"Seoul" Food

comfort food, Dalki, food, Galbi, Gimbap, Kimchi, Ramen, South Korea, travel

 

Did you like my title?  No?  Yeah, I know I’m trying too hard on this “writing” thing.  But before you dismiss my seemingly pretentious entry, I want to make a proposition: It will be delicious.  I promise it will.  Why?  Well it’s because I will be telling you about what I ate during our trip to South Korea (Hence the title?  Duh). It’s not hard to like their cuisine because IMO it is made to be liked and enjoyed– not super fancy that you are intimidated to eat it (maybe Kimchi is an acquired taste but you can’t get any more democratic than cabbage), always generous in servings (even in the student meal categories) and if you are a carnivore, welcome to meat land, my friend (along with entrails and parts you probably would not like to know).

What we chowed on while we freeze our butts off in South Korea after the jump…

THE NATIONAL DISHES: 
Image by K for Quarter-life Vices
Kimchi

Here’s a quick fact: Koreans love Kimchi.  Oh that’s right, they made it!  Every meal that you will ever eat in Korea will include a side-dish of Kimchi.  There’s even a Kimchi Pizza (sounds ridiculous?  How do you explain an Adobo Pizza?  Just the same thing, my friends) This pungent and spicy dish is made with fermented vegetables most common of which is the Napa cabbage and has been said to be one of the healthiest foods in the world. I would not go to great lengths in explaining you Kimchi because you have probably tried it since its so popular what with the K-pop, Koreanovelas and actual Koreans invading our country (I meant that in a really nice way.  Lee Min Ho and Daniel Henney can live here. Now.)  But for you who have tried it in Manila and have not liked it, you might actually find it bearable in South Korea.  For some reason we found that we actually can eat and like the Kimchi here, especially the Kimchi Fried Rice with Tuna we had once by mistake. It kind of looks like this: (sorry no personal photo for this one, read disclaimer here.)

Image via seriouseats.com
It’s quite good.  Even P who abhors Kimchi (okay, maybe abhor is a strong word, but then again, Kimchi has a very strong taste), found the Kimchi Fried Rice quite acceptable.
Dolsot Bibimbap image via ifood.tv
Bibimbap
Following in close second for the national dish is the comforting bowl of BibimbapBibimbap, which means, “mixed meal” in Korean is actually what it is– a mixed meal.  It is a bowl of rice mixed with vegetables and chili pepper paste usually with added meat or egg.  What we tried is the Dolsot Bibimbap which is served in a stone pot with raw egg on top that is allowed to cook against the hot pot.  It was very yummy, especially when you have to scrape in the toasted rice at the bottom!  Somehow, their “tutong” is just better.  I can now relate to numerous female protagonists in Koreanovelas and movies that have eaten this in scenes where they are nursing a heartbreak or some love-related frustration.  Before, I would find it unappealing that they have to stuff their BB-creamed face with loads of Bibimbap carbs while crying.  But after my experience with Bibimbap, I now realize that it does have a comforting effect that is similar to a bag of salty potato chips or a pint of cookie dough ice cream– only healthier and is actually a semblance of real food.

THE BBQ REIGNS SUPREME: GALBI AND BULGOGI

 

Perhaps no trip to South Korea will be complete without trying their barbecued meats in those set-up tents along the street or in cramped and hectic Korean BBQ houses across the city.  We had ours in a hole-in-the wall somewhere in the alley of Myeong-dong.  It was a Friday and a good number of office drones and yuppies were doing their merry-making inside the full restaurant.  The owner keeps on talking to us in Japanese even if there’s no way we can look like one (It is true, though, that a good number of tourists in South Korea are Japanese so maybe since we don’t speak Korean he figured that we are Japanese).  Good thing me and P have a little Nihongo background and we are quite surprised that it has been an essential tool in our survival in where-else but Korea. (T has a good grasp of Korean, though.  Because she is in love with Lee Min Ho)

Fo’ Sizzle! (Image by K for Quarter-life Vices)

The common way of eating Galbi and Bulgogi is to put some of the meat in lettuce leaves, roll it up and stuff it in your mouth.  It is usually served with banchan or side dishes so many that you never know what to eat or in our case, never really know what each one is made of.  After a mouthful of meat, lettuce and bits of side dishes, wash it all down with a shot of Soju—that famed Korean “juice”.  The verdict: The Galbi is superb, and all the banchan— no matter how odd one looks next to another– complemented the whole feast.  And the Soju? Well no wonder those poor characters in the movies end up like paralyzed jerks—I think, that even a well-adjusted person would end up a pathetic drunk if one finishes a bottle of Soju by himself.  Seriously, that stuff could very well be made with 100% alcohol.  But it does warm the body, so it is very good in that area of keeping you warm in very cold winters.  Tip: make sure you have friends with you to share your Soju and/or help you walk home in case you get wasted.

BEST WITH RAMEN… (BUT DEFINITELY GOOD ON THEIR OWN)

We hate to admit it, but sometimes during our stay the cold weather can be so unbearable that we just want to stay inside and be nurtured by hot and spicy bowls of Ramen.  Korean-version Ramen is not unlike its Japanese counterpart except it is more spicy (the red color of the broth is an obvious indication) and less salty.  Usually, if you have it at eateries, they serve it with Tteok balls (rice cake balls) which I thought first were fish balls.  To make your Ramen bowls more satisfying, Gimbap and Mandu are excellent accompaniments that are also good on their own .

Cup Ramen with Gimbap, (Photo by K for Quarter-life Vices)

Gimbap
 Gimbap is like the sushi roll of Korea although I would say it definitely has a taste of its own.  It is made with steamed rice and rolled in dried seaweed sheets together with crab meat, beef or fish cakes and with cucumber and spinach or carrots.  It is usually sprinkled with sesame seeds and is a bit larger in circumference than the usual sushi rolls.

Ramen with Mandu (and Kimchi, of course!) (Photo by K for Quarter-life Vices)

 Mandu
Mandu is the Korean dumpling that leans more towards the Japanese Gyoza, taste-wise.  Like any dumpling, it is filled with minced pork, vegetables but unlike any dumpling it is served with a sprinkle of sesame seeds (a very Korean garnishment, I suppose) and some variations include a filling of Kimchi.  I just happen to love dumplings of any kind and so this surely hits the spot for me.

 

THE STREET SWEETS

In extremely cold weathers, we concluded that there are two basics when it comes to food: it has to be hot and it has to be calorie-laden.  Obviously, hot foods warm you up and as for the calories, you need it for energy.  Because if you are going to be walking around in the sub-zero temps of Seoul for a day, trust us, you need energy.

The Ajima preparing our yummy Hodduk.

Hodduk
Hodduk or Hotteok is a sweet hotcake filled with a sugary syrup/ honey and walnuts.  It is especially popular during winter and is best eaten fresh from the griddle.  Probably the best we tried is green tea hodduk in one of the alleys of Samcheong-dong.  The lady making them was especially nice and again, tried to talk to us in Japanese (are we sensing a pattern here?).  Good thing her Hodduk is delicious, so saying “oishi desu ne” was not a problem for us.

Yup.  People line up for THAT.

“Poop” Cakes
You know how people like to eat things that look like poop?  Yeah, I don’t either but it seems to me that people here in Korea, especially the younger ones do.  Maybe they are trying to be ironic, but as seriously weird it is, people do line up for it.  What it is is a pancake shaped like well…  poop, that is filled with sweet red beans inside.  I realized as I was eating it that there is nothing completely spectacular about it aside from it being served hot which you need in very cold weather (oh, and the hot chocolate served with it is pretty good, too).  A cartoon character that looked like a living poop named Dongchimee (I can’t believe I am going on about this) serves as its inspiration.  And a quick google reveals that Dongchimee is a very popular character in Korea which is probably the reason why this “treat” is popular as well.

Hmm… interesting. (Copyright by Dalki)

Well, at least its made to look cute, right? Sorry but I might have broken my promise to you early on about this being a “delicious” blog entry.  Apparently, I am now stuck with ending it with a photo of a cartoon character who loves collecting poop and is constantly suffering a runny nose.  Oh wait, no, no I am not having this entry’s conclusion stink (pun was not intended).  I am gonna give you something.  Further research of Dongchimee (the poop collector.  What, you forgot already?) shows that she is one of the friends of Dalki, a strawberry-looking girl that is actually the major cartoon character in Korea.  She looks like this,

Image via dalkiworld.com

Now, where am I going on with this?  Well, Dalki in Korean means “strawberry”  (obviously her head is shaped like one), and if you must know, we had the sweetest, freshest and juiciest strawberries ever in Korea.  It was so sweet and so life-changing we knew we had to take some home (which we did and everyone who tried it also got swept off their feet).  I have learned that Korean strawberries, especially the ones produced during winter, are one of the best in the world.  Surprisingly, they are not that expensive too, at about KRW 5,000 per box, it is not that hard to be addicted to them.

And so now, my friends, I leave you with an image of these unoffensive, completely gratuitous strawberries that you must try in your lifetime.  You are welcome.

Succulent Strawberry ‘Instagram-ed!’ (Image by K for Quarter-life Vices)

By: K

All texts and photos, otherwise acknowledged, are property of Quarter-life Vices.  If you want to use with permission, email: thequarterlifevices@gmail.com

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