This is now the second in what will (hopefully) be an ongoing series on Korean food. The first post was dedicated to my first experience with makgeolli (and beondegi), and you can read about it here. This one is more of an overview of the things I’ve been eating. Food is often very inexpensive in Korea. While it is true that you can get meals for $3-5 USD, most meals are slightly more coming in at the $7-10 range. Still VERY inexpensive! I still try to cook at home a good deal (because, if I eat vegetarian, it is cheaper to eat here), but I certainly eat out much more here than I did back in the States. This could also be due (in part) to the fact that Korean food is just so GOOD! So, here is a fairly incomplete list of things I’ve eaten recently, in order from least to most formal meals.
First up, we have the street food. Korea is well known for having some great street food culture and there is no keeping me from it! Above is the hotteok (Korean doughnuts, but waaaaaaaaay better) cart in Seomun market. They average 1,000 won/each, so it’s a pretty good deal (especially on a cold day)
Below is my favorite twigum lady. Twigum (pictured just out of frame, on the left) is fried food. I don’t know if it refers to anything specific, but I typically see peppers, squid, eggs, squash, and kimbap pieces. Prices range from 500-1,000 won/piece, and many places have specials if you get 3 or 5 pieces. Her stall (which is, conveniently, set up right outside my office) also has odeng (the squiggly fish cake in the center), grilled chicken hearts and intestines (I’ve had the hearts; they’re a little iron-y), and a variety of other meats on sticks.
Next up, we have the more cafeteria-style foods. The two major stores near me, Emart and HomePlus, both have lovely cafeterias and I’ve always been very impressed with my meals. Below is my udon (thick noodles) set with kimbap (just plain rice with seaweed around it). The food was good, but the real star was the ojingeojeot (dried squid kimchi). The dried squid gave it a slightly sweet taste and really helped to round out all the spice. The whole meal set me back about 3,000 won
Emart’s main competitor, HomePlus (owned by the British company, Tesco) has, in my opinion, a slightly better cafeteria. I went the other day and got a bibimbap (rice with stuff on top) set that was very good. They gave me enough food for two people and the rice was perfectly cooked. The toppings were generous and well seasoned. My only complaints are that the egg was fried through (I like a runny yolk) and I was turned down when I tried to refill on the fishcake kimchi. This lunch set me back 5,500 won, so it was still VERY budget friendly.
Next up is tent-food. Maybe this one would better fall between street-food and cafeteria food, but I’m also including atmosphere. I’ve posted this before, but after a somewhat cold, rainy day of hiking around town, this meal really hit the spot. Big bowls of udon and some bulgogi (marinated beef) made for a lovely meal, despite the drunk high schoolers near us. This meal was maybe 5,000 won (again, so inexpensive!)
And now, onto the restaurants! I get out of work at 10 pm, so sometimes I’m really too tired to cook. Enter Okaduk. Koreans do chicken like you wouldn’t believe. I typically like their oven-roasted chicken (the skin is super crispy and a little sweet, whatever they put on it is MAGICAL), but they also have really good fried chicken. A typical meal is between 8,000-10,000/person, and they always give enough to share. Add in the cheap pitchers of beer, a convenient location (literally right around the corner from school), and it’s not hard to see why we frequent this place. My biggest complaint is that the meal is usually only chicken. No rice, no veggies, nothing. They do give out sides of moo (daikon radish), but that still doesn’t feel particularly healthy.
One of my favorite parts of Korean meals is that they come with banchan (side dishes). Typically these can be refilled as many times as you want (and you will want to refill them), but sometimes they bring out a special dish and you only get one. I went out to sushi with a friend a while back and they brought us out a whole grilled fish before we got our sushi! The sushi itself was “meh” at best, but the banchan fish was incredible. Very fresh and grilled to perfection, we ate every single bit of that dish.
I went on a bike ride last weekend and afterwards was quite hungry. Luckily, I was in an area primarily populated by students, so cheap eats were easy to come by. I sat down and ordered what I thought was one soup, but turned out to be another (probably better) one.Yukgaejang is a Daegu specialty. A thick soup with lots of pepper paste, bean sprouts, and shredded beef, it is simmered for hours so the flavors really meld together. Add in the generous portion of rice (or use the seaweed to make mini wraps) and you’re in business. This meal set me back a staggering 7,000 (including the soda). I’m pretty sure this is what Korean dreams are made of…
And finally, my newest love; shabu-shabu. I always love hotpot meals, but Korea has Vietnamese style places that take it to a whole new level. Shabu-shabu is a Japanese dish that has spread around the world (for a very obvious reason; it’s delicious). So I’m eating a Japanese dish in the Vietnamese style in Korea. Confusing, right? BUT SO GOOD. There are three rounds to shabu-shabu, so come hungry. Round one is the wrap round. They bring out a plate piled high with veggies and you can add some into the pot of broth (especially the mushrooms and greens), and start adding meat very slowly. Once everything is nicely cooked, you take a rice paper wrapper (the circle things), dip it in hot water or broth, set it on your little plate, and start adding uncooked veggies, sauces, and finally a piece of meat. The key is not to add too much, because then your roll won’t close! I’m guilty of this all the time…
After you’ve eaten your fill of rolls, they will bring some more broth to add to the pot (it gets low, some people like to just eat the broth as soup) and dump in the noodles. Sometimes rice noodles, sometimes delicious homemade buckwheat udon, they create a soup that is to die for. Remember all the meat and veggies that were thrown in earlier? They have now cooked down and imparted their flavor into the broth, so it tastes a little like heaven.
Round three involves the host pouring out most of the remaining broth and adding in rice, more veggies, and an egg to create a porridge-like ending to the meal. Usually I can only eat a few bites of this, but the rice is really delicious (I need to remember to save room for this!). And there it is, a three course meal for about 10,000/person.
This concludes my essay on Korean food (so far). I’ll make sure to update on things I eat in the future, since I clearly like to eat 🙂