Eating in Korea
Said it before, and I’ll say it again – Asian cuisine is tops. From the intricate kaiseki ryori of Japan, to the vibrant colours of Indian curries and the flaming spices in Thailand, nothing beats the dazzling variety of cuisine available in the region. Korean cuisine is no let down in this department either – from steaming stews to sizzling barbecues to lovely mung bean pancakes, there’s something for everyone. Don’t worry, not everything in Korea is covered in that red bean paste.
First things first: Korean barbecue!!! There’s a lot of things you can roast in Korean restaurants, whether over flames or hot coals. Strips of beef, chicken, or pork, covered in salt, teriyaki sauce, or soy sauce; together with roasted garlic, leaves of lettuce and the ubiquitous kimchi. My favourite part of the Korean eating regimen is that appetisers are free. You only need order the mains and stews (and rice and drinks), they will provide you with free appetiser of various vegetables and small bites. A special shout out to ordering samgyeupsal – pork belly flavoured with sesame oil and salt, thinly sliced like bacon.
A bibimbap is regional specialty of Jeonju, but still found every across the country. It’s a bowl of up to 28 garnishings (ground beef, egg, carrots, corn, spinach, etc) on top of rice to enjoy. A special version is the dolsot bibimbap where it is served in a stone bowl, and the bottom turns out nice and crispy. This is a very colourful affair with shades of yellow, green, white, brown, and of course that red paste. According to Confucian philosophy, a full meal must contain the essential five colours to be a complete meal.
Finish it all off with a swig of soju, and excellent mix with fruity drinks and the like. For a more authentic Korean experience, toast on bowls of makgeolli, that milky-white drink that’s a fermentation of rice that tastes like and alcoholic 7-Up (careful on the drink, it normally ranges between 10-15% alcohol) . Make sure that the bottle is well shaken as sedimentation is normal for the drink.
As with most Asian cultures, eating is a communal affair, food meant to be shared, so if travelling alone, do not be surprised if the restaurant owner turns you away if you’re a solo eater. Also, it is expected to order food (anju) when drinking soju or makgeolli in a bar.
As a final dare, try the local sausages called sundae (pronounced soon-dey, not the creamy variety). It’s filled with rice noodles, and it’s coloured black…get your soju ready.