First....... I would like to extend my sincerest and most heartfelt apologies to my cousin, Alexza Wagner. She requested a post about food nearly 2 months ago (Probably longer actually) and I have failed her. My main issue with doing a post about food is simply this: I'm usually too busy stuffing my face to remember to take pictures. when I do take pictures they're not pretty and it's usually half eaten. (But that means it has my seal of approval and is guaranteed deliciousness. ) So without further ado *Majestic hand sweep to opening curtain*
Before I go into detail about my particular favorites I think its important to take a look at the overall impact food has on the culture of Korea. Every country is foodcentric in some way and Korea is no exception.
Lets start with etiquette. One of the first things I've noticed is that finger food is not really a thing here. This might make me look like a barbarian but you have no idea how dismayed I was when I sat down at my school with a BBQ chicken drumstick on my plate and my coworkers had theirs suspended between chopsticks. I've been complimented on my usage of chopsticks but I definitely failed that day. I've also seen Korean people eat pizza and burgers with a fork and knife. apple slices and other fruit are usually speared by chopsticks. That was one of the first things I had to adjust to. Another was a lack of napkins. I can only assume Korean people are daintier eaters because in the more traditional restaurants I have to hunt for them. A lot of times though the wait staff will bring moist towelettes. Speaking of restaurants If you walk into a traditional one be prepared to take your shoes off and sit on the floor. Space is a premium as well so make sure to keep your elbows tucked in.
Meals in Korea are very communal. (I also learned that passing dishes around is a western manner.) Here it's expected for people to reach across your plate for something on the far side. If you need your drink refilled you better hope your neighbor is paying attention because it's considered rude to pour your own glass. While everyone will have their own small bowl of rice everything else is a free for all. Most meals in restaurants come with a million side dishes and you just pick and choose which ones you want. But you don't scoop out a portion and pile it on your plate. Instead you reach into the dish with your chopsticks and grab a bite sized portion. (sometimes a small plate will be given to you if there is bony fish but not always.) Stabbing food with chopsticks is considered rude as is leaving them upright in your rice bowl. (Looks like incense for dead people) Leave your rice bowl on the table. (Old people will tell you that you eat like a dog/Japanese if you pick it up.) Eating utensils are generally placed on the table when not in use. (Another moment I became acutely aware of the lack of napkins.)
Alcohol is a huge part of Korean dining and this is the part where I consistently fail to be polite. It's usually considered rude to not accept alcohol (Especially if it's offered by someone older than you) because people see drinking together as a chance to get to know you and also shows that you're an honest person with nothing to hide. I've heard various opinions about the proper thing to when offered alcohol when you don't drink. some people say take it and drink slowly so they won't refill your cup, others advise you to claim you're on a diet or other health related reason. Personally I just say no thank you and leave it at that. I don't see the need to provide a reason for what is a personal choice. Now on to the main event!!
MY ALL TIME FAVORITE KOREAN FOODS!!
(In order of what I happen to think of first)
1) Hotteok . the best way to describe these would be a brown sugar cinnamon stuffed pancake. Sometimes the filling will have chop nuts or ginseng. All variations are delicious. This is my favorite festival food. It's a popular winter snack. I've seen legitimate snack stalls selling them as well as random squatters with a cardboard box and a hot plate.
I have no idea why this particular one was purple but it was delicious none the less.
This was a happy discovery for me. These are candied sweet potatoes. One day I went to work and my co-teacher told me that my class was canceled because we were making Matang instead. Best class ever. It's made by deep frying sweet potatoes and coating them when a syrup made from sugar and oligo syrup. Toss with sesame seeds and donezo!! A delicious snack for all ages.
3) All the rice cakes. ALL OF THEM.
Tteok has an infinite amount of uses. tteok can be found in soup, as a sweet snack, mixed in with spicy chicken, grilled by itself; the list goes on and on. Tteok by itself is rather plain (No suprise since it's basically smushed rice.) and comes in various stages of chewy from non- Newtonian fluid consistency (Keep away from small babies and elderly with dentures) to fruitcake (I can build a house out of it) It's kind of amazing.
Tteok is also the go to gift snack. Job promotion? tteok with nuts. New baby? Tteok cake. souvenir from vacation? The regions special variation of Tteok. Naturally each variation has it's own name and they're classified by whether it's a snack dessert or entree but I can't remember (Spell) all of the names. Just trust me when I say that there are 101 uses for Tteok.
Jangjorim is my favorite side dish here hands down. I wish it was served as a main entree. I've actually hunted down a recipe for this so I can make it myself at home. Jangjorim is braised beef and quail eggs in a soy sauce broth. It's savory/salty and best of all........Not spicy. I've never had quail eggs before moving to Korea but I love them. (Taste is the same as chicken eggs they're simply bite sized which is awesome.)
5) Kalbi and Bulgogi (Korean BBQ)
Kalbi is short ribs and bulgogi is either marinated beef or pork. both are delicious. I don't splurge for these very often but when I do I usually leave the restaurant stuffed to the gills. I love the whole experience that comes with Korean BBQ. Sitting down at a grilling table armed with tongs and scissors (Scissors are used to cut meat) is the best dining experience.
Kimbap is like the sandwich of Korea. It comes in a million varieties so there is something for everyone. Kim is seaweed and bap is rice. Put together and you get rice with seaweed. Pretty self explanatory. Kimbap is rice rolled around various fillings and wrapped in seaweed. The insides of Kimbap can be anything; egg, tuna, kimchi, cheese, crab, bulgogi, veggies, etc and is usually a combination of three or more. Kimbap is sold as a snack in convenience stores and there are also food stalls and restaurants that specialize in it. I personally think that Kimbap is super easy to make so I make it at home sometimes but not everyone agrees with me on this.
So there you have it. My list of favorite Korean foods. If you haven't noticed already I don't really like spicy foods so I can't help but feel like I left out a crucial aspect of Korean foods (Seriously they use red pepper paste like salt here.) And there are a few things that I have a love/ hate relationship with. (Like bimbibap. I should like it......But I don't) so next time I do a food post I'll focus on those things. (maybe if I'm brave I'll do a reaction post. )
What do you think? Did any of these surprise you? Is there something on this list that you wish you could try? Feel free to leave questions and comments :)
My name is Arielle. (Not actually named after the mermaid, but a character from Thundar the Barbarian) I am an English teacher in South Korea.