Why hello there! It's been a while since I last posted, and I blame the education system for it! Just kidding.. University studies hav...

Food Adventures in Seoul Part 1: Korean Food

Thursday, November 28, 2013 Unknown 0 Comments

Why hello there! It's been a while since I last posted, and I blame the education system for it! Just kidding.. University studies have been occupying most of my time, as I'm studying completely new subjects, but I digress. 
Today I'd like to share the first part of my food adventures in Seoul, focusing on Korean food!
Follow this little octopus to my locker!

One thing that I was truly in love with prior to my arrival in Korea was Korean cuisine. Although not widely available in Europe, I frequented a Korean family restaurant back when I lived in Tokyo. A Korean friend introduced it to me, and I trusted her taste! It was my first experience with many Korean foods, and it turned into love from first...taste? Sadly, I've lost majority of my photographs from Tokyo due to a computer malfunction *insert sad sliding whistle noise here*.
Once back in my home country, I started researching Korean dishes to see just how difficult the ingredients are to locate. And a lot of them, sadly, were quite impossible to find, limiting my menu to just a few dishes. Luckily, those dishes were ones I've already tasted! I was quite confident that if I have the right ingredients, I can cook them properly. Thus began my journey into Korean cuisine...

Fast forward to February 2013, when I landed in Korea. Exhausted, yet very eager to get my hands on the food. As I've mentioned in my bibimbap recipe, the first meal I had was bibimbap! I know it sounds so simple and not at all impressive, but, being the ultimate comfort food, as well as absolutely delicious in the right hands, it was just what I needed! After that, I had Korean food at least once per day (sounds expensive? Actually, I found it cheaper to eat out than to buy groceries and cook...)

My first venture into foods I haven't tasted took place next day after arriving, when I was out drinking with a friend. Here in Korea you don't usually just drink, it's generally expected from you to order food (or 안주/anju) to go along with your drink. In many restaurants you actually can't have soju (Korean alcoholic beverage) without having 안주 as well. So when we sat down for drinks, my friend immediately handed me a food menu, recommending the following: 짬뽕/jjampong - a spicy seafood stew.

I have to say, although I'm definitely NOT a fan of seafood, I enjoyed this! Definitely a good choice when drinking something as intoxicating as soju. Basically, this is heaven for seafood lovers. It usually consists of a variety of sea critters - mussels, octopi, calamari, scallops, shrimp, crab etc. Jjampong is noodle-based soup, with veggies accompanying the spicy broth and seafood. It usually comes in a big bowl, set over a burner to keep it warm. Put a little bit in your own bowl and enjoy with a shot of soju!

Next we have a cold-weather favorite - 설렁탕 (seolleongtang).

This is an ox-bone broth based soup. It features a milky broth with tender brisket, with noodles often served on the side. When you order this dish, remember that it won't be very flavorful when it reaches you - traditionally, the flavors are adjusted at the table. You have a choice between salt, pepper, hot pepper flakes and chopped green onion. I personally dislike seolleongtang spicy, so I usually just add salt and pepper to taste, with just a bit of hot pepper flakes, and plenty of green onion! I like to eat my noodles mostly in the soup, and 깍두기 (kkakdugi) - radish kimchi - as a side dish.
I frequented a seolleongtang restaurant in Anam during February/March, as it was cold and rainy outside. The soup is absolute perfection on a gloomy day, as it will fill you up and make you feel all warm an cozy! Bring along close friends, and it will be a really nice experience!

Alrighty, so you're out with friends and you're all kinda hungry and cold? Why not sit down for this fun and tasty dish?? It's called 콩불! (kongbul).

This is quite popular among students, as it's quite cheap (around 4500KRW without add-ons). Basically, it's bean sprouts (콩나물/kongnamul) and thinly sliced beef (불고기/bulgogi), stir-fried with sauce and eaten with rice and side dishes. You can usually pick things to add to the mix, me and my friends decided to add tteok (rice cakes) and rice cakes with cheese (the thin, white pieces are tteok, and the rounder white ones - cheese tteok).
It's a really fun dish to share, since everyone can add something to their taste! And it's very filling!

Going out drinking? Do NOT miss out having 삼겹살 with that!

삼겹살 (samgyeopsal) is almost a legen...wait for it...dary dish here in Korea. It's popular among people of all ages, and most people have it at least once a week! There surely is a good reason for that as it is absolutely delicious!
Samgyeopsal literally means three-layers-of-meat. That is referring to the three layers of meat and fat, found in pork-belly cuts (if you're lucky, you might be able to try ogyeopsal - five-layer meat).
In the picture you can see the most common setup - a grill in the middle and a steel table surrounding it. This one is outside, when inside, there are big fans on top, to suck in the smoke.
You can order your choice of cut/kind of meat, and you get a variety of side dishes to go along - lettuce and perilla leaves, fresh garlick, sliced onions, kimchi (of course), a set of sauces and rice. Some restaurants also serve steamed egg as a side dish.
When it all arrives - grill away! You'll get a pair of scissors to cut up the meat, usually one person at the table is 'responsible' for that, and then you can chose to grill your other raw ingredients - garlic and onions. Once the meat is grilled to your liking - grab a leaf of your choice, add onions and garlic, meat, roll it all up, dip in the sauce and MUNCH! It's quite unusual to bite the roll you made, you're expected to stuff it all in your mouth. Trust me, it's worth the possible embarrassment!
Although I'm not a big fan of meat, samgyeopsal is the one thing I will go out of my way to find! I especially recommend finding a 'meat-buffet' type of restaurant, where for a set price you will get all-you-can-eat samgyeopsal!!

Out for souvenir shopping and feeling under the weather? Pull up a chair and take a sip of this delicious 만두국! It will surely get you back on your feet!

만두국 (manduguk) is a very simple dish - it's a soup with noodles and mandu dumplings, with onion and muschrooms in the broth. It is a great dish for colder days, or for hangover, as it's very filling, warm and not too spicy, meaning it won't be too rough on your stomach. The mandu and the taste depends on the store, but so far the best one I found was in Insadong, on the left side where all the Korean souvenir shops are. You get rice on the side, if you'd like to eat the mandu separately, but in my experience, the soup alone is more than enough to keep you hunger-free for a good part of the day.

And lastly...had too much to drink the night before? Join the club, buddy...I had a terrible hangover after drinking 4 bottles of soju...I could feel the hatred that my body was projecting onto me, and it wasn't nice! Luckily, a dear friend of mine took me to a magical hangover-healing restaurant 본죽...

죽 (juk) is Korean rice porridge. It is a God's sent for hangover days, I tell you! I ordered the 삼계죽 (samkkyejuk) - chicken/ginseng porridge. When I tasted it, I could practically hear angels singing in my head - salvation is here!
Together with the porridge you will get kimchi, dried tuna, some very spicy mash (never got clear on what exactly it was..) and a sweet drink (my guess - jujube tea). Naturally, I didn't put anything in my porridge, as I wanted the mildest possible taste. Luckily, even without any additions, the porridge is finger-licking good!
The bowl you get is truly enormous, it took about an hour for me an my friend to finish our bowls. As the name suggests, the base for this is rice porridge, with green onions and carrots, and the rest of ingredients vary. Mine had chicken and ginseng, that played together wonderfully, creating a slightly zingy, yet very mild and comforting taste.
I went back to that place quite a few times, even without a hangover, and tried other varieties, including the famous 전복죽 (jeonbukjuk) - abalone porridge. The taste remains similarly mild and comforting, but you certainly can tell the difference in ingredients (in a good way, of course).
Although priced at 8000-9000KRW, I thoroughly recommend juk for anyone who's feeling under the weather, hungover or just in a mood for comforting food. And if you come by this particular restaurant - don't skip it!

That's all, folks! Hope you've enjoyed this post, and managed to get through without drooling *wink wink*. I will continue with part 2 and snack/foreign foods I love here in Korea.
Have you tasted any of these foods? Share your experience! Or perhaps you have recommendations on what else I should look for? Comment bellow!
I'll do my best to get back to my regular bi-weekly blogging schedule! Ciao for now!