Ahh, market day. I wanted to take Laura-Eve to Moran Market on her first morning in Korea, but United Airlines made that impossible, so we had to wait for market day to come around again. My last market day in Korea. We woke up around 9am and slowly made our way to Moran Shijjang.
First stop: food tents. The food tents are about halfway down the market on the left, so we wandered through the fish, grain, and fruit sections, taking only superficial glances, as we had something more important to attend to: breakfast. We ducked into the food tents and I gave Laura-Eve two options: hoebakjuk (pumpkin porridge) or kalkuksu (noodle soup). She went for the kalkuksu, so we sat down on a bench with other kalkuksu patrons and ordered a bowl. What makes kalkuksu different from other kuksu (literally, noodle soup) is that the noodles are knife cut. So, behind counters filled with colorful foods, we watched our chef cut our noodles, toss them in boiling fish broth, and prepare our breakfast.
Moran Market is famous for these noodles, and for good reason. They were incredible. Good call, sister. Despite being famous for kalkuksu and juk (porridge), the first thing you notice when you walk into the food tents are the piles upon piles of fresh, handmade dumplings. I’ve always seen them, but never tried them. Our breakfast companions ordered one kimchi mandu (kimchi dumpling) so we thought we would do the same. This turned out to be the best dumpling I’ve ever had, period.
After breakfast we went for a walk around the market. We got a closer look at the fish, grains, and fruit for sale, as well as the live animal trade, which neither of us particularly enjoyed. What we did enjoy, though, was the pet animal trade. In the back of the market are vendors selling adorable puppies and everything you could possibly need to walk out of the market with a new pet. The contrast is stunning, and is one of the reasons why I love this place. Later on, while wandering through the side alleys, I made the poor decision to buy something that looked like chocolate pudding. It was definitely not that.
There was something else I wanted to do at the market before leaving. I wanted to buy a souvenir from my favorite antique dealer to bring home. I had visited his shop on my last two trips to the market, finding and thinking of buying a gorgeous, 80 year old brass teapot. Before entering his shop this time, we looked at the wares on the tables set up outside, and I found something else I just knew I needed to get: a 40 year old bronze spoon with the most incredible moldings on the handle and in the spoon itself. I bought them both.
After getting my souvenirs, Laura-Eve headed to McDonalds to wait because I wanted to get one last look at the market, alone, and McDonalds was warmer than the train station. I found a spot in the middle of the grains section, an open area in the middle of the market, and stood for a while. The market bustled around me, but there was no one in my immediate area. It was quiet. I stood, I watched, I imagined the market moving, living, and breathing the same way after I’m long gone. It was there that it hit me, as I knew it would. I’m actually leaving. I won’t be back here for a good while, perhaps forever. After standing in silence for a good five minutes, I left my favorite place in Korea exactly as I had found it: moving, living, and breathing, as if I was never there.
Back home. Work for me, a coffee for Laura-Eve. We met an hour or so later for lunch in my neighborhood. I told her we were going for a Japanese-style “fried pork cutlet.” Not exactly her cup of tea, but she trusted my judgement. When the food arrived and the food was tasted, she was pleasantly surprised. We shared the donkasu, one of my favorites, and some udon and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Back to work. I had my writing students write me goodbye letters. I still haven’t read them. I should do that. Laura-Eve took a nap and hung out at a coffee shop for a while. After work, Goun came to meet us in Jeongja for dinner. We went to one of the best restaurants in my neighborhood; one I hadn’t visited in too long. We ordered jjajangmyeon (noodles in a fermented soy bean sauce), kimchi mandu, and kimchi jjigae (kimchi soup). I had never had kimchi jjigae before, and was excited to try it, especially after Goun told us that the kimchi in the soup was famous for being three years old. It was spectacularly delicious. Everything was.
Let me take this opportunity to say that Goun is one of, if not the nicest, most generous people in the world. She brought me a going away present that turned out to be a huge bag of things I love. It included hydrangea tea because she knows I love tea, fancy Korean butter cookies because she knows I love Korean butter cookies, a delicious snack called goshibol which I had never tried but she knew I would like (and I love), two boxes of hotteok mix, one for me and one for Laura-Eve because she heard us talking about how we wanted to buy some to bring home, and two bags of homemade cookies because she is an incredible baker. I had no words, only hugs. It was hard saying goodbye to her. I know we will see each other again.
Together, the three of us indulged in the food and the friendship until the early hours, for tomorrow would be Christmas, and there would be no work to be done.