Everything you need to know about Korean food (and drink), but were afraid
This is a guide for foreigners, it is not intended to be a definitive reference
to all types of Korean cuisine nor is it aimed at people who won't venture
outside their hotels.
If you don't like rice, don't come to Korea!
1. A gentle introduction.
Most people's first venture into local food comes with work collegues,
either Korean or non-Korean who have been here a while. Koreans who have
worked with westerners mainly understand our tastes and will try to avoid
things which are unpaletable (eg Sea Cucumber - a sort of giant sea-slug
which tastes of nothing in particular but has the texture of ...).
Korean dining is a very social affair with many meals consisting of
a central cooking device be it a barbecue, wok or soup pan surrounded by
a multitude of side dishes (some of which are not for the faint-hearted)
with an individual bowl of sticky rice per diner (in the west we concentrate
on getting our rice light, fluffy and separate, Korean rice comes as one
Many restaurants are the traditional floor-seating type, the floor is
heated and once you get used to sitting cross legged (just like when you
were at school) are quite comfortable. The other thing about restaurants is that
they each specialise in a few types of food so you need to find the right place
for the food you want. It is however OK to look in a restaurant, read the menu and
then leave if it's not what you want.
There are a number of meals suitable for the unaccustomed western palette.
Bulgogi :- Many people start with this marinated beef sliced very thin
and cooked at the table. It's not at all spicy and is great way to get
into the feel of Korean style without having your taste-buds burnt off.
Kalbi :- Marinated beef strips, barbecued at the table. Kalbi comes in several varieties,
the main difference being in the marinade.
Ready to cook, Kalbi as it arrives on the table.
Dae Ji Kalbi :- As for Kalbi but using pork instead of beef (slightly cheaper).
Sam Gyop Sal :- Pork sliced and cooked on a heated iron or granite plate.
Dak Kalbi :- Nothing like either of the other "Kalbis". This is chicken (with or without bones),
cabbage, rice cake and hot pepper paste all cooked at the table in a giant flat frying pan. This
is often followed by rice with seaweed and more hot pepper paste cooked in the same pan.
Bu Dae Chi Gae :- Literally "Military Stew", a very popular dish of sliced sausage, Spam (yes Spam),
ground beef, Kimchi (more of this later), ramion (noodles) and anything else the restaurant owner
happens to have around, all boiled up in a covered wok on your table, it's exellent.
On the left, Bou dae chi gae, on the right, Chris.
The above being social type meals, tend to come as a minimum of two persons (although I know at
least one person (nameless) who will eat a whole Bu Dae Chi Gae), below are meals for one.
Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap :- A hot (very) stone bowl containing rice, beef, hot paste (of course) and a multitude
of vegetables topped off with a raw egg. Mix like concrete (the egg cooks on the hot bowl) and eat. Brilliant.
Kalbi Tang :- Beef soup, add hot paste to taste, dump your rice in the bowl with the soup, mix and eat.
Kimchi Chi Gae :- Kimchi soup, quite spicy but delicious just the same.
Cham Chi Chi Gae :- Tuna soup, spicy and delicious.
I mentioned Kimchi earlier, this is a traditional Korean food. Kimchi comes in many varieties, probably more
than we westerners have varieties of cheese. The usual type consists of cabbage which has been fermented
along with hot paste (odd that eh?) and a myriad of other things and kept for an indeterminate time in a large
earthenware pot. Despite the odd manufacturing process it is strangely delicious and is mildly addictive. Try
2. The demon drink.
Koreans like to drink! (that is probably the biggest understatement on the Web).
Until very recently the major alcoholic beverage consumed in Korea was a lethal brew called Soju, beer is now overtaking Soju in the popularity stakes. Soju is available everywhere, even the smallest shops (around 6 feet
square) keep a good stock and every good Korean has at least some in his refrigerator. Even drinking the best
Soju available you can get totally blasted for W5000.
Like gasoline Soju comes in various grades:-
Korean beer is all "lager" type beer, there are currently no "dark" beers manufactured in Korea although there are
several being imported, currently only canned or bottled dark beers are available.
Cartons, this stuff is one grade down from tape head cleaner, practically undrinkable.
Green, this is the usual "drink with the meal" Soju, I find this still too sharp.
Gold, getting better, goes down easily with Korean food (and takes your mind off the wiggly bits).
Oak, now we're getting to the decent stuff.
There are also various "premium" grades e.g. Kim Sat Gat, more expensive but much more natural in manufacture
Click HERE to return to the Seoul page.