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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

From A to Kimchi



So I've been here all this time, and I realized.... I haven't hardly touched on the subject of food! How could I leave out such a rich and necessary element of Korean culture? I guess I'm just a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of dishes to cover! I haven't gotten a chance to try everything, but I kept my mind open to trying new things, and I did my best to try as many different things as possible; here's the short list:

KIMCHI. The holy grail of Korean foods. Fermented spicy cabbage equals yuck zone for me, but Koreans have an affinity for it like no one else. I can't tell you exactly what it is about this side dish that makes Koreans crazy for it, is it the alluring red color? The spicy flavor? That wonderfully stinky cabbage smell? The world may never know, but suffice it to say, you will see this at every Korean meal, even breakfast.
Takuan, pickled radish....also a common compliment to Korean meals. It has a slightly acidic, yet sweet taste which I've grown to like, also, it's believed to aid digestion.

Bibimibap- literally meaning "mixed meal" It has a little bit of everything served inside a sizzling hot pot to fry the rice sitting underneath. 

Cold noodles. Pretty much what the name suggests, this dish is basically noodles served in ice water. I don't know why, they just are. I guess in the summertime it's just too hot to eat that cup-o-noodles!


Gimbap, which is basically the Korean equivalent of sushi.

The thing with gimbap is you never quite know what you're getting...this one has egg, some vegetables, and some type of ham, or spam? (Did I mention Koreans love spam?)



Tebokki- rice cakes served in a hot red sauce. Chewy and filling, and also a common street food. 

beef bone soup: Honestly, I ordered this one without having any idea what I was ordering (the result of not being able to read the menu, and having no Korean with me to translate) the best thing I learned to do in this situation is just to follow the pictures. So I did just that and pointed to the one I thought looked the most delicious. The man ended up bringing us this huge pot of soup, and a bottle of some of the worst tasting alcohol I've ever tasted. But the soup turned out to be pretty delicious and satisfying! Plus there was this cute older Korean couple next to us who offered advice on how to properly eat it...with the help of their pocket translators of course!

Bulgogi! A necessary part of every Korean menu! But it's not as common as I would have originally thought...in fact, beef is somewhat hard to come by here in Korea since much of it is imported. In any case, bulgogi has a delicious flavor to it, and note all the complimentary side dishes- kimchi, korean "cole slaw", bean sprouts, tofu, bok choy etc. 

The less cultured version of bulgogi: The McDonald's Bulgogi Burger. For all you food snobs, before you turn up your nose, I must say, I'm normally not a fan of McD's burgers, they are something akin to a tasteless lump of meat to me- but the bulgogi burger has a tasty glaze on it, making it more tolerable, haha.


Korean hotpot. While there are many versions of this dish, not only in Korea, but also across the world, the version I had is pretty standard. A basic broth is heated right on your table (a pretty common thing to see in Korea) and then the server will periodically come by to drop in vegetables, beef, seafood, noodles, complimented by garlic and a myriad of sauces. When the last bits of broth are finished, the server drops in some rice to soak up the tasty morsels left at the bottom of the pot, delish!

Notice the burner built into the table? Like I said, this is a very common Korean cooking method, and while it offers the convenience of watching your food be cooked properly right in front of you, it has the same effect of hibachi in that it gives you that burnt/oily smell when you leave the restaurant...oh well, all part of the experience!

Looks like chicken eh? It's actually seagull! The texture isn't as chewy as I expected, and it actually has quite a delicious flavor to it, highly recommend trying, if only to get the opportunity to dive into something new.

Chicken Galbi, basically marinated chicken in a spicy sauce. This is how it starts out, but afterwards, it ends up looking something more like this: 

spicy and delicious.


An unhealthy portion of meat, I am aware (typical American!) But we were at a meat buffet, $16 for all you can eat...a steal for some hard to find beef! Once again, the ubiquitous table burner....making us work for our all-you-can-eat beef, sheesh. 

Grilled pork lettuce wraps. I featured these early in my blog, since this was my first real Korean meal, still I have had it many times since...I just can't seem to get away from it. Koreans and foreigners alike love it, and what's not to love! It's like a big fat piece of bacon just calling your name :)


sashimi from Samcheok...as fresh as you can get since we were right by the ocean. 
This lady served as both our waitress and our cook as we ordered, and then she walked into the adjoining room and started cutting and slicing away!


Maeuntang- spicy fish stew. The whole fish is boiled in a spicy broth with scallions & other vegetables. Honestly, I did really enjoy this dish...although it really started to burn my lips after a few sips. I guess I just haven't built up the Korean tolerance to spicy food yet, haha.


This was my experience of Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving...(thank you to my friend Amy!) As you can see, just like American Thanksgiving, no sparing the amount of dishes.

Pajeon- spring onion pancake. LOVE LOVE LOVE. Seriously, so delicious. It's often known as "Korean pizza" but really, it's more like a pancake. There are all different kinds, but my favorite is seafood, with squid and green onion cooked inside.




On to the weird and wonderful. Beondegi, which means "pupa" in Korean is a boiled silkworm. Couldn't bring myself to trying some, if not for the worm-like form, than definitely for the revolting smell. Easy to find along most main streets, just follow your nose!



Dog soup. Yes, Korea is possibly the only developed country around that still commonly eats dog. Although even most of the Koreans I met shriveled their nose at the mention of this dish, it's still pretty commonly found in restaurants here.


I swear, if I never see another instant noodle package again, I will be a happy girl. While I was just as happy with a bag of Ramen as any other regular person...well actually, more than the regular person..I was actually quite a fan. Since coming here however, I have had.my.fill. I'm pretty sure my sodium levels have skyrocketed, I've tried pretty much every type on the shelf- and let me tell you, they all pretty much taste the same. Plus, they have the same effect as take out Chinese food in that, you're hungry again in an hour. 


Who is Mr. Pizza? Only the best pizza chain in Korea! Mr. Pizza markets their brand well, with the slogan, "love for women" to brag about their fresh ingredients and "healthy" choices- (although, who are we kidding? Pizza is NOT a vegetable, as much as United States Congress would like us to believe)
don't believe Koreans can make good pizza? Check out this video, a commercial for Mr. Pizza. Hilarious :D

Mr. Pizza is pretty darn good quality in my opinion, and what's more, there are wayyy more options to choose from than in the United States. So you want some potato wedges and corn kernels on that? No problem! How about some sweet-potato filled crust? Coming your way! There seems to be no end to the toppings Korean will put on pizza....kimchi pizza  anyone?


and here we have the three necessary components to compliment every Korean meal: beer, makgeolli, and soju.




               

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