If you know a little about me or if you’ve visited this site before you’d know that I’m a big fan of Korea. You’d also know that I am married to a Korean. For this reason I travel to Korea often enough, and I never get enough of it. So as you might have guessed, this is a Korea related post. In particular this is a Korean food related post.
My Opinion About Local Cuisines
Over my years of travelling I came to a couple of conclusions. I think they’re fairly true when it comes to travel.
- There is no way you can experience a culture fully if you don’t experience the local cuisine
- Don’t eat your home country’s food abroad
I’ll briefly explain my reasons behind point 2. As every Italian I’m somewhat allergic to Italian food imitations and, in some cases, eating Italian food abroad has lead me to very nasty food poisonings. After a few nasty experiences I set this rule I always obey: never eat Italian food abroad.
About point 1: food tells stories just as any other medium does. And you can understand so much about a country’s culture by tasting it’s food and dishes. Even better if you can experience the food with a local and even better if you can experience it with a local in a place locals usually go to.
For instance you will be surpriesed by how many people you’ll come across on the streets of Seoul eating or enjoying a drink together after a long day at work. And I’m not talking only about restaurants, but also improvised street food trucks where people stop, eat and enjoy each other’s company. If you head out and experience this you’ll find out that: Koreans have a great sense of humour, and love talking singing and are very extroverse once you dig a little under the serious appearance.
5 Things to Eat While in Korea
Now down to business, what should you give a shot during your first Korean trip? This is just a simple shortlist of things that I first tasted to get accustomed with Korean food. If you wonder about other dishes feel free to comment and I will satisfy your curiosity with another post.
You can’t get more Korean than Kimbap. To dumb it down, Kimbap is the Korean version of sushi. With one big difference from the Japanese delicacy, it doesn’t involve any raw fish. So if that put you off shushi, Korean Kimbap might be your cup of tea.
Kimbap is kind of an all in one meal. You have some kind of vegetables and either stir-fried beef or a tuna-mayonnaise paste, enclosed in rice wrapped in delicious Korean seaweed. My personal favourite is: tuna and mayonnaise, carrot, cucumber, egg and lettuce.
My wife always tells me of how when she was a child and she would go on school trips all the kids used to bring Kimbap their mom’s had prepared for them. Also how amoung the kids they used to compare what they had in their lunch box and what it looked like.
2. Korean BBQ
If you’re vegetarian, you can skip directly to point 3. But if you’re a meat lover this is something you cannot miss out on while in Korea. Korean barbecue restaurants have a very unique look and structure. Looking in from the window you’ll see an extendable tube over each table. These will be dropped down over a grill built into the table where you can cook your own meat.
You’ll have the choice to grill pork or beef meat, and as part of the package you’ll get an increbible variety of side dishes. A great classic to try is korean pork belly/bacon (samgyeoupsal/삼겹살 ), which tastes divine wrapped in a sesame leaf with a bit of garlic and a bit of ssamjang (a korean spicy sauce).
My first experience at a Korean Barbecue restaurant was in Australia. A friend of mine which was operating as crew with me on a flight to Perth invited me to join and, that’s where my love for Korean BBQ started.
3. Binddaetteok (빈대떡 ) Mung Bean Pancake
This was one of the biggest surprises for me when exploring food in Korea. I was absolutely amazed by the taste of this savoury pancake, I had never tasted anything like it.
This is one of many buchimgae (pancakes) you can find on Korean menus. It is made by soaking mung beans to then grind them into a paste. The paste is then mixed with vegetables and meat.
It is then pan fried into a round, flat shape. When eating it make sure you have soysauce ready, because its flavour is even further enhanced when you dip it. The best place to experience the preparation and the flavours of this pancake is Gwangjang Market, where you’ll also find many variations of it.
4. Pajeon (파전)
From one pancake to another. Seeing a trend here? well let’s just say that there are a lot of types pancakes served in Korea. It’s the turn of the Pajeon. The ingredients are very simple, but the result is really delicious. Pajeons are made with egg, flour and green onion; to which you can add one these following other ingredients: beef, pork, kimchi, shellfish and other seafood.
If you don’t know which one to try first, give the kimchi pajeon a try. Just to give you an idea of ho popular pajeons are in Korea on a rainy day Koreans will often say: “This is the weather for pajeon and makgeolli”. FYI Makgeolli is a Korean rice wine.
5. Chi-Mek (Korean Fried Chicken and Beer)
This is a very Korean combo, a classic simple dinner to have on the fly. The word Chi-Mek originates from blending together the english word chicken and the Korean word maekju (맥주), didn’t see that coming did you?
You’ll find thousand of restaurants that serve this combo in Seoul, but it’s also possible to order chimek delivery almost around the clock. It doesn’t even have to be necessarily delivered to your home. It can also be delivered at a park where you’re enjoying a pic-nic with friends or family.
A very popular location to do this in the summer time is the Han river park in Yeieuido. Try it out on on a saturday evening, I’ll just say that I’m sure you’ll surprised by what you’ll see.