American food, real American food, can be pretty tough to find in Korea. Eating the way we did in the States is usually quite cost-prohibitive and sometimes requires running all over town to source ingredients that are sitting on an aisle in even the smallest Food Lion in the tiniest town back home. Not that this is a bad thing–I’m always a little wary of people who move to a foreign country and then resume life exactly as they did in America; I feel like it kind of negates the experience of living abroad. Plus, we are all well-versed in the impact of the average American diet on the average American waistline. However, sometimes you want to taste home.
American food, real American food, can be pretty tough to find in Korea. Eating the way we did in the States is usually quite cost-prohibitive and sometimes requires running all over town to source ingredients that are sitting on an aisle in even the smallest Food Lion in the tiniest town back home. Not that this is a bad thing–I’m always a little wary of people who move to a foreign country and then resume life exactly as they did in America; I feel like it kind of negates the experience of living abroad. Plus, we are all well-versed in the impact of the average American diet on the average American waistline. However, sometimes you want to taste home. (Ric and I personally would love to taste a Bojangles Cajun Filet Biscuit, but that will have to wait 18 months or so.) And when you are spending Christmas away from home for the first time, separated from your three brilliant, amazing children and far away from the super-huge extended family that has nurtured you since birth, sometimes you kind of NEED to taste home, just to remind yourself that it’s still Christmas.
So, should you find yourself in Busan, Korea, on Christmas Day needing a taste of home but without the oven or the counter space to whip up your own delicacies, I would like to submit to you what we feel is a worthy option. For about 27,000 won (or 25 US dollars), the Seaman’s Club on the pier puts on a pretty good buffet with all the traditional Christmas favorites. We had ham, turkey, roast beef, potatoes, cranberries, cornbread, veggies, and four different desserts with the first Cool Whip I have seen since moving here. I know it’s a little strange to get excited over Cool Whip, but, hey, that’s who you’re dealing with here. As with any Korean meal, there were some oddities–most notably, the green bean casserole was made with butter beans, which in defense of the Koreans, are literally green beans. It was surprisingly yummy. There were also some dishes I would re-create myself if I knew how, like the spiced cranberries that tasted like they had been slow-cooked in the best apple cider ever. And they had turkey! For those of you who have never been to Korea, this is a pretty big deal. Turkey essentially doesn’t exist here, not even as packaged lunch meat. You can buy it at Costco (the source of almost all American food, except for Rice Krispies) as lunch meat all year round and as a precooked breast at the holidays, but both are pretty pricey. So, cooked turkey (and roast beef and ham) is a real treat. Even I, the girl who has abstained from turkey for the last several Thanksgivings because it smells “too much like turkey”, found myself going back for seconds–something about absence and fond hearts, I think.
The Seaman’s Club is, I believe, in some way affiliated with the U.S. Navy, who occasionally has sailors on shore leave here for a little while. I think you can purchase a club membership and eat there regularly (the seafood is supposed to be excellent), but none of that is necessary to avail yourself of the Christmas or Thanksgiving spreads. There is also a tiny store in the lobby of the restaurant that sells some American items I haven’t seen other places, like Nutter Butter cookies and Chocolate Cherry Hershey’s Kisses. I have no idea what such treasures would cost, but it was kind of cool to find them there. The selection was so eclectic that I almost wondered if it was stocked based on customer requests. Everyone and everything there was in English, which was also pretty convenient for two expats who still struggle to read Korean fluently.
So, here’s the nuts and bolts of this message. If you’re in Busan, the Seaman’s Club can be tricky to find without directions. Ride the orange line subway to Busan Station, then take the exit for Busan Station itself. Walk into the station (just like you’re going to catch the KTX). Do not get distracted by the Smoothie King inside; your goals are far loftier. Go out the doors for the parking lot, down a metal staircase. (You’ll see it, I promise.) Head left just a few paces, and you’ll see a small green gate to your left. The Seaman’s Club is that the tiny little building through the gate. Keep your eyes open; unlike most of the rest of Korea, there are no neon signs, and the building is tucked back from the pier a little bit. The menu for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner is usually posted a couple weeks in advance on BusanHaps, and you can call ahead to make reservations. One glass of wine is included in the meal price, and there is a full bar on site. We noticed they were serving eggnog for an additional cost, but were too stuffed to fit it in. It is the only eggnog I have seen in Korea this year. Plan to come early before it gets too crowded, and bring cash.
We hope you all had a holiday filled with family, friends, joy, and wonder. And food.