This is long overdue. I ate a lot of food in Korea, but it was mostly at home because eating out in Seoul can get a little expensive. I did eat out every weekend so I could try the wonders that Korean cuisine offers.
You can’t visit Korea and not eat barbecue
One of my favorites was Korean barbecue. I went out twice with friends for this because it’s not a meal you can eat alone. Our orders included a nice helping of thick-cut bacon — I mean about four slices of bacon that weigh close to a pound. There’s a variety of marinated bacon you can order and I have no idea what we ordered either time because I only know a few words of Korean. Along with the bacon, we had mushrooms, kimchi, potato, shrimp, and tofu (which tastes better mixed with the grilled kimchi).
I found it a little unusual that the bacon was cut with scissors while cooking, as were some of the large pieces of kimchi. One of my friends asked if I’d ever seen scissors used during food service. I’m fairly certain I’ve only seen it used to cut masses of noodles stuck together in Vietnam. Whether or not you cut the bacon with scissors doesn’t change the wonderful taste you get to enjoy. And it goes great with beer, soju, or makgeolli.
Tasting soup in summer
One of my first meals with my former coworker was samgyetang (삼계탕), or ginseng chicken soup, in Itaewon before heading to the craft beer bar. The ginseng flavor is light and mixed with a bit of ginger and sweet rice. It took a while before the clay pot stopped boiling so I could taste the soup — might as well order a beer and wait for that bowl to cool off to avoid burning your mouth. There’s a whole small chicken in that bowl, so it’s quite filling before a nice night out with beer. It’s also considered a summer soup because of the ginseng, but I think it’d taste pretty good in the winter as well.
Speaking of soups, before visiting the Joseon Royal Tombs I stopped off for some dumpling and rice cake soup. Tteok manduguk (떡 만두국) is two separate soups in a meat (probably pork) broth mixed together. It’s another filling meal. As someone used to dumplings in China, Taiwan, and Japan, the Korean dumplings were a surprise — there were only three in the bowl, and they were huge. Korean dumplings are also the best I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what’s in them, but they have a lot more flavor than anything I’ve had in other Asian countries. I got desperate and bought some frozen dumplings to make in my tiny apartment and even they were awesome.
Korean street food and the local market
As I visited the local market often, I began to grow curious about the prepared food being sold. One night after work I decided to try the fried flounder, which came is a dipping sauce akin to light soy sauce. This was the same market at which I tried a whole fried chicken after my hike in Bukhansan National Park. It was the best food decision I could’ve made for about $6, but it created horrible temptation for the rest of my stay in Seoul.
Because I enjoyed drinking makgeolli, one of my friends suggested I try jokbal (족발), pig trotters cooked with soy sauce and some spices. I tried this at the local market, but it was the one meal I can say I didn’t enjoy at all. I was told that it should’ve come with some slices of meat from the legs, but all I got was bone, cartilage, fat, and skin. I was disappointed and just drank my bottle of makgeolli.
Another meal I didn’t enjoy too much was toppoki (떡볶이), spicy soft rice cakes, which is really disappointing because I lived just down the street from Toppoki Street. The sauce is a little salty for my taste, but more importantly I didn’t enjoy the consistency of the glutinous rice. I admit that the reason I don’t enjoy certain foods is more because of texture than flavor.
I had a lot more to eat besides that, but I don’t remember exactly what they were; sometimes I had no idea what I was even ordering at the restaurants. I have to admit that Korean food is some of my favorite in Asia.