitage temples in Korea and is renown for its beauty as it's perched atop Guemosan or Mt. Geumo. This temple is well known as being founded by Korea's revered Wonhyodaesa and its history stretches back to 644 during Korea's Baekje Dynasty.

Despite how peaceful the temple itself is, the area surrounding... is not... as the temple's popularity means the walk up to the entry point from the parking lot is filled with stalls and shops with ladies hawking out the sales of their various jeotgal and kimchi.

It is on a hill so the climb is a bit steep so keep that in mind if you're traveling with children or the elderly. But the walk up to the entry point is only 5-10 minutes or so from the main parking lot with entry costing 2K for adults, 1.5K for teens, and 1K for children between 7-12 years old.

Short description of the temple. 

After the walk up to the entry point, you'll have to do some more stair climbing and uphill walking to reach the temple (around 10 minutes) but the walk is quite beautiful.

Some pantomime advice.

Gorgeous views of the ocean along the way.

What's quite special about Hyangiram is that the temple grounds and the surrounding mountain blends together. You'll come across crevices and cave-like entrances as you walk around the temple grounds as perhaps a subtle reminder that the temple is in the mountain and not the other way around.

While many temples are often found in the forests and mountains of Korea, the ones near the coast and  perched atop a forest hill is not as common making for some beautiful views.

Walking up from the temple grounds you'll come across more stairs and cave-like spaces.

At the very top, the panoramic ocean view is quite something. There's also a ledge that juts out where the famed Wonhyodaesa monk is said to have to sit and mediated on.

I don't know what I'm doing.

Butttt the views from all around are quite lovely.

Hyangiram (향일암)
전라남도 여수시 돌산읍 향일암로 60
061-644-4742 |

Just north of Hyangiram, Bangjukpo Beach is popular in summer for its gentle waves as its inlet layout provides a protective barrier of sorts from the waves.

The sand here is golden and a bit rocky but it's a great place to just relax and open up a book.

Cold waters. 

Bangjukpo Beach
804-6, Hyangiram-ro, Dolsan-eup, Yeosu-si, Jeollanam-do
전라남도 여수시 돌산읍 향일암로 804-6

On the way back from Dolsan-do, took a stop to enjoy the magnificent views from Dolsan Park. This scenic park is perched atop a hill, just across from Dolsan Bridge and offering probably the best views of Yeosu.

The panoramic views are quite breathtaking, particularly at sunset, which is also when they're quite popular. Can get quite blustery so prepare accordingly.

Andddd in video, cuz, why not?

This is also where the cable cars come up to so the observatory building on the park can get crowded but inside it has your standard fast food restaurants, cafe, bathroom, etc and another observatory.

Dolsan Park (돌산공원)
Udu-ri, Dolsan-eup, Yeosu, Jeollanam-do, South Korea
전남 여수시 돌산읍 우두리 산1
+82 61-659-4628

For the final dinner, went with one of Yeosu's most famed dishes, the gejang. Gejang, for those who know, can be pretty high up there on the adventurous food scale as it comprises of rock crabs that are preserved in either a special soy sauce-based mixture or in a spicy seasoning and eaten uncooked. It isn't, however, a dish that's haphazardly thrown together before serving but requires an exact science of the right seasonings, temperature, preparation, and maintenance as- with any raw dish- one misstep can mean the whole thing is spoiled.

The abundance of these rock crabs in this region made this a popular and easy protein for locals and back even a decade ago these gejang baekban feasts were exceptionally cheap. They're still a great value today in these parts but the prices have significantly gone up as Yeosu has increasingly become a popular tourist destination, especially post-Yeosu Expo.

Now there's a whole section in Yeosu where gejang restaurants are clustered around. Literally each and every one of them have appeared on some form of mass media or another which they make clear with huge banners and signs outside the restaurant. The prices and format of these gejang baekban restaurants are all the same and, although I obviously haven't tried all of them to compare, I'd be willing to venture that due to the cutthroat competition that the most popular ones are all pretty similar in taste.

We settled on one of those, called Hwangso Sikdang, frequently listed in searches. It just so happened that this one had appeared on the popular Korean tv show, "Running Man" but it seemed popular anyways as it was located in a huge 3 or 4 story building.

The prices for the gejang baekban is 12K a person (10K for kids) and this price is pretty much uniform in all the nearby restaurants. What this gets you are two different kinds of gejang, all the sides, soup, and a refill on the gejangs. Rice is 1K extra a bowl and then they also sell their gejangs, gat kimchi, and other jeot gal by the kilo/liter for various prices.

Signs stating they only use Korean rock crabs and that they never re-hash side dishes.

We happened to go on a Sunday night so there were far less people than on a weekend night but it was still quite busy. As a busy restaurant, they've got their serving down with food served in a systematic way to be quick and efficient.

And boom. Full spread. Obviously food amount being dished out according to the number of the party.

The side dishes make a good point of showing off some of the regional specialties like pickled gat, jeotgal, etc.

The soup is a nice haemultang kind of fish and radish variety that's deep with a nice kick.

This is ganjang gejang which is the soy sauce based gejang. Sometimes these guys are incorrectly thought to be crabs dunked in soy sauce but soy sauce is the main base from which a variety of spices, fruits, vegetables, etc are added. All the top restaurants have their own recipe and the best ganjang gejang restaurant produces gejang that's not too salty and with a natural mellow sweetness the crab meat produces. These checked all the boxes for me with a multidimensional sauce that works with the lovely crab meat. 

The best way to eat these guys is the messy way: pick it up with your hands, bite, and squeeze (or squeeze and bite). While they don't win in the beauty department, the flavors and textures are an entirely different dimension from the cooked kind. The preservation process infuses the meat with flavor while they still retain their density giving it this unique consistency that's addictive. 

The yangnyeom gejang was also fantastic. A good spicy flavor with some natural sweetness. Akin to having some yangnyeomg chicken, you'll find yourself licking your fingers to get all that good flavor. 

When the bowls of rice were brought out, we kind of stared for a second, bug-eyed, because those bowls of rice were huge! We were wondering why the serving was so huge but once we started working on the crabs that rice was getting demolished. It's not a joke when Koreans say gejang is a "rice thief" because the way they balance each other out is just sublime. 

Among the sides, the gat kimchi was interesting because it was more of a pickled, mul kimchi kind than the thick, red seasoning smothered variety. A much crisp and refreshing consistency, I thought it was a nice break.

Now, I've read conflicting reports about the refill policy here which, to summarize, seems to boil down to these facts:
- long ago refills were unlimited
- after the crazy boom in popularity of Yeosu and these gejang restaurants things got so busy and popular that they started limiting refills to once per party
- but the unofficial rule seems to be that if the restaurant isn't too busy, you're asking nicely, and you're not being gluttonous, they'll refill it again

I don't know if that's the case because after one refill we were quite full (man, these lil guys just makes you down that rice). But a cheerful ajoshi at our next table whispered that that was the case. So I can't guarantee anything but if, after your first refill, you've still got room for more gejang and you ask nicely, you could try asking with a smile. :)

The gejang meal proved a wonderful final Yeosu dinner with everyone satisfied. My friend who doesn't even normally like ganjang gejang in particular stated that that was the best he's had so that's that.

The store to purchase the gejang, jeotgal, and kimchi is located separately from the restaurant itself just next to the building's parking lot on the ground floor. They have everything wrapped and packaged to be taken right away.

From inside the parking lot I caught a glimpse of the workers amid mound of crabs making the restaurant's signature gejang. It's rather amazing how the crabs have such a strong fishy smell but all of that goes away through the preservation process. Food science I tell ya.

Hwangso Sikdang (황소식당)
268-12, Bongsan-dong, Yeosu, Jeollanam-do
전남 여수시 봉산남3길 5
9AM-8PM everyday, no holidays

The Jungang-dong area, just northwest of the Yi Sun Shin plaza, is more or less the "Myeongdong" of Yeosu with a small cluster of fashion shops and restaurants which we took a stroll around after dinner. On a Sunday night it was quite empty which, to me, was a welcome break from the breakneck pace of Seoul life.

The shops are mostly your standard retail chains but while there we took the time to pick up some snacks that were frequently mentioned on blogs. One were mandu (dumplings) from Tong Mandu Jib (pictured below) and the other snack was this rather unique creation called a baguette burger from a shop called Choi Soo Young Baguette Burger (also in this jungangdong area) butttttttttttttt more on that a little later.

After dropping off the snacks back at the Airbnb, we took the time to do some more walking and exploring. First we headed up to the grounds of the Yeosu Expo which remain today. Most of the enormous structures representing the different countries around the world are gone but some of the other structures remain. One of the biggest attraction on the grounds being the "O Show" which is a huge aquatic + lights + music show that is aimed to appeal to families. The signature piece of this show is, fitting to the name, a massive "O" that jettisons water, fire with projections beamed onto it with music. I don't remember the admission price but I remember thinking it was fairly expensive considering it's not like a Cirque de Soleil show with acrobats and people. From outside the O Show grounds you can actually see most of the giant "O" which continues to spray and fire away with music booming.

I must give credit to the show's music director as the kid song-ey theme song is an absolute ear worm. To date, I have only been to the Yeosu Expo grounds once in my life and yet still today I can sing you this hair-pulling song sung by the show's octopus mascot, "Hey! Oh! Welcome to the show! Hey! Oh! Welcome to the O Show!" 

The expo grounds is quite large and while there isn't particularly anything that constitutes as a must-see, there are certainly some interesting things scattered about like this somewhat creepy giant pinocchio-like statue:

Or this stretched out family who all look identical to each other:

This giant spaceship-like building.

It's a nice stroll around the grounds though. 

Yeosu Expo (여수엑스포)
1577-2012 address of Sujeong-dong, Yeosu, Jeollanam-do
전라남도 여수시 수정동 1577-2012

Walking back down to the Yi Sun Shin Plaza (not a short walk!) capped the evening walk with some convenience beers along the coast and taking in the surrounding for one last evening. Grabbing a couple beers from a convenience store and plopping yourself just by the ocean with the sea breeze coming and going with each sip you start to develop a bit of a buzz and suddenly everything seems to slow down a bit and suddenly, stepping back from one's worries and concerns, you remember all is good.

All is good, Yeosu.

Ended the final night with some snacks and local makgeolli (again) back at the crib. The snacks, as previously mentioned, were the mandu and baguette "burger" we picked up after dinner.

The mandu at Tong Mandu Jib draws visitors and locals with the restaurant and mandu having been featured on Korean tv shows before. Picked up an order of fried and steamed mandu (I believe 5.5K each?)

The mandu wrapper has a a bit of a thicker consistency that should placate those on either fence of the "thin" vs "thick" wrapper fans. The filling consists of glass noodles, minced vegetables and meat and are inoffensive. Just some decent homemade mandu that will be a favorite for those of all ages. I don't think I can make an evaluation objectively as the restaurant stresses they cook the mandus to order but I had them to-go and, though I reheated them, had been a few hours. I'll have to try them next time from the restaurant itself.

The baguette "burger" I was prepared to dislike. The 3,800 KRW is essentially half a baguette with the inside spooned out and stuffed with a spicy sweet mixture. Korean snacks of all kinds are notorious for being on the sweeter side and this is no exception but the combination of the crunchy cabbage, bits of meat (don't even ask what the meat is), chewy bread, and the spicy mixture to bring it altogether proved an unexpected combination that I couldn't help like. It's surprisingly multi-dimensional and, by no means, any high-brow fare, it's essentially that really good buzzed street food you can get at 2AM on the streets. Don't knock it till you've tried it :). 

Tong Mandu Jib (통만두집)
12, Tongjeyeong 4-gil, Yeosu-si, Jeollanam-do, Republic of Korea
전남 여수시 통제영4길 12
11AM-9PM everyday

Choi Soo Young Baguette Burger (좌수영바게트버거)
3, Jinnamsangga-gil, Yeosu-si, Jeollanam-do, Republic of Korea
전남 여수시 진남상가길 3
10AM-8PM everyday though they close early if they run out ingredients for the day

Local makgeolli variety for the night. The middle one is a black garlic variety which... was interesting.

The first (above picture) rice makgeolli actually comes with rice kernels in it 

Capped the last official day, last meal in Yeosu with a stop to this very, very famous restaurant. Rotary Sikdang has been featured on numerous TV shows as being a reflection of the best of Yeosu's flavors at an incredible value. This restaurant is so famous that on most normal weekends there are lines out the door. We were lucky in that A. it was a Monday and B. we arrived a little before normal lunch hours so we were seated right away but even then it was nearly full and almost immediately after us the lines started to form.

Though they are actually a barbecue restaurant, their incredible baekban at 7K is what make sthe enormous draw (though their barbecue prices are quite incredible compared to Seoul prices). 

It's a humble, old restaurant with perhaps 8 table in all. So it fills quickly

But behold what comes at just 7K per person:

It's so beautiful that it deserves another shot.

All dishes, including sides, are made in-house and are a fantastic reflection of Yeosu's flavors.

The crab and dwenjang jjigae, pictured in the center below, is also a wonderful seafood variation of this classic Korean stew. The humble crab, in my opinion, is vastly underrated as an ingredient in dishes like stews and the way it creates such a fantastical depth to the humble dwenjang jjigae is on full display here.

The spicy pork uses slabs of pork belly which they give you a scissor to cut on your own. Everything on this enormous platter is meant to pair with your rice, and pair they do.

You'll also note that in this humble 7K price includes both varieties of gejang which all the more shows you how incredible the value of this spot is. All in all everything about the food here- from the value to the flavors- was just a loving goodbye note from Yeosu on our departure and I couldn't have ended our final meal in this city any more memorably.

The baekban, as far as I know, is only available for lunch so don't go after this place at dinner when it becomes a barbecue restaurant unless you want some grilled meat!

Rotary Sikdang (로타리 식당)
2-1, Seogyo 3-gil, Yeosu-si, Jeollanam-do, Republic of Korea
전남 여수시 서교3길 2-1
8AM-8PM everyday

On the way back up to Seoul we stopped for some caffeine fueling at this beautiful and snug cafe called Aeteut. Tucked behind the suburban part of Yeosu, this is definitely not an easily accessible area for those without a car.

However, if you do have that freedom check out how gorgeous this cafe is

Let's all agree that a good earthy wooden tone never goes out of style not only for how it exudes an upscale atmosphere but manages to do so while remaining cozy.

Menu is below (a bit hard to read) but Seoul prices. But really, with the spacious yet homely atmosphere, I had no qualms about spending 4K for a cup of coffee in this lovely spot when I could dish out the same for a cafe in Seoul with probably 1/3 the size.

Brews were also strong. Delicious and, maybe it was the wooden hues of the cafe, but gave a depth like dark chocolate where it was meant to be savored slowly.

Aeteut (애틋)
66-13, Jungnim 4-gil, Sora-myeon, Yeosu-si, Jeollanam-do, Republic of Korea
전남 여수시 소라면 죽림4길 66-13
11AM-8PM everyday

So capped the Yeosu trip which, with its air of romanticism was quite beautiful and lovely on so many levels. While there are so many historic coastal cities around Yeosu, there was a sense of youthful spirit that seemed to do a yin yang with the rich traditions and culture of this old city. The food was delicious, the folks (like the many aunties I met) memorable, and the spirit of romanticism that the Yeousu Night Sea, as immortalized in the song, may have put a crack in this hardened and cynical heart.

There is something special in the air in Yeosu.