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One of my main issues with living in Korea is the food, since I never really learnt how to like it. Don’t get me wrong, there are some Korean dishes that I love, but if I ate them everyday, I would probably end up obese and full of health issues. Today, I want to share about Korean food in general, my story with it and reasons why I either love it or hate it.
Following is a list with the most typical Korean dishes that come to my mind right now, plus the dishes I like the most. Please note that I’m a human and I’m writing subjectivly, so while I think some of these foods are not edible, you may still like it!
1. Kimchi 김치: literally fermented cabbage with a spicy and sour taste and usually eaten as a side dish, this is one of the most popular and significant dishes in Korean cuisine. Most people have seen the red version of it, but there are actually many different types of Kimchi, including a white version that is not spicy at all, but still quite sour, and that I can eat.
Kimchi is not only a dish by itself, it is often mixed with other things to create, for example, kimchi fried rice, kimchijeon (pancake), etc.
2. Bibimbap 비빔밥: this healthy dish consist on a big bowl with rice at the bottom and topped with diverse vegetables, roots, mushrooms, and sometimes meat. The presentation is often quite nice, showing a balance and flow that makes it appetizing. However, the way to eat it is to add some red sauce (making it less healthy) and mixing all together (making it look completely unappetizing). There is a chain that I kind of like called Bibigo, but the bibimbap I ate there didn’t come in a bowl, which was kind of shocking to me ><
3. Kimbap 김밥: known as Korean sushi, a sushi roll without fish. Well, actually sometimes Kimbap can have tuna (참치 김밥), although I tried it with can tuna only. As you can guess, kimbap can be rolled with many different things inside, but the common point is the rice and the seaweed wrapping it. Kimbap is sold really cheap in Korea, you can find it from W1,000 for smaller versions, to W3,000 for super big and full-filling tuna kimbap rolls. If you want to go gourmet, you can also find some pretty expensive kimbap out there.
4. Cold noodles/naengmyeon 냉면: this is something I hate. I ate it once, the first night I spend in Suwon during my internship, after starving for the whole day, and it was so bad I almost cried. But both Koreans and foreigners love it. I don’t know what it is… it just makes me feel bad when I eat it. Therefore, I cannot really explain well what it is… but I would go with “a bowl of noodles in a cold -sometimes jelly- soup with some vegetables, some egg, and a sour taste.
5. Sundae 순대: I haven’t even tried this one, but I thought I’d include it in my list of Korean food because it is a very typical snack. It is basically cow/pig intestines mixed with blood in the shape of a sausage. It often looks dark almost black and can be eaten as a snack or in a soup.
6. Ddeokbokki 떡볶이: another classical snack made from soft rice cake and covered by a red spicy sauce.
7. Japchae 잡채: sweet potato noodles! They usually stir fry them with some veggies and pork, and top it with sesame. I often eat it room-temperature and like it, but when it’s hot just fried, I don’t like it.
8. Mandu 만두:
9. Bulgogi 불고기: another very popular Korean meal that consists of marinated grilled beef. Depending on the place and how they marinate it, I like it more or less.
10. Galbijjim 갈비찜: one of my all-time favorites! Galbijjim is beef short-ribs steamed in soy sauce with pepper and sugar, amongst other ingredients, which makes this dish both a bit spicy and sweet at the same time. The meat comes usually with mushrooms and is so delicious, I don’t even mind it is a bit spicy~
There’s a small chain in Seoul (called 강남면옥) that serves the best galbijjim I’ve tried so far, and it is really popular among Korean locals, as their estaurants are always quite full. The galbijjim comes in 3 sizes: small 소/小 for W35,000, medium 중/中 for W45,000, and big 대/大 for W55,000.
The price might seem steep, but when I go we usually order the small one for 3, medium for 4, and big for 5 people, since they will also serve you beef bone soup and other side dishes along the meal. I’d say if you are all young and eat a lot, order a bit more. If you fall a bit short in food, try their galbitang (soup) or mandu (dumplings).
11. Samgyeopsal 삼겹살: this is a classic in Korean food. The meat used for this is pork belly, fat and juicy, and it is cooked on a grill, most times by yourself on the center of your table. Most people eat samgyeopsal in the evening while drinking beer and soju (an alcoholic drink, aka fastest and cheapest way to get drunkk in Korea).
I don’t like eating meat’s fat. Well, I like it now, but I used to not like it, and I didn’t even enjoy bacon that much because it had too much fat. So the first time I saw samgyeopsal in Korea, I decided to order something else and not even try it, although my friends were insisting. However, a few weeks later, I had a hwesik (a meal with colleagues outside of the office) and we only had ordered samgyeopsal… and because I was new to the team and didn’t want to show them how incredibly picky I was, I decided to eat a bit. And BOOM! I totally LOVEED IT. After that, I’ve eaten samgyeopsal so many times in so many places 😀 Who would have known? Haha~
Samgyeopsal is different in each restaurant. Sometimes the difference is just the cut or amount of fat, sometimes the side dishes make the difference, and sometimes is just the grill you use. For a small twist on normal samgyeopsal 팔색삼겹살 (“palsaek samgyeopsal” means 8-color samgyeopsal), where you can order the set menu that lets you taste one piece of meat with garlic flavor, or wine flavor, etc.
12. Bossam 보쌈: I didn’t discover this one until my second and definite visit to Korea. Bossam is very similar to samgyeopsal, since it’s the same part of the meat, but instead of grilled, it is boiled. So it’s sliiighly healthier.
13. Fried Chicken 양념 치킨: I know, you can eat fried chicken anywhere, but I swear Korean fried chicken is different! Plus you can eat fried chicken everywhere, even at my workplace they serve it! The chicken here is tender while crunchy, I heard they fry it twice, so they must put something on the chicken so that it’s still that tender while being in the oil for so long. There’s also a lot of varieties of fried chicken here, from the classic, to the 양념 that comes with a red sweet sauce, and some variations like peanut chicken and other crazy things.
14. Jjimdak 찜닭: this other chicken dish is quite similar to galbijjim in taste (note that they are both “jjim”, which is the cooking method). It is usually served in a big deep plate with transparent noodles, potatoes and carrots. Similar to galbijjim, the restaurants serving good jjimdak specialize in only this. I’ve tried different places and they have different levels of spiciness and garlic. I’ve even had them sweet and not spicy at all, which is my favorite variety. 🙂
15. Samgyetang 삼계탕: last but not least, samgyetang is a soup dish. It is not like your typical chicken soup though, since it has a whole (small) chicken in it. The chicken is filled with sticky rice, plums, garlic, and most importantly, ginger. Interestingly, people drink this super hot (warm) soup in summer, and I will soon explain why on a different post 🙂
And that’s the main food I see here! There’s much more, like soups and stews, curries… but I can’t cover all of them! I hope this was helpful!
My Story with Korean Food
Some of you may know already, that I went to a Korean Church when I was young and based in the Canary Islands. I would go there with my family every sunday because they provided live translation in Spanish, English, and Chinese and there was no Chinese Church at that moment. My first time with Korean food was there. Every Sunday after the Services, a group of ajjuma would be preparing a lot of rice and other dishes for all of us.
I remember eating the fishcakes (odeng 오뎅) and liking them at the time until I got tired of its distinctive flavor. I also tried curry and was never a fan (too creamy, no meat in it… it tasted too artificial). What I liked the most was the grilled beef, somehow similar to bulgogi 불고기, but they would only serve this on special ocassions. I also had the transparent noodles called japchae (잡채) and they were usually served at room-temperautre and I liked that as well. Other things I tried are kimbap and a veggie croquette that I really liked. But what I remember the most was the horrible smell of Kimchi flooding the whole kitchen area, and me pushing away the kimchi bowl on my table to the furthest corner possible.As you can see, I was never a big fan. Except from the grilled bulgogi; that was good.
Fast forward 10 years and I’m in Korea, doing an Internship at my current company. I used to work in a small building of the campus next to the entrance, and there was only 1 of the cafeterias nearby. I can’t complain, the Company fed us everyday for 3 meals, and ine ach meal we would have at least 3 different options to choose from… But most of the times these 3 options were all Korean, and when lucky, Japanese-ish. I was hungry most of the days, relaying more on an ice-cream dessert or coffee to fill my stomach, until I got used to it.
And 2 years after that, and we get to the present. I had more time to discover more Korean dishes and found out some that are really good, and that I will probably even miss when I leave: samgyeopsal, bossam, galbijjim, galbitang, jjimdak, samgyetang and maybe a couple other side dishes.
Why do I love/hate Korean Food
You already know I love eating meat, be it in hamburgers, oven chicken, or any meat cooked in sauce. Korean food kind of lacks meat. I feel like they don’t eat much meat all through the week, and then have 1 meal where they basically just eat meat: samgyeopsal,galbijjim, whatever. For me this doesn’t work, because I want to eat meat everyday, and if I went to eat samgyeopsal, fried chicken or jjimdak everyday, my cholesterol levels would be crazy due to the high amount of fats.
I also can’t eat spicy food, it just hurts my mouth and sometimes my stomach, and Koreans like adding spiciness to the most unsuspected dishes, including foreign food. Many times their dishes will also have tons of garlic inside, and that’s another thing that makes me a bit sick. Sure, the taste is better with a bit of garlic, but I’m talking of pure garlic flavor in some dishes I’ve tried here. In general, I think Korean has strong flavors. Sometimes too salty, sometimes too sour, sometimes too spicy x.x
Therefore, it is hard for me to like Korean food… I must say I am slowly getting used to it and sometimes I even feel like eating bibimbap (mostly when I am not hungry at all and just want to eat healthy), but what I generally crave for is more westernized food, Indian food or Chinese food.