A few months ago, while planning a trip to Seoul, I put out a Facebook call to my Get Forked and Fly followers asking for recommendations about Korean foods to eat while I was there. As a foodie, I humbly admitted that Kimchi was as far as my Korean culinary knowledge extended. It turns out I was not the only one without a clue.
Nearly 3,500 people saw that Facebook post from which I received two recommendations. Actually, it was really only one recommendation from my two Korean born nephews aged 8 and 10 via their Mum’s Facebook account. “Your two nephews said have the Korean dumplings!” she wrote. So I did – pork and prawn – and they were good. Thanks boys.
Most of the other Facebook comments suggested that Korean food was some kind of great, unchartered, gastronomical mystery. So I went where every good food and travel blogger goes to research a new culinary subject or journey – Google – and I put together a short list of ‘Seoul Food’ dishes to try while there.
In less than a week I managed to make good work of that shortlist – and then some. I can now proudly say that my knowledge of Korean food extends a smidge beyond Kimchi which, by the way, is Korea’s national dish, so it’s only fitting that it takes first place here on my list of ‘Six Korean Foods You Must Try’
Kimchi is not so much a food that you ‘must try’ while in Korea rather than a food that you ‘can’t avoid trying’ as it’s served with pretty much every meal. It is most often a ferment of seasoned cabbage, although other vegetables are sometimes used. According to The Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul – yes, there is an institution wholly and solely dedicated to Korea’s national dish – there are 187 recorded varieties! For those who have not tasted Kimchi, it has a spicy and sour flavour. You can enjoy its crunchy zing as a side dish or add it to soups and stews for depth. It goes well with scrambled eggs too.
Bibimbap translates as ‘mixed rice’ and I guess it’s Korea’s version of fried rice. A bowl is served with warm rice at the bottom topped with vegetables, chilli paste and a raw egg. Sometimes meat is added too. Right before eating, you mix the egg through to cook the protein and help bind the ingredients. Bibimbap is healthy and nutritious and a great way to use leftovers. There is a pimped up version called ‘Dolsot (stone pot) Bibimbap’ which is my favourite. The dish is served in a stone bowl that is heated up until it’s sizzling to which sesame oil is added before the rice and other ingredients. The oil helps the rice from a golden crust on the bottom – a bit like a paella. So good.
3. Korean Barbeque
There’s nothing quite like having a meal cooked at the table in front of you to get the tastebuds restless, especially when it’s grilled meats and vegetables over an open flame. And the best part is, you get to kick your shoes off at the table while your waitress tends to cooking your meats of choice on a burner that is either built into the restaurant table or freestanding on top of the table. At most Korean barbeques there will be a variety of meats to choose from (beef, pork, chicken) and these are served with small bowls of bottomless side dishes. Bulgogi – thickly sliced marinated beef – is the most popular choice– but I can also recommend Galbi – tender, marinated beef short ribs cooked on the bone and sliced in front of you. For a true Korean barbeque experience make sure you sample the rice wine too!
These irresistible piping hot green spring onion pancakes are often served as a side dish in restaurants. The recipe is basically a batter of eggs, wheat flour and rice flour combined with slices of green spring onions which is then pan-fried to perfection. Pajeon are served with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and chilli paste. Try stopping at one!
5. Kong Gooksu
I tried this cold soup in an underground food market in the Insadong area of Seoul. The entry to the market was a small gap in a concrete wall near an overpass and some road I can’t remember. Locating the gap was a bit like trying to find Platform 9 ¾ to catch the Hogwarts Express. Once underground, the space opened up into a busy food market selling everything from dried legumes, to bags of fermented things and poached pig’s heads. The recommended dish was Kong Gooksu – a soybean noodle soup served cold with ice cubes. The soup is made with blended soybeans, sesame seeds, salt and water and is served with ice – a refreshing and healthy lunch on a hot day.
The original KFC – Korean Fried Chicken. There are many bars and restaurants in Seoul specialising in KFC for the after work crowd. The Yangnyeom version has an added twist as the fried chicken pieces are served in a spicy and sticky sauce made with chilli, tomato sauce, garlic and secret herbs and spices! Unlike Australia’s version of KFC, the chicken is always light and crunchy as it has generally been twice fried. Yangnyeom is traditionally washed down with beer as a snack or evening meal or to satisfy those up late hunger pangs.