Ulsan – The B Sides


Having explored many a wonder in our closest city of Ulsan, including most of the unforgettable (?) Scenic Sights of Ulsan, we feel like we have done it proud.  Its not the easiest city to like, let alone love – you may remember that even about the gleaming tourism sights it was noted that, “…none are world class or notable sites within Korea itself.”  Ouch.

In spite of this, we have done our best to bring you the good bits, the amusing bits and the bits to give a wider berth than you’d give a Korean teenager who has had their Smartphone confiscated.  There have definitely been some highlights, most of which we have shared with you on this blog.  Like many things in life, however, some things slipped through the cracks and while they haven’t made it into our reporting thus far are certainly are worth a mention.  Now not all the things that follow are totally Ulsan-y (as opposed to just Korean-y); they are, however, little delights that have made our time there more tolerable and provided little pockets of respite from a sometimes otherwise dull city.  So here we bring you, The Ulsan B Sides together with a little taste of the wider Korean experience.

First up, Ulsan is pretty famous for what we like to call its ‘whale culture’!  Having been a habitat for migratory whales off the coast since prehistoric times, not surprisingly its port at Jangsaengpo has had quite a history of whaling and now whale tourism.  Feeling the need to do something touristy in Ulsan that wasn’t one of the 12 Sites, we headed off to explore the port area and learn about some of Ulsan’s most famous friends.

Unsure of what exactly we would find in the area, we aimed for the Jangsaengpo Ocean Park.  We knew we were in the right area when the  first thing we saw was a line of restaurants advertising whale meat.

This is a bit of an interesting loophole here in Korea – while whales are not allowed to be killed strictly for commercial purposes Korean law permits the processing and sale of meat from a whale that is “accidentally” enmeshed in fishing nets.   While the government says it has been stamping down on illegal whaling since the ban in 1986, Korea is set to join the big guns again with a “scientific” whaling plan it commenced earlier this year.  Sounds a bit fishy to us…But back to the cricket!

We contemplated the wide range of whale dishes available and wondered whether we’d be tempted to indulge by the end of our day’s exploration.  Our clean, green New Zealand friends would shudder at the thought, no doubt – but when in Korea, right?!

In the meantime, it was off to buy tickets for the whale museum, the whale exhibition hall and a 4D movie of something sea related.
The whale plaza overlooking the ocean is absolutely stunning.  Even if you give the museums a miss, the grounds are worth having a walk around to have a nosey at all the sculptures, various arts works, cool buildings and the beautiful views.

The museum itself is slightly interesting.  Luckily, there are lots of pictures as the text is mostly in Korean.  

On the top floor of the building there was a manga cartoon showing a heart-warming and emotional story about a Korean whaler – narrated by a friendly seagull.

It explains how whales had been plundered by the Japanese, the Russians and the Americans.and then shows a proud boat of Korean whalers proudly leaving their families to catch a whale.

The main whaler (the hero of the show) lines up the target…. takes a shot and………..

Boom!!!!The crew can now come home proud….and our hero can see his son again!

So emotional!!!

Anyway, the moral of the story is that if you have an afternoon in Ulsan where you feel like doing something touristy, do head over to Jangsaengpo.  Our tip – check out the museum building, have a wander around the stunning grounds, peruse the cool art and spend some time people watching beside the port.  Only bother visiting the exhibition hall (separate entrance fee or you can buy a package deal for all the buildings) if you are particularly fond of watching dolphins perform (and live) in a small tank where they float around looking depressed in between bouts of having Smartphones shoved in their faces by photo happy mobs.

So did we eat whale meat?

Nah, we just opted for the cutesy dolphin-shaped, red bean paste-filled bread snacks.  Disappointed?!

Right, enough about whales – what’s next on the B Sides?

While not unique to Ulsan, there’s a lady tucked away just off the ‘old’ downtown area – the bit where all the cool kids hang, otherwise known as Seongnam-dong/Shinae – who has a cart full of deliciousness.

We reckon she makes the best chip dog in Korea!  Yes, your eyes are correct – that’s a hot dog, with super thick battery stuff, rolled in a layer of chips (!!!), then smothered with tomato sauce and mustard.  Having studiously avoided them for many a month, when we finally gave in and tried one, it was revelatory.  Its the closest thing we’ve found to brunch here in brunch-less Korea – it tastes like a really dense, meaty hashbrown.  YUM.

Hmm but perhaps we should backtrack here somewhat.  After all, you probably couldn’t justify eating one of those without either having a hangover or, more likely, still being drunk, right?

Which brings us to the Cocktail Cart.

In New Zealand there are pretty strict rules that one must adhere to when drinking in public.  You can’t drink on the streets, that’s for sure.  You can’t buy liquor at prices that “encourage irresponsible drinking”.  You sure as fuck CANNOT buy a plastic bag of strong cocktail for four bucks and sip it through a straw while wandering the packed streets.  But this ain’t New Zealand!

Yes, we’ve been there more than once you may deduct from the change of outfits.  And while people may look on disdainfully at you while you lower yourself to purchasing from a street cart – Koreans look at you with something akin to “oh, you slovenly foreigners” and other expats look at you with radiating thoughts of “oh, you are obviously SO new to Korea, we don’t do THAT anymore” -all we can say is SOMEONE has kept these businesses afloat since 1989!  And $4 for a strong, portable and quite tasty cocktail?  Bring it on.

Not up for a big night on the turps?  That’s okay!  Next stop, a couple of floors up in a nondescript corner of down-town lies a Multi Bang.  You’ll find a ‘bang’ (방 meaning simply ‘room’) for just about anything in Korea – there are noraebang (singing rooms), PC bang (computer rooms), DVD bang (rent a movie, make out on the couch), jimjilbang (elaborate bathhouses, often with sleeping facilities), Soju bang (drinking rooms)…even kiss bang!  Most anything is available for a price in Korea and usually a fairly reasonable price.

But back to the Multi Bang.  Multi refers to the fact that these particular places offer you a private room where you can select from a number of activities be it karaoke, watching a DVD, playing computer games, or in our case, playing Wii.

Now that’s good wholesome fun for everyone and a perfect way to keep warm/cool in Ulsan’s extreme temperatures on someone else’s power bill.  Sweet!

A recent discovery led us to a Moroccan restaurant, tucked down a main road perpendicular to the hub of ‘new’ down-town, Samsang-dong.  For something really different to Korean food and an actually really authentic tasting Moroccan meal (we think…plus the chef is Moroccan) we wholeheartedly recommend a visit here.  If you’re especially lamb deprived New Zealanders, as we have been up until eating here, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to an abattoir.  In a good way, that is.  Not like a sheep going to an abattoir.  That’s probably not as much fun for them.  But we digress. Introducing Marhaban, a little slice of Morocco.  It has a lovely menu full of things that will keep meat eaters and even those pesky little vegetarians happy.  The space is warm and rather large – it would be a great place to take a crew.  Which would also serve as a good excuse to order one of everything.Moroccan tea is provided with each meal, along with a bowl of little crunchy snack things to tide you over while you wait.  There appears to be only a single chef working in the kitchen but she rocks stuff out at a fairly respectable pace.  The lamb tagine is stunning.  Melting, savoury lamb with gorgeously infused chunks of potato and carrots.  Its served with lovely bread, just perfect to rip apart and soak up the juices.More lamb?  Why, yes please!  This time it came skewered in generous hunks, again delectable, moist and flavoursome.

We ordered a mixed salad and our feast was also accompanied by a bowl of olives, a salad of chopped tomatoes and onions with spices, some pickled vegetables and a small soup.This place cannot be recommended highly enough.  It was divine.  We’re already planning one last visit there to sample the bastila, the tanjiya, the kefta, the roasted chicken….How many weeks do we have left here again?!

Some of you may remember way back when we were fresh to Korea, we had a particuarly nasty run in with an Evil Soju Monster.  Having been ejected from a taxi so Dan could spread kimchi flowers around the pavement, we founds ourselves in what we thought at the time (our brains weren’t 100% for obvious reasons) was the middle of nowhere.  The only reference point we had was the gigantic Ulsan Musuem sign.  Having subsequently been passed this point on EVERY bus we have ever taken into the city, we can confirm its actually not the middle of nowhere and its a very fine looking museum   And therefore one which we’ve been ‘meaning to go to’ ever since that first encounter.

Alas, we’ve still never been.  In our defence, we actually made an attempt to go this past weekend but it was closed.  The building itself is really cool and its borders Ulsan Grand Park so we suspect a day could well be spent trolling through the museum and then picnicing in the park, thus its inclusion on the B-Sides.  Let us know what its like if you make it!

So that about does it for the B Sides of Ulsan.  Its been a blast digging through the somewhat gray and industrial nature of the city to find the gems that lurk not too far from the surface.  Ulsan, it turns out, you’re really not that bad…

Categories: Food, Korea, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , ,

46 comments

  1. While the Moroccan meal looked incredible, I can’t help but be intrigued by the chip dog. I have to try one of those!

    • You MUST try one when you’re in Korea!!! So weird and normally something we’d pass up in lieu of something more “exotic” or authentic, haha. But, oh, they’re gooooooood. When are you anticipating taking your trip over these ways?

      • We still haven’t nailed down a date, but probably April/May of next year.

      • Wow, how! Its sad we won’t still be here – we would have loved to have shown you around our necks of the woods and had dinner together. Keep us in mind if you end up transiting through Hong Kong!

      • Will do. And please remember if you ever find yourself in the US, stop by Columbus. It’s really not as boring as it sounds 🙂

  2. Whaling huh. That’s the beauty of the world. What’s not right for one may just be the survival or culture of another civilization. Glad to read your entry on this visit.

    • Yip, you hit the nail right on the head – and that’s the beauty of travel discovering all the idiosyncrasies that make each culture unique. You must be finding examples like this all over the place in the course of your amazing sounding travels!

  3. Since I am raised on whale meat, I could recomend a taste, even if I didn’t like it too much as a kid, it was when Norway country was still quite poor and we had to eat what was around and not too costly. These theys they know how to handle food to make quality so it is better, probably also in Korea. I know some people have a thing about whales. For me it is most important the animals didn’t suffer (too much) before we eat them, Chicken, lamb or hot dog…

    • I understand and appreciate that some nations had to eat whale meat for survival… I guess it’s the same thing when Chinese eats shark fins, and there are people out there going gaga about it. I do believe one thing though… we can eat whatever we want within the boundaries of what humanity deems appropriate as long as we don’t kill off the species. Right?

      • Don’t slaughter an entire species and kill it humanely seem to be the common ideal. And you’re totally right, historically everywhere has different traditions – its part of the fascination for travel for us, that what may seem an absolute in one country can appear quite a different thing in another country. Interesting stuff!

      • You are definitely right, Steven, nobody should kill, or eat, animals (or fish or birds) of species or populations that are endangered. Norway and some other countries have a bad whaling history, but the conflicts about whaling now is not about endanguered species but about peoples feelings.

    • Thanks so much for your comments – its really great to have the perspective of someone from a culture where, like Korea, there is a tradition of eating whale. Its not a clear cut issue by any stretch of the imagination and a real part of travel for us is being exposed to these differing points of view. We think you’re right about animals not suffering, regardless of what species they are – I think the main aspect we consider in New Zealand with regards to whales is the fact that so many of the species of are endangered and that they take a long time to regenerate. We are fascinated by the thought of what it tastes like but, to be honest, after the trip through the whale museum we actually felt less like trying it than we did beforehand due to the somewhat callous presentation of the industry. But who knows, maybe one day!?!

  4. Forgot to say: your reportage was very interesting, as always! 🙂

    • Thanks again for your comment above – and don’t be surprised if we find ourselves in Norway that we’ll be arriving on your doorstep for a plate of your finest whale recipe 🙂

      • I must admit that I don’t eat whale meat very often, not even every year. 😉 But it is true it was a big part of our diet when I was a child and when the country and people were poorer. My point is that wild animals are as good food (if we are not vegetarians) as any farming industry animal, probably ethically better (they have a more natural/better life) and often healthier (except for some pollutions). And there are traditions to use these resources. All this only with sustainable harvesting of course. If you show up on my doorstep I will have to get a fine recipe. 😉

      • No one served me no whale lunch when I was in Oslo some years back (I was with Telenor in Asia before). Count me in if I happen to be there again ben :).

      • Sounds like there might be a crew turning up for lunch sometime soon! Haha.

      • Hahaha, a crowd would be nice. Reindeer carpaccio a starter, grilled whale (not a whole one), and cloudberries from the mountains as dessert… 😉

  5. What an interesting post ! I totally love that restaurant, and the food does look very yummy. But do they have any cooked whale meat or is it just raw ? and is it legal to hunt whale in Korea ? >.<

    • Its available in 12 different styles apparently! You can get whale sashimi or you can opt for one of the many different cooked dishes too. Whale casserole take your fancy?! Haha.

      The legality of eating whale in Korea falls into the loophole category – its not legal to hunt it for commercial gain but it just happens to get caught in the nets while fishing for something else, the process and sale of the meat is okay. Fishy, huh?!

      • The raw whale meat gross me out, I won’t eat it ! but if whale being sale or serve as food just because it is unfortunately get caught in the net, make me don’t want to it it >.< I feel guilty if I do, poor the whale !

      • Its been very interesting to read everyone’s opinions on this – I must admit, we were intrigued by the thought of eating it but our upbringing seems to have won over so far…

  6. Damn Chinese, Japanese, and (historic) American whalers, can’t they give a simple Korean father seeking only to feed his lovely (yet strangely caucasian) son a break! Love the museum photos.

    Oh, and better keep the idea of cheap cocktails in a portable bag away from the university towns of the UK (where public drinking is ok…) or I foresee utter destruction!

    • Yeah we had a bit of head scratch over the particularly fair haired and wide eyed “Koreans”!

      Mmm cheap, irresponsible drinking….bliss!

  7. Nice to see you guys are having some nice adventures full of pictures.

  8. I thought all whales were endangered species? I’m not at all happy about people eating them – especially since whale meat has an excessively high level of mercury in it. You accumulate mercury if you eat it with any frequency.

    • While not all species of whale are endangered, a number of countries certainly have pretty strong feelings against the killing of any of them; however, other countries have long histories of using them as a food source. We think your comment makes an interesting point though as most people consider only the ethical side of the eating whale (or not) rather than the health implications so thank you for adding another dimension to the thought process!

  9. That museum is just hilarious. What can I say… Koreans are a very nationalistic people haha.
    I recently went for Moroccan with my boyfriend as well, for the first time actually. It was amazinggggg.

  10. I actually am morbidly fascinated by that dead whale in the jar. Oh, and love that cocktail in a bag invention and if it’s only $4, why not??

    • We’re ALL for $4 cocktails! I wish NZ had a more responsible drinking culture that could make this a possibility there; alas, we have to make the most of it at this end instead.

      And aren’t the whales cool?! We took photos of heaps of different foetuses in jars. Something creepy/pathetic/really interesting about them!

  11. Im really enjoying reading your posts guys. But Dan where you really making a fried breakfast on the Wii????

  12. Yeah, is that a game?? LOL. Also, PANORAMA! Nice.

    • Sad huh?! They have a cooking challenge on Wii so of course we had to fight for bragging rights. In our defence, we also then played all the requisite sports games!

  13. Great photos, as usual…loved the tea.

    • The details of that place were beautiful – even the little tea cosy was a Moroccan woman with her arms wrapped around the tea. Gorgeous!

  14. Whales, chip dogs, moroccan food and cocktails in a bag…incredible!

  15. I want a chip dog, with a side of plastic bag cocktail!!!

  16. Nice post indeed! I am moving over there in a few weeks to work. Not sure for how long yet, but long enough to get a decent feeling of how the “everyday” works in Ulsan…

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