Food of the gods – Korean cuisine
I’ve been in Korea for 14 months so I think I might now have enough knowledge to write a blog specifically about Korean food. That and the fact I want my friends Beccy and Scott who are coming to visit NEXT WEEK, to get excited and start dribbling in public.
I was a little concerned when we first moved here that I’d have some food issues. But apart from a few hiccups where we’ve ordered raw beef with a raw egg on it, the seafood that exploded in my mouth, cockworms (which I’ve never ever eaten), horrible smelling cooked grubs and the old mushroom stew debacle in March I think I’ve been fine, especially considering how fussy I used to be. That’s probably because most Korean food is DELICIOUS.
So here is a lowdown but no where near exhaustive list of some Korean food I like. By the way most of these pictures are mine but the kimchi and mandu are from the t’internet due to forgetting to take pictures in time!
Kimchi –Kimchi is the national food of Korea and is served up with pretty much every Korean meal as a side dish. It’s basically fermented cabbage or radish in a spicy red pepper sauce. When I initially came here I liked it, then I went off it because I was getting it with most Korean meals and felt like it was overkill. However I now find myself well and truly hooked again. I think it’s especially tasty when cooked on a Korean barbecure. It’s really healthy, spicy, good for digestion and weight loss .
Gimbab – Gimbab is a king amongst snacks as it’s filling, tasty and healthy. It looks like sushi rolls and consists of rice and various fillings wrapped up in seaweed (similar to sushi rolls but bigger). There are usually a few different varieties to choose from including plain, pork, cheese, wrapped in egg and my favourite, chamchi (tuna).
As a tip, the gimbab shops (which usually sell an array of other dishes such as noodles and dumplings) are often orange or red on the outside and have a similar appearance. Many are open 24 hours so you can get a cheap meal at any time of the day. Also, if you sit in to eat you usually get a couple of side dishes and a little bowl of soup. The average price in Daegu is 2000-2500won for gimbab which is up to about £1.50.
Mandu – Dimsum/Dumplings. Oh god I feel like I’m a bit obsessed with these at the minute. These are easy to pick up in Korea and a nice filling lunch. As long as they are steamed they are healthy too! You can also get them fried. They are often filled with pork and I really like Kimchi mandu as they have an extra spicy kick. Orange shops sell these but you’ll also see special mandu shops with steaming pots outside.
Toppoki – I wasn’t initially a fan of this but it’s a grower. This is a favourite amongst Korean school kids and I’ll often see them on the way to their evening classes with pots of it. It’s basically really chewy rice cakes in a spicy tomato sauce. There just isn’t enough going on with this for me to eat this on its own though.
Doenjang/sundubu jjigae – Jjigaes are stew like soups filled with vegetables and beans and served with rice. My favourite of these is Doenjang jjigae, made with a distinct tasting soya bean paste. If you buy these from orange shops often they will come packed with tofu, pumpkin, courgette and if you’re lucky a few shelled clams. I actually have a go at making this myself now because all you have to do is combine the soya paste with anchovy stock and all the fillings. It never tastes as nice at home though.
Bibimbab – Bibimbab is a simple, delicious dish and is one of the more internationally known Korean meals. Bibimbab literally means ‘bibim –mixed bab – rice‘ and that’s exactly what it is! It comes in a big bowl with other vegetables (the types can really vary), red pepper paste and if you’re lucky an egg. You then mix it all together and eat it. Dolsot bibimbab is the same thing but in an earthern bowl. Whenever bibimbab is served for lunch in my school everyone, teachers and students alike, get really excited about it!
Galbi – Galbi is basically Korean barbecue. You go, choose what type and style of meat you want and then cook it yourself on a grill in the centre of the table. There are lots of different styles of galbi restaurants dotted around the place. Lettuce is almost always provided and you put the meat inside and wrap it up. There are usually a few different side dishes as well, including the mighty Samjang (soy bean paste). Going for a barbecue is one of my favourite ways of socialising with friends.
Samgyetang – Small whole chickens stuffed with ginseng, chestnut and rice in a clear but tasty broth. I’ve had this a couple of times where it was a bit bland, but if done properly it’s amazing. Apparently there are three specific days a year during summer when Koreans eat this to help cool and cleanse them in the heat.
Gamjatang – This is pig spine and potato soup and is up there as one of my favourite Korean dishes. You’d never have thought that would be the case when I was presented with it when we first arrived to Korea and I almost refused to eat it. It’s really rich, tasty, spicy and the meat is so succulent and tender I feel like crying when I realise I can get nothing else off the bone. It’s good to get some rice with this and dip it in to the liquid and is often termed hangover stew amongst Koreans! Perfect for demolishing your hangover or cold.
Jimddak – This is a spicy rich tasting chicken, vegetable, potato and noodle casserole. There’s usually a mixture of different types of chicken (leg, wing, breast) and again it’s nice to get rice to dip in the sauce. I crave this sooo much but usually it only comes in an enormous portion meant for four people. Ash and I have managed to demolish a whole one between us on a regular basis though whoops!
Jeons (pajeon, gamjajeon, kimchijeon etc) – Koreans often call this Korean pizza, but its actually more like a cross between an omelette and a pancake. They are really tasty and come in a variety of styles with different fillings such as potatoes and seafood. A common version is pajeon. This comes with fresh spring onions and greens incorporated in to the mix. Those frequenting macheolli bars and late night drinking establishments may find that they have to purchase these to accompany their alcohol. Sorry for the extremely poor photo I took it in a bar at night!
Bing Su – A korean dessert comprising of various fillings and like jeons different types of bingsu’s have different names. Often they include milk, ice cream, crushed ice, red beans, fruit and possibly cornflakes (takes a bit of getting used to thinking about cornflakes as a dessert!). These are a great and tasty way to cool down in the heat of the Korean summer! Quite often two people will share one large bowl.
Side dishes – You might have noticed that a lot of the pictures above include a few side dishes, this is another great thing about Korean food, the freebies. If you go to a restaurant pretty much all meals will come with some accompanying side dishes. They will vary greatly and will depend on what your meal is. In traditional Korean restaurants you can get as many as 15 little dishes of sides!
Food and dining are an important part of Korean culture, by getting involved and eating as many different dishes as possible you can really immerse yourself in the traditions, customs in Korea.
Of course there is lots of western food available because it’s so westernised here, there are about three bakeries on every street! But they have been tailored to Korean tastes and in many cases don’t taste very western at all. I have to say though, it often doesn’t satisfy me, I find that often the Korean versions of pizza, pasta, garlic bread etc are too sweet and not to my taste. I would much prefer a big tasty bowl of gamjatang to a sweet potato or bulgogi (marinated beef) pizza. That said, one thing I think Koreans are actually really good at (definitely better than England) is fried chicken. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I hadnt eaten fried chicken for maybe 8 years before coming here, now I often eat it because it’s so much nicer here.
Writing that has made me hungry, fingers crossed for a bibimbab lunch at school today!