Wednesday, August 22, 2012

how-to: eat korean food, volume one.

since arriving in korea, i've gotten numerous questions from family and friends about korean food. do i like it? what's delicious? what's my favorite? what's the best thing to get at a korean restaurant?

so, since i'm one of those instagramming iphone assholes users that loves taking pictures of her food, it didn't take long for me to compile a short list of some of my favorite dishes.

these are just a few of the items that i eat fairly regularly, so expect more installments of this how-to later on as i eat more and take more pictures.

김밥 - gimbap/kimbap
this is one of my staples here in korea. it's the roll on the right side of this picture, and it's delicious. basically, it's rice and other ingredients like radish, egg, spam, kimchi, tuna, mayo, etc. rolled up in seaweed and sliced. very cheap, too -- usually a little over $2 for a roll that fills you up pretty well. i eat this quite a lot -- there's a gimbap house in the bottom floor of my work building and the ladies that work there know what i want as soon as i walk in.

만두 - mandu
this is another go-to meal for me. my students have huffed and puffed when i've mentioned my love for mandu because "teacha! that is not korean! dumplings are chinese!" yeah, whatever. it's cheap and it tastes good. my favorite is the mandu with the meat inside, though the kimchi ones aren't bad either. you can find these boiled, grilled, fried, or steamed, and with a variety of fillings. i've managed to actually burn myself out on dumplings a little... i can still eat a few, but i can't put away an entire order of eight like i used to... still, so delicious. 

잡채 - japchae
i've been on a big japchae kick for the past week or two. according to wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, the cellophane noodles are made from sweet potatoes. with the noodles will be a bunch of stir fried veggies and sometimes also meat. the sauce is delicious and a little spicy. usually also comes with rice, which mixes nicely with the noodles and sauce. 

파전 - pajeon
oh, pajeon. you are so good. this is sort of like a giant pancake, made from eggs and flour, but then with things mixed in. like green onions. and shrimp. and kimchi. then you dip it in some soy sauce and it makes your mouth happy. 

비빔밥 - bibimbap
another easy, go-to dish. it's basically rice with any or all of the following: egg, lettuce/green leafy things of some variety, beef, dried seaweed, radish, mushrooms... then the red pepper paste on top. you mix it all really well with a spoon and then eat! filling, cheap, and you can order it pretty much anywhere you go. 

고기구이 - gogigui (korean bbq)
i had korean barbecue once before i left home, and it was nothing like how they actually do it here. here you order the cut of meat you want and then they bring it to you. sometimes it's already nice and sliced, sometimes you have to use tongs and scissors to cut it into smaller pieces. then you put it on the grill in the middle of your table and cook it. from there, you can dip it in sauce, put it in a lettuce wrap with some other tasty things (like onions, kimchi, garlic, etc.), or just eat it as it is. 

만두 순두부 - mandu sundubu
dubu is tofu, and according to what i just read on wikipedia, the "sun" bit comes from how the tofu is prepared, and this tofu is "pure" or something, meaning it's got the highest moisture content of all fresh tofus. sure. anyway, this is perhaps my favorite thing to eat here. so much so that i've eaten it the past two days... there is a standing "tofu soup monday" thing at work -- it's what we do. it's a little spicy, but mostly savory and delicious. the soup is served boiling hot, which is perfect since you're supposed to immediately crack an egg into it. you also get a hot bowl of rice. in an empty bowl, mix some rice and soup together and enjoy. sundubu has many varieties -- meat, seafood, curry. i just almost always get the mandu one because, as i mentioned, i love dumplings. this soup is perfect for cold or rainy days especially. it's filling, warming, and just satisfying. 

now, we need to move on to the side dishes for a bit. because ohmigod, i love the side dishes in this country. there are so many! and they just keep refilling them!! it's amazing and probably my favorite part of eating in a restaurant here.

the unnaturally yellow stuff is a radish. it's okay... not the kind of radish i'm particularly fond of, so i usually skip eating that bit. plus it's just... too yellow. at the top is some kind of kimchi-like dish with cucumbers, to the left is something spinach-y (i think? i don't remember), and at the bottom is some glorious kimchi. (more on kimchi later.) 

a whole fish. minus the head and tail. at this point, i'm a professional at using chopsticks to tear into one of these and pull out all the bits of tasty meat. 

김 - gim/kim
seaweed! dried and delicious when you dip it in soy sauce. 

김치 - kimchi
when i think about a future without kimchi in my daily life, i get really depressed. i've grown so accustomed to getting a dish of this at every restaurant that i'm actually extremely disappointed (and a little annoyed) when i don't get kimchi with a meal. kimchi, for those who don't know, is usually fermented cabbage, made spicy by red chili pepper and other spices. i've also had kimchi versions of other veggies like cucumber, green onions, and radish. i was on the fence about kimchi before moving here -- didn't love it, didn't hate it, but now i'm obsessed with it. and when i get it at a restaurant here, they just keep bringing me more as long as i'm eating it! and it's good for you! not only is it full of vitamins, but it also has bacteria that boosts your immune system and might also stop you from developing cancer! (this is what the kids tell me, at least. and wikipedia.) i don't know what i'll do without kimchi in my life. 

and, to go with all of this food, when we don't want to drink water, we will get a bottle of:

막걸리 - makgeolli
makgeolli is delicious. and deceptively strong. this "rice wine" is made from fermented rice and wheat. it's thick, creamy, and you drink it out of small bowls. a couple weekends ago we went to a makgeolli house in seoul, where we tried all kinds of fancy flavored makgeolli (mango, honey), as well as some that was very old and had been served to some famous person or another. there's a spot nearby to my area of incheon that does a wonderful pineapple makgeolli mixture that goes nicely with some pajeon. 

aaaaand last, but not least, DESSERT.

빙수 - bingsu
i am so in love with this it's not even funny. pictured above is the only kind of bingsu i've tried, actually, because any time i think about getting a different kind, i look at all the delicious fruit on top of this particular one and i just can't resist. bingsu is a popular summer dessert here, being served at nearly every coffee shop, but also on the summer menus at the likes of burger king and kfc. on the bottom is a layer of shaved ice, then on top you can get any combination of: cream, fruit, green tea flavored-something, azuki beans (which makes it the popular patbingsu), bits of rice cakes, flakes of cereal or chocolate, little candies, ice cream -- it's amazing. now, this berry bingsu that i'm in love with is about $9, which i can only imagine comes from the pricey fruit sitting on top, but it's worth it when i'm feeling like a fancy dessert on a hot summer night. 

that's all i've got for this installment, but i'm already making a list for the next entry. i even got some
of my students to help me -- they made a list of about a dozen korean dishes that i need to try, apparently, so i intend to do just that. and then i'll blog about it.