Seoul: Food

What did you eat in Korea?  Did you like the food?  Did the boys like the food?  Did you survive two weeks on just rice?  What was the best thing you ate?  What’s the grossest thing you tried?

I keep getting these questions, so I guess I ought to answer them.

I honestly did not eat that much Korean food, because we stayed with our friends who cooked delicious American-style meals.

Who wants to eat kimchi when you've got this bowl of taco soup awesomeness instead?

But, I did try a few things (and saw a few things I was NOT going to try).  Here’s a rundown…

Bibimbap is a bowl of vegetables and usually minced beef mixed with rice and spicy red pepper paste.  In restaurants, it is often served with a raw egg on top.  The idea is to mix everything together, and the heat of the rice cooks the egg.  Since I tried my bibimbap on board Asiana Airlines, I luckily got out of the salmonella-risky raw egg experience.  But, I really liked the bibimbap.  For a better description of Asiana’s bibimbap meal and a photo, see here.

Ssambap is a lot of fun to eat since it feels like I’m eating an Asian taco.  I  also tried Ssambap on board Asiana.  I was served a bundle of different types of leaves (lettuce and some other funky things I’ve never tasted before), bulgogi beef, rice, and a soybean paste sauce.  You take a leaf, stuff it with rice, beef, and soybean paste.  Then you wrap it up, and shove it in your pie hole.

The right half of the photo depicts Asiana Airlines' ssambap.

Daeji Galbi are marinated pork ribs, barbecued on a grill right at the table.  We tried these on Jeju Island, and I thought the marinade was the best I have ever tasted.  If the restaurant sold it, I would have bought it.  Our hosts at the Tae Gong Gak mentioned that the marinade recipe is a family secret.  Along with the pork, we grilled marinated onions and raw garlic.  We then put the pork, onions, and garlic in a lettuce leaf along with a soybean sauce (much like ssambap above but minus the rice) and wrapped it up like a burrito.  Delish.

Cooking Korean BBQ ribs at the table in Jeju.

Gimbap is like sushi without the raw fish.  I suppose it’s possible that versions with raw fish exist, but I didn’t eat any.  My Korean friend’s mom made us a huge plate piled high with gimbap.  To assemble it, you get a sheet of dried seaweed laver (gim), layer a blanket of sticky rice (bap) that’s been mixed with a bit of vinegar and sugar, and top it with any number of fresh or pickled vegetables.  Apparently color is key so we had cooked egg, carrot, pickled radish, ham (which I found out later was probably SPAM!), and American cheese (say, what?).  It’s rolled up and sliced, just like sushi.  Call me crazy, but I brought home some gim to make up my own versions of gimbap.

Eating gimbap and other delicious things at our Korean friend's house.

Lotteria is the Korean rip-off of McDonalds.  Fancy a kimchi burger, shrimp burger, squid burger, or lady burger?  Or maybe you’re with someone and want to try the “couple pack” (Koreans are ALL about couple stuff, more on that later).  Well, follow our example and head on over to Lotteria.  We thought the couple pack was hilarious and went for it.  Unfortunately, you have to choose a “manly” burger and a “lady” burger.  I didn’t want a lady burger.  I have marathon thighs, and I want a man burger.  So, I ordered a pack of chicken tenders and gave the girly burger to T-Rex.  Verdict?  The manly burger was okay, nothing to go crazy about, but edible.  The lady burger was somethin’ strange.  I just don’t think “ketchup” and “asian” are flavors that go together.  The chicken fingers were spicy!  And the fries a bit soggy.  Guess I should’ve tried the kimchi burger, eh?

The Lotte Empire's attempt at McDonalds.

Ramen warmed us up after reaching the “top” of Halla-san.  We didn’t try it any other time (mostly because we can’t read labels in order to avoid melt-your-face-off spicy and mushroom varieties).  Koreans, however, love ramen.  They also love convenience stores.  Put ramen in convenience stores, and you get Koreans who eat it standing up in the window before hurrying off to who knows where.

School girls scarfing ramen standing up. In 7-11.

Pizza was our lunch one Sunday.  But not just any pizza.  This pizza’s dough was made with green tea and sesame seeds.  And wow, it was REALLY good.  Even the sauce and the cheese tasted right.  A few days later, we needed a fast dinner in Jeju and grabbed a cheese pizza to go at some restaurant called Mr. Pizza.  Awful.  The cheese was a bit yellowed and had a funky flavor.  It made me wish we could hit up the green dough place once more.  Not sure I can try that at home though…

A picture of the green tea dough on the pizza box. Takeout orders come complete with a ribbon for easy carrying.

Green tea ice cream was an interesting find in Myeongdong.  It was more like soft serve and swirled with vanilla.  It tasted like matcha (finely ground green tea), and most likely was made with it.  I enjoyed the flavor shock, but I don’t think I’ll be stocking the freezer with it anytime soon.

An ice cream cone almost as tall as T-Rex.

Mountain Dew was Doc Sci’s favorite surprise.  We don’t have Mountain Dew readily available in Germany, so to see it in a drink dispenser really made his day.  One can costs 800W (sometimes 600W), and Doc Sci says it tastes a bit different than in the US.  But, maybe that’s just because his taste buds haven’t had it in such a long time.  Can I just take a second now to mention that Korea is full of 7-11 stores but NO SLURPEES?!  What a load of kimchi.

Guzzling Mountain Dew at the War Memorial.

And now for things I definitely did NOT eat…

Beondegi (silkworm larvae) has to be the most disgusting snack I’ve seen live in person.  I saw these cooked and sold for human consumption while wandering around Namdemun Market.  I couldn’t even give them a second look.  It was like boiled little roach bodies waiting to jump inside your mouth.  EW.

I get nauseous even looking at this picture.

Pigs feet produced another instant gag reflex.  I didn’t even get a good look at them.  I just hate eating animals.  It’s not moral or ethical thing.  It’s a major ick factor thing.  If I think too long about what the piece of chicken on my plate went through to get there (sorry, it’s not warm fuzzy thoughts – it’s more like ew, this used to be covered in blood, skin, and feathers), I can’t eat it.  Oh, to be vegetarian!

A food stall at Namdemun Market. The pigs' feet are in here somewhere.

Octopus is a fancy dish in Korea.  In fact, you can even order a special kind that is still alive.  Apparently, there’s a risk in eating the live octopus in that it can stick to the roof of your mouth and you can choke or not be able to breathe.  Someone please tell me, what is the point?

A fish market; for some reason the octopus tank didn't make it in the photo.

The Black Market is a place I’d only previously heard about.  My friend thinks it’s possible that these items are pilfered from the military commissary or other places.  Whether or not that’s true, one thing’s for certain.. a steep markup on prices.  I didn’t have time to shop around, but I thought it was funny that Koreans bought these American goods.

Hershey's in Korea anyone?

What about you?  Have you tried Korean food?  What did you think?

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