Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Break: Foods From Seoul

With 3 weeks off for break, I had just enough time to choose to either settle in comfortably at home or perhaps go traveling for a bit. I chose the former, which meant that I stayed in Seoul, met with friends, ate my favourite foods that I missed, and worked on some personal projects that I had neglected due to school. So because everybody loves to read about and look at food, I thought I'd just write about some of my favourite things that I got to eat this break. Most of these foods are pretty common, so I'm not saying anything revelatory or illuminating, though if you're not Korean, some of these things may be unfamiliar to you.

Unfortunately, most of the pictures here weren't taken by me. I always try to take my own food pics, but this time around, I guess I was too busy trying to eat everything that I couldn't take 5 seconds to snap any pics.

Chuncheon Dakgalbi (Chicken galbi)

This was perhaps what I was most looking forward to enjoying. It's a common enough food in Seoul, but pretty hard to find in the U.S.. I remember the first time I ever ate this, I was a bit confused because I thought that by "dakgalbi," I would just be eating chicken cutlets marinated in galbi sauce. But instead, what we got was a big circular iron griddle pan in the middle of the table, upon which a heap of chicken, cabbage, potatoes, rice cakes, and a large dollop of red sauce were placed.

I have to admit that I wasn't too crazy about this dish at first. It was all right, at best. But after I ate it a few more times, I started to warm up to it. It's very flavourful and a little spicy, though not overpoweringly so. Now, it's one of the things I crave the most when I go back home. Unfortunately, many of my close friends there don't like dakgalbi that much. I actually almost missed out on eating this because of that reason. Luckily, I was able to go with a friend on my last day in town!

Perhaps the best part of this dish is that even after you're supposedly done eating, you're not! If you leave some leftovers, you can order some rice and they'll mix it in with whatever's left on the pan for some delicious dakgalbi fried rice.


This was my first time having real sujebi. I had had small portions before as side dishes at some Korean restaurants, but my friends assured me that they weren't close to the real thing. When I went to Samcheongdong with a friend of mine, I wanted to try this seemingly simplistic food that consists of flat, thin pieces of rice cakes in a rich broth.

It was one of those foods that I thought couldn't make for a full meal, but I was absolutely stuffed by the end. The taste was similar to that of kalguksu, or maybe ddeokguk (rice cake soup that all Koreans eat on New Year's). I liked the texture of the rice cakes, which were almost like thick sheets of paper.

Samgyeopsal (Pork belly)

I wanted to enjoy a night of an unabashed bingeing on pork and soju, so I got together with a group of dudes and went to Sinsa to do just that. I remember the first time that my mom fried up some samgyeopsal for me, many years ago. Frankly, I was a bit put off by the taste of fatty and uncured pork, especially since I was used to marinated meats when it came to Korean food. But now, it's probably my favourite thing to eat when at a Korean BBQ joint.

I also took a couple of non-Korean college friends who were visiting to Hongdae to eat samgyeopsal and galbi. They loved Korean BBQ but didn't quite know how to eat it. Just for future reference, all those little dishes full of greens and such can be consumed at once if you want! I don't like to think of "proper vs. improper" ways of eating things, but I do think that there are ways to eat that make food definitely taste better. And eating Korean BBQ by utilizing all of the lettuce wraps, ssamjang (sauce), roasted garlic, and roasted kimchi makes for an infinitely more satisfying experience.

Ggot deung shim (Beef sirloin)

A generous friend of mine took me out to a restaurant called 무등산 (Moo Deung San) in Cheongdam for some ggot deung shim, which is beef sirloin (I think). It's unmarinated and uncured, so it's just pure meat flavour, which you can enhance with some salt, pepper, and olive oil. I said before that pork is still my favourite meat when it comes to Korean BBQ, but it's always a nice change of pace to try beef as well.

Yangnyum Pork (Marinated pork)

Saemaeul Shikdang is one of the places that you can probably find on every other corner in Seoul. It's a very unpretentious BBQ chain that's well-known for its marinated pork and kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew). It was also the place that my co-worker friends and I would go to often after work or for hweshik (company dinner), so I have a lot of good memories and sentiments associated with this place.

The yangnyum pork is my favourite because it's hard to find a similar dish elsewhere, at least in my experience. The meat is thinly sliced, which gives it a deliciously light quality. But it also means that it cooks quickly and burns easily, so you need to pay attention to the grill. And of course, the kimchi jjigae is very good, and I don't even like kimchi jjigae that much.

The fire also is good for warming your hands on a cold January night!

Salted Mackerel

Korean-style salted mackerel is one of my favourite foods. It's really simple but so tasty. I like mine very salty and kind of dry. A couple of winters ago, I went to an alley in Dongdaemun that had all these restaurants that served up all kinds of fish that were roasted on an open fire right in front of you. I want to go back there next time I go home.

Mandu (Dumplings)

Dumplings are the ultimate comfort food. They're good, available everywhere, and they just look so cute, don't they? Though I prefer Chinese-style dumplings (xiao long bao is my favourite food, after all), Korean dumplings, aka mandu, are very good as well. I love how each type of dumpling endearingly has its own unique shape.

Cup ramen
There's just something indescribably good about eating instant ramen out of a styrofoam bowl. I love Shin ramen and the like, but there are times when I just want cup ramen and nothing else will do. I never went to school in Korea, so I don't have the nostalgia of eating cup ramen at convenience stores with my friends. Even then, there's something very comforting about eating something that only requires hot water to prepare.

Korean ramen

When I think of Japanese ramen, I think of Ippudo. When I think of Korean ramen, I think of Shin ramen. So it was a new experience to try non-instant Korean-style ramen at this place right off of Garosugil. It was pretty good, though I'll always be partial to the instant kind most of the time.




Though obviously not native to South Korea, I can't imagine many other places that have better fried chicken than here. I went to Hanchu for its pepper-infused fried chicken, as well as its fried stuffed peppers. I ordered from Kkanbu, a chain restaurant, because one appeared within walking distance from my apartment (yay!) and it has more American-style fried chicken.


When I first heard of gamjatang, I thought it was a kind of potato stew because that's what gamja means in Korean. Or maybe there's a more obscure definition that I'm not aware of. Anyway, if it does mean "potato stew," it must've been some kind of bait-and-switch tactic to trick vegetarians into ordering it because it's really a red stew with big hunks of pork bones and meat.

Spicy galbi-jjim (Braised galbi)

This was my second time to this restaurant, 매운 갈비야. It wasn't as spicy as I remembered it, though there are about 5 levels of spiciness and we may have ordered a lower level than last time. Galbi-jjim isn't my favourite, but having it once in a while is good, especially if it makes you sweat on a cold winter night.

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