South Korea

Seoul Food

The first time I visited Korea I went with my friend Mark back in 2013 (https://travelwithtessandliza.com/2016/02/26/korea-on-a-plate/). We crammed an itinerary that included two cities (Seoul and Busan) and an island (Jeju) into ten days. That’s why when I got the chance to go back to Seoul after six years, I was looking forward to knowing and seeing more of the city…especially the food! 

Korean food is something most Filipinos are quite familiar with due to the popularity of K-dramas. They always have scenes of families or couples getting together around a table filled with an assortment of little dishes, and watching them eat with so much gusto definitely makes one hungry! I got my first glimpse into Korean food through those shows because my second ever project as a voice talent was a Korean show translated into Filipino. One day, a co-dubber and I decided to walk along Makati Avenue in search of abalone. The program we were working on at the time sparked our curiosity with its mention of the peculiar-looking shellfish. We didn’t find abalone but we found a tiny samgyeopsal restaurant filled with Koreans, and have patrons of the place ever since. Now it is teeming with locals, and has become one of many Korean grilled meat restaurants in Metro Manila.

I just had to have samgyeopsal in Seoul, of course. I remember having grilled black pork with Mark in Jeju and it was so flavorful. In the end they put the rice and other remaining vegetable side dishes onto the grill with the leftover pork to make an excellent fried rice. Needless to say, I wasn’t leaving Seoul without having some grilled meat. We took some nice beef cuts to treat ourselves on our last night.

They used coals which added a smoky flavor to the meat.

Steamed egg encircling the beef

But of course there’s a lot more to K-food than the wildly popular Samgyeopsal. Check out the other stuff Arnaud and I tried.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the trip. Upon arrival at the airport, I went to a small convenience store to get myself a small box of creamy coffee and spicy bulgogi rice roll. For fast food, this was really satisfying and delicious!

The milky coffee worked well with my spicy beef rice roll

If you love the yummy convenience of a rice bowl, bibimbap is for you. It has various vegetables, seaweed, and an egg. Mix everything well so that the crispy, slightly burnt rice at the bottom blends well with the runny egg yolk and you get a good distribution of ingredients in every spoonful.

Don’t forget the kimchi of course! It’s always present in every meal

I love soup! The comfort it brings is something I crave for from time to time, wherever I am. We went into this galbi restaurant in Insadong and got a nice, steaming bowl of galbitang – beef ribs in a light, delicately-flavored broth. The old lady taught us to mix some mustard and soy sauce and use it as a dip for the meat and it was sooo good!

Who doesn’t love dumplings? The Koreans have all sorts: supersize, fried, steamed, round, flat, long, etc. And they’re all delicious!

I got so tired and hungry walking through Bukchon Hanok village but this assorted dumpling set picked me up. My favorite are those without the wrapper. They’re juicy, tender, and packed with meat goodness.

Koreans love their instant ramyeon noodles (I used to eat more in the past and it was definitely a favorite). But when you get a good bowl that’s made from scratch, I think that’s way better.

Looks can be quite deceiving. This was quite spicy even if it didn’t have the usual pepper red look most Korean stews and sauces have.

Fried chicken may not sound very Korean but it actually is, especially when paired with beer. You’ll see restaurants featuring this pairing called chimaek (a combination of chikin, meaning ‘fried chicken’, and maekju, meaning beer). The variant coated in spicy soy-based sauce is popular, but for me and Arnaud we got the cheese sprinkle one.

Chicken with cheese flavor

I love milk tea so when I see brands I haven’t tried while traveling I usually go for it. We tried this strong black tea with cheesecake topping. Until now I still dream of this cup of goodness.

If you love desserts, the bingsu will be right up your alley. There are as many flavors as you can imagine. Ours even had half a melon sitting on top of it!

Frozen strawberries and melon chunks complete this icy fruity ensemble

Cafes abound all over the city. They not only offer delicious food and drink, they look pretty too!

While walking along Insadong, a vendor called us to watch how he makes a unique snack called kkultarae. This Korean candy is made from a honey mixture that is kneaded and stretched by hand to create thousands of delicate strands. These are then filled with nuts or chocolate, among many others, and then folded. The result – thin, delicate, melt-in-your-mouth strands of honey that are surprisingly not too sweet.

Street food in Korea is an exciting experience. There was one evening when our dinner consisted purely of whatever street food we fancied along Myeongdong.

If you want the usual chapchae and gimbap, they’re easy to find.

But there are also interesting things that caught my attention. One of them was the gyeranppang. Imagine an egg, sitting on top of a slightly savory, slightly sweet, bread-cake hybrid. It was so rich and delicious!

We got to try the juiciest and tenderest barbecue chicken! The vendor cooks the meat twice – first to cook it on the inside and second to have that nice char on the outside. The sweet-salty seasoning was spot on.

Then there’s the variation of the bungeoppang or fish-shaped pancake that we found. Instead of a soft pancake, they used a flaky pastry dough which turned crispy when cooked. The outside had bits of caramelized sugar that added extra crisp. We got one filled with creamy sweet potato puree.

The hotteok, a denser kind of pancake, can either have a sweet or savory filling but we chose to go with this cheese-filled one which didn’t disappoint.

You can put a dash of hot sauce on that stretchy cheese because you’re in Korea after all!

Pair it with a refreshing malted barley and rice drink and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.

We ate many things in the few days we were there but we’ve barely scratched the surface! I’m dreaming of going back to South Korea to visit a less urban area (go back to Jeju perhaps?) and sample more of their memorable gastronomic offerings.

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