In the second of our ‘World Travel Blogger’ series of articles, American Amanda Slavinsky, who writes the travel blog Farsickness, describes some of the delicious food in her adopted home, Korea.
My favorite way of jumping into another culture and discovering the quirky side of a new country, is by sampling the food. And by sampling I mean trying as many different things as possible. Before I moved to South Korea in 2011, I was completely clueless about Korean cuisine, which is often overshadowed by the food of its more popular east Asian neighbors, Japan and China. The past 18 months have taken me on an exciting food journey that has helped me learn not only about new flavors and ingredients, but about the interesting history and culture of Korea. I will introduce some of the more popular Korean dishes and hope that if you someday venture to the Land of the Morning Calm, you’ll be slightly more ready than I was …
Korea could be known as the land of the barbecue. Not the kind on your back deck, but one in the middle of your restaurant table. Meat restaurants are some of the most common in Korea. Samgyeopsal, which literally means three layered flesh, is a popular choice. These slices of pork belly look similar to bacon, though uncured, and are grilled until crispy. Another option is galbi, beef (or pork) ribs that have been marinated in a primarily soy, ginger, and garlic based sauce. The tender, juicy pieces melt in your mouth. Soju, a clear liquor made from rice, is considered the perfect accompaniment to a barbecue meal.
One of Korea’s most famous non-meat based dishes is bibimbap. Meaning mixed rice, the name is a good description of the dish itself. Vegetables are piled on top of white rice and then mixed together with some gochujang (a spicy red pepper paste common in Korean food) and, often, a fried egg. Another version, called dolsot bibimbap, is served in a hot stone pot with a raw egg. The hot pot cooks then the egg and crisps the rice while you eat.
A more casual Korean dish is ddeokbokki. Savory rice cakes, fish cakes, and green onions are tossed in a spicy gochujang (red pepper) sauce to make this dish that is most commonly served from street carts around the city.
Of course, no Korean meal is complete without banchan, or side dishes. At any Korean meal, the table will be covered with many small bowls. Kimchi is the most common side dish, and probably the most famous Korean food around the world. The most well known type of kimchi is the spicy fermented cabbage type, but there are many other types of kimchi including cucumber, radish, and white cabbage, which is not spicy.
While this is no means a comprehensive list of Korean food, there are far too many to list here, it is a glimpse into the culinary traditions of this country. Food has a way of connecting, of opening doors into places where you don’t speak the language or understand the customs. Food has done that for me in Korea.
About the author: Amanda is an American currently living in Seoul, teaching writing to elementary ESL students, and planning her long term, post-teaching contract trip. She blogs about travel, food, elephants, a love of Italy, and life in Korea over at her blog, Farsickness. You can also find her on Twitter @farsickness and Facebook