During my short stay in Seoul (4 days), I ate various Korean dishes, many of which I had not tried before. Korea is best known for kimchi, spicy fermented cabbage which is either very good for you or gives you stomach cancer, depending on who you listen to. Either way, it is simultaneously refreshing and scorching to the mouth. I had always thought of myself as unable to handle strong spice, but I dealt with the heat better than several of our group.
This tolerance may be due to having the spiciest dish in the universe when I visited Hong Kong with my family several years ago. We (my dad) ordered soft shelled crab which happened to come on a bed of roasted chillies. We were informed that this was the second spiciest dish on the menu (I can only assume the spiciest was on fire) by a rather concerned looking waiter, but bravely we ordered it anyway. It was like a bomb going off in my mouth that could not be stopped or calmed with other foods. My lips hurt the next day. This may have set my spice tolerance bar a little higher than some people’s.
Without further ado here is pretty much all the food that I ate in Korea, in chronological order. A country rich in culinary variety and delights, though you might learn to fear the bright red sauce.
Our first meal in Seoul was in a tiny restaurant near where we were staying. It was strange being unable to order and having to point at the menu on the wall in order to get food; for the first time in my year abroad I felt I had gone full tourist (which I had). The food came with Kimchi (like almost every meal in Korea) and soup, both of which were delicious. The kimchi came as large fermented leaves and we were instructed (through sign language) to pick up the leaves with the provided tongs and cut off small sections for eating. I ate most of the kimchi as the others found it too hot. It was really hot but I kept forgetting how hot it was and eating more before remembering. If you chain-eat the kimchi you don’t get hit by the spice until you stop eating it. The Chinese style dumplings were filled with meat and vegetables. Really tasty and a great culinary start to the holiday.
Freezing out in the Arctic conditions of Seoul, what better way to escape than to head into a nice warm cafe and eat some ice cream. This stands out for me because the ice cream came with real fruit, something that Japan seems to avoid due to fruit being extortionately expensive. The weird blue lighting was interesting but they gave us free tea which was nice.
Tteokbokki (and pizza)
This was the true spice challenge. Tteokbokki is usually street food made up of rice cake and chilli sauce, but this was a sit-down hot-pot version of the dish. The hot-pot contained instant noodles, see-through noodles, rice cakes, quails eggs, chicken, various vegetables and copious amounts of the angry red Korean sauce. This sauce permeated everything with its fiery spice that gradually heated our mouths to near unbearable spice levels. We did our best and conquered the dish, helped by the side dishes of salad and pizza. As you can see from the aftermath picture, there was a lot of red sauce. We had shaved milk to cool our mouths off afterwards. Despite the assault on our mouths, it was a fun dish to cook and eat.
A cherry macaroon sandwich. Not much to say about this other than I decided it would be a great idea to get this in sub zero temperatures outside. My hands slowly turned numb while I ate it so I ate very quickly. It was still delicious.
Oyster dumpling soup
We had this meal near the palace we visited. The soup itself was okay but not very filling, the sides were great though. I really like that in Korea you get around three sides and a free tea before you start paying for anything.
This was the best dessert I had all holiday. As I mentioned above, the scarcity of fruit in Japan made Korean desserts even more fantastic. This desert comprised of ‘snow’ (shaved frozen milk), covered in strawberries and strawberry sauce, with a sweet bean bun on top (actually very tasty) and sweet bean in the centre. Really delicious and something I am keen to seek out in Japan. You could also go for flavours such as green tea, black sesame and some kind of yellow powder, but strawberry is the best. I later had a mango snow which was also very nice but not quite as great as this. I think this was meant for two people but I vanquished it all the same.
Bibimbap is a classic Korean dish in which you mix all the given ingredients together with rice and red sauce. I ate this at a restaurant near Seoul N Tower, looking out over the city. I also experienced the weakness that is Korean beer (weak, not good like Japanese beer).
The Cookie Monster Cupcake
I picked this guy up at the station on the way back from our rainbow bridge failure. He was delicious, if a little dry.
This was by far the most disappointing meal of my trip. We went to a rather nice pub-style restaurant which was more international than Korean. I ordered what appeared to be a basket of prawns with chips on the side. This turned out to be a lie and a basket of chips with more chips on the side with two measly prawns and a bit of corn disguising the chips. The beer was okay, a little weak but interesting.
Korean food was great, we also had a delicious meat and lettuce dish but we were so hungry we just ate without taking pictures. The only struggle with Korean food was the flat chopsticks – these make picking things up rather difficult and altogether change the chopstick game. I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of Korean food and I’m keen to try more in the future.