Wednesday, 31 January 2018

What to Eat in South Korea (Part I)

What comes to your mind when you think of Korea? K-pop and K-drama has shown that the Land of the Morning Calm has more to offer than kimchi and Korean barbeque, cosmetic surgery and skincare. Before my first trip to Seoul, I heard of many who came back from the East Asian peninsula complaining that they were sick of barbeque which they ate almost every day and kimchi that was served at every meal. But I discovered South Korea, or at least Seoul, has a lot more variety of food than that:

Budae jjigae and sundubu
My first time trying budae jjigae or army stew was in a foreign land when two Koreans cooked for the rest of us. They shared how this was comfort food in the army and could be cooked with easily available ingredients like instant noodles, kimchi and luncheon meats. Some places also add sausages, rice cakes, baked beans and/or cheese. Also like another stew – sundubu, made with soft and silky tofu, comes with choice of other ingredients such as mushrooms, meats and seafood.

Bibimbap and gimbap
I am not a fan of bibimbap due to the amount of vegetables in it but that is just me. Served in a cold metal bowl or stone pot (dolsot), vegetables of different colours sit on top of the rice which sometimes comes with meat and/or egg. Add soy sauce, or gochuchang sauce if you like to spice it up, and mix well. Another rice snack is gimbap – rice and other ingredients such as carrots, cucumbers and egg wrapped with seaweed into a roll. Reminiscent of Japanese sushi until it is drizzled with sesame oil, so the seaweed is more soggy than crunchy, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Not my favourite either.

Korean barbeque and dakgalbi
Have at least one Korean barbeque while you are there. Order samgyupsal (pork belly) or beef slices and after grilling them, place the meat on a lettuce or whatever leaves were served alongside and eat them together. I usually add the accompanying sauce too and sometimes kimchi but not the raw garlic, onion and beansprouts. Prefer another meat dish – dakgalbi, tender marinated chicken stir-fried with cabbage, sweet potato, onions and rice cake at your table. Some of the large cast iron pans come with an outer ring for cheese or egg.

Korean fried chicken and beer
KFC does not mean Kentucky Fried Chicken in Korea but Korean fried chicken. They are deep-fried once before being coated in seasonings and deep-fried a second time, so they are crispy on the outside and not too dry inside. Sold at both restaurants and fast food chains, they are usually paired with crunchy white radish cubes in vinegar and go well with beer.

Korean royal court cuisine

Try palace food that the royals eat during the pre-modern era. We ordered a set for two, which the four of us struggled to finish. It was during this meal that I fell in love with the large variety of jeon and realised Guksu or buckwheat noodles was not my cup of tea. There was a mix of raw, steamed or boiled, roasted and deep-fried items.

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