When I first arrived in Korea in 2012, I was intrigued (and somewhat intimidated) by the food. It was all so different to what I was used to. During my first month, I ate everything I was offered.
By far, the strangest thing I tried was Beondegi (번데기) – silkworm pupae. Not a fan. They actually aren’t terrible tasting, but the smell put me right off. However, to my amazement, I didn’t just eat them once. On my first date with Adam in 2013, we went to meet some friends of his. While playing a drinking game, I was convinced by Adam and his friend Dave that the loser would have to take a shot of soju, AND eat a bunch of Beondegi. Being the trusting fool that I am, I complied until I saw both the farts shaking with laughter. Note to self: get Adam back sometime soon.
I love Korean food, for the most part. I still refuse to eat tofu in any form (the texture freaks me out, and I am trying to eat less soy) and have never developed a liking for cold noodles (냉면). Below are my top 5 Korean foods.
- Yukgaejang (육개장) – spicy beef soup
I only recently discovered the name of this soup that I have eaten and loved on so many occasions in the school cafeteria. Yukgaejang is great for Korea’s frigid winter days. Its warmth would hold me over for a while in my heater-less classroom. The soup is made with beef, green onions, sesame oil and more. It is quite the comfort food. Maangchi has a delicious-looking recipe for this dish, and I really need to try it when I can splurge on beef.
- Hoddeok (호떡)
Unfortunately, thanks to my stupid thyroid, these are forbidden to me now. I really wish I had eaten about 50 before deciding to go gluten-free to try and heal my gut and, by extension, my Hashimoto’s. Hoddeok is…just heaven. They are basically pancakes stuffed with syrupy, sugary stuff. The filling is made with brown sugar, cinnamon and walnuts. So decadent! If you’re looking for something else to warm you up in winter (or to indulge in during the summer, or autumn, or spring…), I suggest hopping over to a market, where you will be sure to find someone making some sweet, hot, rich hoddeok.
- Gamjatang (감자탕)
Gamjatang…where do I begin?! I’m not entirely sure when I first tried this heavenly soup, but I do remember thinking “LOOK AT ALL THIS MEAT!!!” Gamjatang is pork bone soup, usually made with pork spine. Now, before you go pulling a face (like my Dad did when I told him about it), hear me out. Spine isn’t a yum-sounding word, I know, but the meat…so tender. Melt-in-the-mouth tender. That, coupled with the veggies and spiciness of the broth, make Gamjatang hard to resist. I’ve had the dish in quite a few cities, but I think the franchise, 맛나감자탕, serves my favourite kind. Well, now that my mouth is watering, I think I might head over to the branch down the road and stuff my face!
- Dakgalbi (닭갈비)
My friends Karina and Max introduced me to this dish in 2012, and I have loved it ever since. Dakgalbi is tender chicken meat, smothered in a wondrous, spicy yet sweetish sauce, with cabbage, Korean rice cakes and sweet potato. You can also choose to have a river of cheese in the middle – as my friends and I always do. By far the best Dakgalbi I have eaten is in Jeonju, at 고수닭갈비. The restaurant is located in the Jeonbukdae area. Adam and I have also made our own Dakgalbi, using store-bought sauce. It is spicier than what we are used to, but still divine.
- Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개)
Without a doubt, my favourite Korean food! For some odd reason, I only started liking this stew toward the end of my first contract here in Korea. Kimchi Jjigae is found at pretty much every restaurant I have been to, and it’s been yummy at about 95% of these places. The stew consists primarily of kimchi, green onions, tofu and pork. I am trying to incorporate more fermented food in my diet, again to heal my gut, and this is quite easy in Korea because of the abundance of kimchi. And it just tastes so much better in this stew! It is very spicy, so I always keep a big jug of water close while eating. It is usually served with rice, and I tend to dump my entire serving into the stew. If you’re at a loss for what to order at a restaurant, Kimchi Jjigae is a pretty safe choice. And a scrumptious one!
What are your favourite Korean foods? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured image: Div