This week I decided that I was spending far too much time in doors working on my various projects, and that it was time to shake it up a bit and explore. I decided to walk to nearby Namdaemun Market. I justified this little field trip by the fact that I need a large serving platter. Tim and I had been invited to a BBQ this coming weekend, and I, of course, put down that I was bringing a tarte tatin. Our apartment came with a large, round pan that just happens to be perfect for the apple dish, but I didn’t have anything to serve it on. So, Namdaemun Market it was. I mean if Korea’s largest and oldest (est. in 1414) didn’t have what I needed then I probably won’t find it anywhere.
Walking there I got momentarily turned around, but I knew I wasn’t far off. After practicing the question to myself, I screwed up my nerve to ask a woman in Korean how to get to Namdaemun. However, as soon as I got out the word Namdaemun, she cut to the chase and answered my question before I could have the joy of successfully saying the whole phrase. I’ve learned in Korean that you don’t necessarily need every part of grammar if the context is understood. My Korean teacher says this is because there are so many Koreans living in such close contact with one another, that they feel a lot of things are implied or understood, so you don’t have to go through the formalities of trudging through all the parts of speech when the essential elements will suffice. I think in my case, a white girl saying “Namdaemun” was enough context for the woman.
Entering Namdaemun was quite something- it was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, yet it was swarming with people and perhaps the only that that outnumbered the people were the combined number of stores, street shops, and food stands. I wandered up and down the main alleyways marveling at all there was to see and buy before finally stopping to ask how to get to the kitchen area of the market.
Upon entering one of two main stores dedicated to wholesale kitchenware, I was taken aback by the sheer quantity and variations in dishes available. However, I kept my eyes on the task at hand, and tried not to be taken in by everything. Tim is seriously lucky we don’t really need dishes because, oh who am I kidding, I’m still thinking I need some dishes from here! Among all the dishes, though, I wasn’t finding my platter. I did find one, but they wanted too high a price for it so I moved on to the neighboring store. They actually had much of the same, and as I was beginning to despair that I was going to walk out without a platter, I saw a group of dusty old platters piled up near the floor. The men running the stand were eating lunch, but gave me the OK to take a look. I found one I liked, but he wanted $30, which was more than I thought it was worth. So, I told him I would take a different one for $15. He then offered me the original platter for $20, which I agreed to. Evidently he meant that as a package deal, but I quickly made it clear I only wanted the one, and happily he still let me have it for $20.
Happy with myself for successfully bargaining (though questioning whether I could have gotten an even better price), I set off to explore other parts of the market. I happen to stumble in a home goods area that was literally overflowing with every sort of home item you could imagine. I was really enjoying perusing but had no intention of buying until I came across the children’s hanbok’s. I’ve been searching for just such an outfit for my niece, but everything was too expensive. I hadn’t planned to buy today, but the lady, who spoke no English, was nonetheless super helpful and patient as we tried to communicate with one another. Plus, her prices were about half of other places, so I decided to pull the trigger.
The rest of the week, I returned to my normal activities, but not with the utmost concentration. I found myself counting down the days until our BBQ. I wasn’t sure if I was more excited to have an excuse to make a tarte tatin (and chocolate cookies) or if I was excited since it has been about 4 years since we’ve been to a BBQ! Well, if we are being completely truthful, I think it was the tarte tatin.
I’d made one batch of chocolate cookies the day before, and, since the host is a chef, I knew I couldn’t get by with store-bought crust so I made my own flaky crust as well. When Saturday morning rolled around, I was out of bed and in the kitchen getting a second batch of cookies going as well as peeling apples. In uncharacteristic Jessica fashion, I had everything done well ahead of time so that it even had time enough to cool before we left. I nonetheless made us late after I failed to warn Tim that the pie was very full, and he ended up getting caramel all over his shirt and pants. Oops.
At the party, the tarte got a few appreciative comments, but Tim and I were thoroughly annoyed to see that most of the guests didn’t go for the pie but for lame fudge pops that someone brought from the store! On top of that, some of those that did try it, only took an apple slice rather than an actual slice! Come on people! Then, adding insult to injury, the chef refused to try it. He said he didn’t eat dessert of any kind. I insisted saying that I made the crust just for him, but he wouldn’t touch it. This is why foreigners are so irked by Americans. They don’t recognize quality when its literally served to them on a platter because they are blinded by industrialized dessert on a stick! Actually, in the end I was glad it didn’t all get eaten because that meant Tim and I got to eat it for dessert for two more nights. For those of you who have had my tarte, I know you understand this rant, and for those that haven’t, I assure you those fudge pops didn’t have nothin’ on it.