I have invited my friend and fellow Korea-ite Audrey of ThatBackpacker to share her impressions of the great variety of foods this peninsula has to offer. Read along as she explains her adjustment to regularly overloading on rice and eating squid with beer.
Make us hungry, Audrey...
Six months into my stint as an expat in Korea, I have learned a thing or two about the country’s cuisine. It wasn’t an easy start; the first time I went to a restaurant I mixed my soup, rice, and side dishes all in one bowl thinking that’s the way Korean’s did it… Nope, not quite.
During my time here I have eaten more cabbage and radishes than ever before in my life, I have mastered the art of grilling a slippery eel, I have burned my lips with metal chopsticks, and I have unknowingly devoured a dish that contained coagulated ox blood and loved it! Here’s a look at my highs and lows of dining in Korea:
The One I Tried And Liked: Dolsot Bibimbap
Before coming to Korea, rice was not a part of my diet; I found it bland and boring. Over the past few months, however, my attitude towards rice has changed. Not only has it become a staple item at every meal, it has also become one of my favourite dishes. Dolsot bibimbap is a meal served in a stone hot pot that contains rice, a raw egg, red chili paste, cucumbers, zucchini, soybean sprouts, and a bunch of other vegetables that I still don’t know by name. You can hear the pot sizzle as it is brought out to the table. I like to grab a spoon and press the rice down allowing it to get golden and crispy before mixing the assortment of ingredients together. What you are left with is a warm filling dish that is perfect anytime of year. I like it so much that I sometimes eat it twice a day!
The One I Have Gotten Used To: Samgyeopsal
Samgyeopsal is a traditional Korean meal, which consists of thick, extra fatty slices of pork belly cooked over a grill. You then place these pieces of meat in a lettuce leaf along with some garlic and red chili paste, wrap it into a little wad, and pop them in your mouth. Sounds fun, right? This may not seem like a strange meal, but having been raised in Argentina where the quality of beef is second to none, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to eat fatty chunks of pork! My first attempt at the meal consisted of me trying to pick the fat off of whatever little meat there was; that proved futile. After a few more unsuccessful meals I decided to… embrace the fat! It’s still not my first choice for dinner, but I can handle it.
The One I Won’t Be Repeating: Dry Squid
At most Korean bars, you are often expected to purchase some kind of snack to go along with your beer. Dry squid happens to be a popular choice and so I thought I would give it a go. Maybe it’s because I had been drinking some kiwi infused soju, but at that moment the squid was one of the foulest tasting things I have ever put in my mouth. It was chewier than rubber and smelled worse than a fish market at high noon. I gnawed at the piece and pushed it around my mouth trying to get it down as fast as possible. At that I was unsuccessful; most of it ended up on my napkin… I like to think I’m mildly adventurous since I did try eel on a previous occasion, but the squid and I shall keep our distance for the remainder of my time here.
The One I Refuse to Try: Dog Meat
I remember asking one of my students what they did over the weekend. The student smiled back at me and proudly stated that they ate dog meat. I was so shocked by their answer that I stared wide-eyed for a few seconds not knowing how to respond. Up until then, I hadn’t realized dog meat was consumed in Korea. I soon learned that dog stew is considered quite the delicacy by some; those who have tried it tell me it’s one of the tastiest and sweetest meats out there. I, however, cannot bring myself to sample it; even if it is considered a cultural aspect. I grew up with dogs as family pets and have a sweet little Lhasapoo back at home that I really miss snuggling with. This is one item on the menu I will not be trying. Ever.
I have tried lots of new meals over the past six months, some that I wanted to and some that I never imagined I would. I have sat at bars, tables, and on floors. My palate has enjoyed sweet, hot and spicy concoctions, and I’m looking forward to the new flavours that the next six months will bring.
What are your favourite Korean meals?
Audrey is the girl behind That Backpacker. She was born in Canada, raised in Argentina, and now finds herself teaching English to a mischievous bunch in Korea. When she's not on the hunt for authentic Indian curries, she can be found exploring her current home base, and plotting her upcoming travels around the globe. You can follow Audrey on her blog, her Facebook page, and her Twitter for even more adventures!