Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Food and Drink {in Korea}

When I first decided to move to Korea to be with my husband the food was one of my biggest concerns (that and the driving but that is another day).  All of my experiences with Korean food had involved kimchi and lots of hot red peppers.  In fact, the very first time I had Korean food, in Alaska, with my Korean lab partner I got food poisoning.  Turns out that I had just always had BAD Korean food and that not all Korean food is spicy hot.

Before deciding to come to Korea, though, Adam had taken me to a delicious restaurant in Busan with his friends.  He had described the food as "Korean Bacon" and it is unsalted pork belly.  Occasionally it is seasoned but always cooked at your table.  In Korean it is called ssamgyupsal and it is my favorite Korean dish.  Dipping this is red bean paste is pretty good and I had to purchase some for my own fridge for the occasional times that we make ssamgyupsal at our house.

Rice {Korean: Bap} is eaten with almost every meal and when you go to a Korean BBQ restaurant it is usually served at the end of your meal with a bean curd soup.  I love the rice, served in little steam pots, but do not like the bean curd soup.  We try to remember to ask for the rice first so that we can eat it with our meat otherwise we fill up on meat and don't have room for the rice.
Red Bean Paste
Ssamgyupsal at my favorite restaurant in Busan
Besides the fun of cooking it at your table there are always an assortment of side dishes.  All Korean meals come with an assortment of side dishes that include at least kimchi and sometimes bugs.  For real, we had roasted beetles at the Chicken Soup Restaurant next to our house.  There are whole stores dedicated to just side dishes in the markets here.  My favorite side dish is onions in sesame seed oil with wasabi (you can see them in the picture above).  I have no clue what it is called but it is divine.

At my favorite Korean restaurant (pictured above) we always get this omelet dish with carrots in it served in a hot pot.  It is so good and even though I am usually stuffed by the time the omelet comes I usually eat most of the pot.  It is delicious.  I really need to find out what it is called.

Bulgogi is another Korean dish that many people have heard of or tried.  I really like it.  It is like a slightly sweet soy marinated meat that is cooked with carrots and green onions and served with rice.  Very good.  I am planning on learning how to make it one of these days.  Seems whenever I get Bulgogi we always get Yakimandu which is a Korean deep fried dumpling.
Bulgogi and Yakimandu at the Katusa Food Bar
Produce here is the best.  I am not sure what they do that is different from the United States but everything tastes so much better.  Now, I am not a big fan of the pears (they have a funny texture) or the grapes (they taste like wood) but that is really the only thing.  The apples, pineapple and oranges are always good and the strawberries taste like they have been injected with sugar... to.die.for... plus every one in the container is HUGE and in perfect condition.
Grapes... these are small ones
Another favorite of ours is street food.  If you walk through a market there are food carts everywhere.  There is a huge selection to choose from but Adam's favorite is Odang, which is a noodle rendered from fish on a stick.  It tastes too fishy for me but walking down the street you can see people standing at the carts dipping their sticks in the broth (which is just disgusting to me).  I really like the Korean pancake which is like a veggie omelet.  I also like dduk, which is a rice cake that is used for all sorts of dishes, but on the street it comes on a stick.  The last dish that Adam likes from street carts is topoki (not sure if that is how it is spelled) that is dduk in a red chili sauce.
Dduk (the white thing on a stick), Odang (next to the dduk) and topoki (top right)
Korean pancake (they give it to you on a nice plate with metal chopsticks and you return it)
Odang - The white can is this nummy peach water I always get when we are in a park.
I always love reading the labels on snacks because the translations are odd sometimes.  Adam really likes the Korean sunchips and I like these cheese cracker sandwiches that are really cookies with cheese in between them.  My students like to share their snacks with me and the only thing I didn't like were these nut looking things that smelled like chicken and were really mealy in your mouth.  I wanted to spit it out but the kids were all watching me and I had to chew and swallow it like it wasn't disgusting.  Adam also eats a lot of ramen with american cheese in it and he prefers the very hot red pepper ramen.
Cracker and cheese snack
Spicy Ramen
The final snack I want to talk about is Pepero.  11/11 is Pepero day because the numbers look like Pepero which are crackers or cookies dipped in chocolate.  I received a lot of these on Pepero day because the students brought in dozens of boxes to hand out.  I ate them until I got sick and still have three boxes in the cabinet.
The last thing I want to talk about is drinks.  You can get pretty much any soda or juice from the US including Starbucks (but Korean coffee tastes burned and bitter) and I LOVE Coca Cola here.  It tastes so much better than the Coke in the US... not sure why but it is less sweet and most of the time it comes in a glass bottle.  YUM!  Their cans are really funny sized though.  It is like they went through a weird growth spurt where they got taller but not wider

When I don't feel good I like to chug a Vitamin C drink (below).  It sort of tastes like apple juice with a slight after taste of medicine.  Not too bad overall.
Vitamin C 500
Adult beverages are abundant here, too.  Seems a lot of people love Whiskey here and we know a great go to gift if we need one but overall there are three great Korean adult beverages: Beer (Hite or Cass), Makgeouli (Rice Wine) and SoJu.  My first trip to this country I drank A LOT of Korean beer.  If you don't like American beer you won't like Korean beer because it has a stronger beer flavor without being hoppy.  It is delicious.  Occasionally, a shot of SoJu is put in for an added kick.  Speaking of SoJu it is Korea's answer to Vodka yet it has less flavor.  You can put it in anything and not really notice it.  You have to be careful though because if you are sitting around eating and drinking Korean style with SoJu you may find your legs not working the way you want them to when you stand up.  It sort of just sneaks up on you.  Also, I heard it is made of all chemicals including formaldehyde but I think that is just an urban legend.
Bottle of SoJu
Recently, Adam has been hooked on two Korea things: Makgeouli and Dak Galbi.  I haven't had Dak Galbi yet but it looks super spicy so I am not sure about it.  I will let you know when I actually get to try it.  As for Makgeouli it has a slightly banana-y flavor and looks like milk.  You mix it with Cider and drink it ice cold.  It is very good and just like SoJu can sneak up on you.  They also have a drink called Dong Dong Ju which I am told his Makgeouli mixed with SoJu... "it gives you a headache."
Mix some Cider
With some Makgeouli
and you get this. NUM!
All right so there you have it.  A little insight in to the foods and drinks I have enjoyed here in Korea.  I am really glad that my first impression of Korean food was so wrong because it can be pretty good.  Now don't get me wrong they do eat some weird stuff: bugs, intestines, live squid and occasionally dog, but overall it is a pretty great cuisine.


Anonymous said...

Great post! A lot of that is very good to know!

Natalia said...

Very cool post! I love learning about new foods. Those grapes are HUGE!

Poekitten said...

Oh, street food. So good! I haven't had it in Korea but have in China & Viet Nam. The the produce is the best...so much fresher! I miss the fruit a lot.

Adrienne said...

Have you had the berry drink that comes in the same sort of bottle that the vitamin C drink comes in?! It is absolutely my favorite. And the berry drink+chilsung Cider+SoJu=amazing! ahha