Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Quick Eats of Korea

Today was pretty average for both Ian and I, so I thought I'd take my mom's advice and write a little more about the food here.

But first, a mildly humorous nanosecond from today.  Last week our Basic 3 classes had to fill out a short questionairre about their holidays for homework.  One of the questions was "What presents did you get for Christmas?" and another was "What did you want for Christmas but did not get?"  One boy wrote that he got a top (that's all he listed) for Christmas, but that he didn't get the Nintendo Wii he was hoping for.  The stark differences between his hopes and reality made me chuckle a mean little chuckle.

We've experienced comparatively little "traditional" Korean food because we don't eat meat (including fish).  It's unfortunate because we'd like to experience more of it, but we won't compromise our eating habits and it's difficult to order things without meat here.  It's not a familiar concept.  But, what we haven't eaten, we've seen or heard of, so here's a rundown of popular eats in Korea (or, at least, Jecheon).  I'll leave out gimbap (seaweed and rice rolls), bibimbap (mixed veggies and rice) and pechingeh (Korean veggie pancakes) since we've discussed those before.

Bulgogi is not only a popular dish in itself, but bulgogi burgers and bulgogi pizza are also popular.  Bulgogi translates simply to "fire meat" (bool = fire and mool = water, so mulgogi refers to fish and it's all a little confusing).  It's meat (pork, beef, chicken or squid) marinated in sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, garlic and onions and then cooked on a grill.  I think I've usually seen it served with noodles, but I'm not sure.

Galbi is Korean barbecue.  I've never seen this one, but it's obviously around and the kids talk about it.  According to Wikipedia, the meat is sliced thick and is sometimes served unseasoned.  I'm certain it's usually beef, but I think many BBQ'd goods are referred to as "galbi," even if it's not meat.

Namul or Bachan
Seasoned or pickled vegetables are served with nearly every meal as side dishes.  There are usually at least five and it's expected that you make a major dent in them as well as your main dish.  The spices include vinegar, salt, pepper and gochuchang (red pepper paste).  The usual veggies are cucumbers, bellflower root, potato, sweet potato, 'pumpkin' (Oriental green squash), bean sprouts and a collection of wild leafy roots and stems.

Raw, live octopus chopped up just before eating.  Apparently, it's difficult to eat as it fights you even in pieces.  It's considered a delicacy and Chun wha really likes it.

Guk just means soup.  Koreans often eat soup for breakfast or on special occasions.  Popular soups are ddukguk (ricecake soup), haejangguk (a soup made from pork spine, leafy veggies, ox blood and beef broth, Wikipedia says it's a popular hangover cure and I've hear of foreigners being subjected to it after a night of drinking), kimchi jjigae (kimchi, pork and tofu soup that's served with many, many meals).

Naengmyeon is a cold buckwheat noodle dish served with veggies and beef.  It's very popular, even in winter.  Julia ate it during one of our first lunch meetings several months ago.

We had veggie japchae at Chun wha's house during Chuseok, but it's usually potato noodles, veggies, beef and soy sauce.  What we had was very good, though the texture of the noodles was a little odd.

Ddukbokki is ricecake, fishcake and gochuchang sauce.  It's eaten as a snack and is very popular with our students.  In fact, I'd say it's one of the most common things we see them eating.  There's a ddukbokki place right next door to the Haso campus.  The students also eat several foods on a stick from that place, like steamed chicken or chicken hearts and fried potatoes (cut in a curl down the stick).

Hoteok is a pancake stuffed with syrup or other sweet things.  Some of it is really good, but the peanut kind tastes very strange and like chemicals.  I'm not sure why.

It's the official name for fishy bread (golden grilled, filled cakes shaped like fish).  Apparently, it's originally Japanese (we found sweet potato stuffed ones in Japan).  It's usually filled with vanilla custard or sweetened red bean.

Toast or Toast-uh
It may not seem very Korean, but, trust me, it is.  It's a sandwich made from grilling two slices of white bread with butter on a griddle, then topping them with fried egg (with carrots or corn mixed in), jam, cabbage and a variety of other options like ham, potato, cheese or  even beef.

Dried Squid
I don't know the Korean name for this one, but it's everywhere.  It's a snack for being out and about.  It's sold at parks where vendors take the dried squid and lightly grill for customers (it smells like burning skin) and it's even sold prepackaged at the movies, though popcorn seems more popular there.

Well, that's a pretty good rundown of popular food where we are.  Good night!


  1. Thanks sweetie for the foodie run down. I hope to try dishes with fish in them when I visit.

    Now I would like to understand more about Confucius and the role it plays in Korean Culture. It is funny, but you know how Northern Exposure is my favorite show, the character Morris e Menningfield, the astronaut , well he has a son that he sired while in the Korean war and the last couple of episodes have dealt with that. They mention the Confucius way a few time.

  2. Yeah, I remember that. I also remember that he felt he couldn't marry without permission.

    Confucianism influences Korean culture the way that Puritanism influences American culture. It's a big part of society, but no one really thinks about it directly. I'll do some research and write something.

  3. His sons' name on the show was, Tu Kwon. Moresse would not give permission (at first) because the woman's father was an arch enemy of his, in North Korea.