Firstly, let’s clarify that above point… in short… no, well, not really…
The Korean population is divided in terms of their opinions on eating dogs – typically the younger generation are opposed to this and you will see young Koreans strolling around walking their fashionable coat wearing toy dogs in the same way that you would in London or Los Angeles, though it is the above statement that was almost the cause of embarassment for me, as I boarded my Korean Air flight from Hong Kong to Seoul and the hostess handed me my bibimbap… after confusion as to how to make the bibimbap in the first place (I’ll get to that…) I carefully picked up a piece of the questionable accompanying meat with my chopstick, bought it close to my eye for better inspection, sniffed it, and then proceeded to twirl it around on my chopstick as though I had made a fascinating new discovery.
The Korean bloke next to me laughed – “It’s beef” he said, “Not Dog… don’t you worry”. He knew, he just knew. I imagine this is the kind of rumour Koreans laugh about us gullible Western folk believing just as the Aussies do with their “drop bears” (Another one I may have fallen for while in Sydney, but that is another story, for another day…)
It became my understanding in Korea that people do eat dog, though there are specific places you would go to to eat it, and typically it is a small proportion of the older male generation that eat it for um… equipment problems, kind of like a natural meaty Viagra….
Well then, moving on… If they’re not eating Dog, then what are they eating?
Korean food is my favourite World cuisine so far – incredibly healthy but made delicious by their use of spices and chilli. It’s renowned for being extremely spicy – so, a word of warning, all food here is rather spicy, but not intolerably so… if a Korean tells you “woah that one is spicy” – then take that to mean that that particular dish is REALLY F*****G SPICY and should not be finding its way into your Western mouth under any circumstance… unless you wish to spend the hour sucking ice cubes and the next day trying to calm blisters on your tongue (hypothetically speaking of course – never happened *peers around*)
Roughly translated – Ginseng Chicken Soup *Kisses fingers and makes delicious gesture like an Italian Man*
A whole young Chicken that is stuffed with rice, garlic, onion and spices.
Both the age of the chicken, and the way that it is cooked with the soup and the spices contribute to the meat being so tender – the ‘Korean’ way to eat this is to mix a small amount of salt and pepper together on a seperate plate, and when you cut off your chicken, dip it into the combo… tasty!
Side dishes served here are typical with any Korean dish – garlic, for dipping into the accompanying red bean sauce, Kimchi (preserved pickled cabbage) and Radish – always served as an accompaniment in Korea if something spicy is being eaten!
Try Tosokchon Restaurant in Seoul (Jahamun-ro 5 gil, close to Gyeongbokgung station) for a beautiful Samgyetang – this restaurant was loved by late Korean President Roo Moo-hyun, and is a favourite for this dish amongst local people.
Note – the restaurant gets extremely busy during lunch times and you may have to wait for a seat.
Ah Korean BBQ! I think even people who have never travelled to Asia, or thought about Korean food have heard of or tried Korean BBQ.
In short, it’s your own personal little BBQ/Meat feast in a restaurant, where you are provided with the raw meat and side dishes, and cook it to your own liking. This can be with Beef, Chicken or Pork.
Be sure to try Bulgogi as part of your BBQ – either made with Pork or Beef, it is meat that is marinated with soy sauce, garlic and pepper prior to cooking.
A traditional Korean rice dish – depending on the restaurant, you are often given all of the components of the dish seperately, and then you add them together and mix yourself!
Typically this is made up of white rice, sautéed veg, gochujang (Korean chilli pepper paste), soy sauce, a raw or fried egg, and meat (typically Beef… not Dog… thanks Mr. Korean man on plane Sir for clarifying that for me)
In other words, “Soft Tofu stew”. Tofu and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship. When I was in Japan, I found myself lumbered with the stuff as I am not a big seafood eater, and there were few alternatives. I found it rather bland and tasteless as I desperately dipped it into my soy sauce to get some kind of flavour… but actually in Korean cuisine I have found it to be incredibly tasty.
Made with tofu (obviously..), vegetables, mushrooms, onions, gochujang (chilli paste) and chilli powder. It’s commonly served with seafood/shellfish and sometimes meat.
I was incredibly lucky to spend a portion of my time in Seoul staying with a Korean family, and join in with their meal times – the Veggie Soondubu Jiggae above is one example my Korean Mother made!
Beef Doenjang Jiggae
Another stew “Jiggae” but deserving of its own section! Similar to the Korean BBQ, the great thing about eating these ‘jiggaes’ at restaurants is that you are able to cook them yourself and leave simmering so it does not get cold. Portions are very generous if you order a one person stew, but typically you would order one to share for two. Ingredients are similar as per the Soondubu Jiggae but replace your tofu with meat and add in additional veggies and shoots.
Dwaeji Gukbap (Busan Region only)
This Pork stew is one of the staple dishes of Busan and you will see restaurants selling this all over the City. It has a broth like texture – made by hours of boiling pork bones to create the broth, then adding pork shanks, and perhaps the “less desired” parts of the Pork (a staple dish during the Korean war amongst the poorer people, it was important not to waste any part of the pig).
The dish reminded me a little of Vietnamese Pho – served with side dishes that are then added into the stew. I enjoyed this soup, particularly when eaten in combination with the side dishes, but I’ve heard mixed reviews from other travellers – In any case, a must try in Busan.
Tteokbokki… fun to say and eat! A popular dish from street Vendors, this is basically just a fried soft rice cake dipped in gochujang/sweet red chilli sauce. You can get different varieties of Tteokbokki as the Vendors become more adventurous.. some with sea food or soy sauce.. but my favourite was the plain Tteok kkochi – Tteokbokki on a skewer.
Korean Fried Chicken (No, Really!) – Yangnyeom Tongdak
As it says on the tin – forget your bargain buckets, your boneless buckets and your… whatever other buckets the Colonel has cooked up, Korean fried chicken is fried twice instead of once as American fried chicken, and seasoned with spices, sugar and salt, before and after it is fried..
A word of caution.. some of these can be god damn spicy! [Sadly, this was the tongue burning incident I referred to earlier, and in my shock and injury I was not my normal food photo taking idiot self so visualisation is necessary here]
These are just a few of my favourite dishes from my time in Korea, a moment of silence for the dishes that did not make the blog… I am excited to go back to Korea and pick up my chopsticks again.